Relational aggression a mask for bullying

Definition: relational aggression or abusive relationship is a type of aggression in which harm is caused by damaging someone’s relationships or social status. 

Children attempt to inflict harm on peers (i.e. aggressing) in ways that destroy or damage shared goals within their respective gender peer groups. According to research boys have been shown to harm others through physical and verbal aggression (e.g., hitting or pushing others, threatening to beat up others). These behaviors are consistent with the types of goals that past research has shown to be important to boys within the peer group context, specifically, themes of instrumentality and physical dominance (see Block, 1983, for a review). However, for girls the focus is on relational issues centered around social interaction e.g., establishing close, intimate connections with others. This might include actions such as angrily retaliating against a child by excluding her from one’s play group; purposefully withdrawing friendship or acceptance in order to hurt or control the child; spreading rumors about the child so that peers will reject her. 

We tend to excuse this behavior in adolescents as well as grown women with different gimmicks: girls will be girls, sharing common goals, click of friends. I don’t have much of an issue with these labels but they shouldn’t be an excuse for abandoning our humanity, basic courtesies or the salient law of treating others how we would like to be treated.

I found this article ‘girls-and-their-frenemies’ on the topic very informative, one to discuss with my daughter in the future. Do click on the link.

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