Girls & Relational Aggression (or Not The American Girl Legacy We Wanted To Leave Our Youth) November 1, 2011Posted by acroanmph in Public Health.
Tags: Aggression, American Girl, April Lutz, Bullying, Cyber-bullying, Female aggression, Relative Aggression, School psychology, Teen relationships, Tween health
April Rose Lutz, 14, was stabbed 25 times in the neck, heart, and lungs last week at a local high school by a fellow student. She had six hours of surgery, was attended to by 40 physicians, and has just been released from the hospital. The attacker is being held on $1M bail and is charged with first-degree attempted murder and first-degree assault, as she also stabbed in the arm and back the victim’s best friend who was trying to help. The friend required 20 stitches. During questioning, the attacker said she planned the event for days and went to school that morning with the goal of stabbing someone. It wasn’t that Lutz was a specific target, she just happened to be brushing her teeth in the wrong bathroom at the wrong time.
- Two 13-year old girls drew blood in a nasty fist-fight earlier this year at another local school, citing taunting and cyber-bullying as the cause. While LGBT youth are often targets of peer abuse, it seems that Relational Aggression is on the rise in general.
- A fist-fight between girls on a local middle school bus prompted the school district’s discussion of training bus drivers in dealing with hand-to-hand combat situations.
According to the Journal of School Psychology, Relational Aggression includes more “relational” forms of aggression such as negative gossip, ostracism, and manipulation of social relationships of girls in American schools. These behaviors are intended to harm another’s reputation, social relationships, or feelings of inclusion within a group, using relationships to inflict the damage. The victim is socially isolated while the status of the bully is heightened.
Usually socialized to refrain from conflict in the form of physical confrontations, girls seek indirect forms of aggression. Aggressors may be proactively instigating harm, or may be responding reactively to harm they themselves received. Either way, this form of aggression often goes unnoticed by teachers and other school staff but can escalate to physical confrontations or death.
Teens have been instigators or recipients of “mean” forever, and we were always told it was normal socialization and the rebellious nature of teenagers. It’s grown to the extent today, though, that aggression experts have exponentially increased in all areas of mental, social, sexual, family, and school health.
Besides the type of the horrific accounts noted above, this type of proactive or reactive aggression can lead to lower GPAs, increased depression and anxiety, eating disorders and loneliness.
Notice the definition says, “…in American schools.” Apparently this phenomenon is constrained to only American girls. With the popularity of “American Girl” doll collections/stories/movies/stores portraying changing times throughout U.S. history from the POV of girls who manage to be strong, independent thinkers despite their circumstances, I find it odd that aggressive behavior is what we have ultimately come to leave our youth. I’ve heard all causes cited – from absent parents, over-active parents, over-indulgent parents, bad parents, overloaded schedules, a general loss of religion, poor teaching standards, abuse, sexual orientation, heavy reliance on therapy – the list goes on. I’m a fan of the AG story lines showing strength and determination of girls, girls who despite all odds end up making the “right decisions,” prompting a love of U.S. history, and the company’s vision to promote the best in girls’ attributes. (Too bad one naked girl alone, who can even look “just like you,” costs $100+, and of course you want to clothe her with a matching outfit for your daughter, surround the character with all her appropriate accessories, related animals, bedroom furniture and a farm. Seems like AG missed the point and is contributing more to the negative factor of marketing than the better factor of helping girls find their innate strengths.) Did we not heed the lessons of our real historical heroines, Edith Abbott, Mary Todd Lincoln, Abigail Adams, Elizabeth Blackwell, Jane Addams, Mary Bethune, Amelia Earhart, Helen Keller, Rosa Parks, Sally Ride, and Eleanor Roosevelt, etc.?
The issue of Relative Aggression is so new that clinical studies are just beginning (thanks taxpayers!) and we are still in the infancy of understanding this tween/teen girl phenomenon.
- Talk with your child’s principal and classroom teacher about the problem and see if they have noticed anything.
- Have your principal notify other teachers, recess aides, hallway monitors, and cafeteria staff so that everyone who comes in contact with your child can be on the lookout and poised to intervene should an episode be repeated.
- Arrange opportunities for your child to socialize with friends outside of school to help build and maintain a strong support system.
- Encourage your child to stick with a friend at recess, lunch, in the hallways, on the bus, or walking home because kids are more likely to be targeted when they are alone.
- If your child is taking part in cyberbullying, make sure that they are aware that such behavior is not acceptable. Many children fail to realize that saying mean things about someone on the Internet or through text messaging is a form of bullying. If your child is victim to cyber-bullying, teach them to not respond to the message, and bring it to the attention of an adult.
- Form groups of mothers of tweens/early teens to discuss issues and practice “role playing” positive ways they might respond if they (or a friend) are being bullied.
- Begin a daily ritual with your kids of sharing “highs and lows” of the day, i.e. “What was your high of the day?” “What was your low?” This can be done after school, dinnertime, bedtime, or whenever works for you. It is important that parents also share their own highs and lows as it reminds children that adults have ups and downs too, and it increases the likelihood that they will be willing to open up to you about issues of concern – like being bullied or knowing that a friend is in trouble.
- See author Rosalind Wiseman’s site regarding creating cultures of dignity especially to address bullying and girl aggression.
If you have a daughter, try the Nurtured Heart Approach to Parenting to tell her exactly why you love her, maybe even 20 times a day. It will take you less than a minute every time. Isn’t she worth that? Fill her up with evidence-based goodness and watch her attitude and behavior change. Be her cheerleader. Like Becky Bartlett, NHA Advanced Trainer, teaches, instead of a lecture before she goes out, how about a pep rally? Define her innate goodness to her and you will see the miracle of change. Trust me.
Parent & School Resources:
Anti-Cyberbullying Campaign in Maple Valley Schools by Amy Croan
The Girls by Amy Goldman Koss
Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher