Friday, May 1, 2009

Relational Aggression: Is it normal and acceptable?

Relational Aggression: Is it normal and acceptable?

What is relational aggression? Relational aggression encompasses behaviors that harm others by damaging, threatening to damage or manipulating one's relationships with his/her peers, or by injuring one's feelings of social acceptance (the Ophelia Project).
For example:

  • Purposefully ignoring someone when angry (giving the "silent treatment")
  • Spreading rumors about a disliked classmate
  • Telling others not to play with a certain classmate as a means of retaliation
  • Malicious gossip and rumor spreading
  • Taunting and name calling
  • Cyberbullying

What motivates relational aggression? Researchers from the Ophelia Project asked youth why relational aggression occurs, their responses included:

Belonging – "If I share the secret she told me with you, my information can get me ‘in’ with the popular group."
Fear – "I’m afraid of being rejected by my classmates, or that I'll be the next target, so I go along with it."
Drama – "I’m bored, and relational aggression creates drama and excitement."

Isn’t relational aggression just normal behavior? Parents who contend that relational aggression is just part of normal behavior perpetuates the myth that bullying and peer aggression, and the hurt caused by both, are "normal" or "just how kids are" or simply a "rite of passage." For the 160,000 children who miss school each day due to fear of being tormented by their classmates (National Education Association), relational aggression is anything but "normal."
Furthermore, research proves that relational aggression is related to increased depression; lower academic performance; increased suicidal ideation; increased anxiety, anger, and sadness; and other negative consequences

How can I protect my child from the harmful effects of relational aggression? Research suggests that adolescents who are more connected to their school (e.g. involved in activities, clubs, sports), have secure relationships with adults, demonstrate empathy and report more forgiveness are less likely to be involved with relationally aggressive behavior. Further, they report less tolerance of relationally aggressive behaviors in others.

What can SPI do? Prevention is our priority. Children and adolescents need to be taught how to establish and maintain healthy relationships. What children learn and tolerate during their early developmental years becomes a “training ground” for future adult relationships. Relational aggression is a stable, learned behavior and without prevention/intervention efforts, will not fade away after adolescence.

Join an after-school girls’ group to learn to deal with relational aggression. Nancy Cohen, an SPI Specialist, just completed a very successful Girls Inc. group at Sequoya Elementary School that was funded through tax credit monies.

Girls Inc. was offered after school for 4th and 5th grade girls. This was a 5 week program that addressed the following friendship topics:

  • What qualities should I look for in a in a true friend, who are my true friends, and am I a true friend
  • What behaviors interfere with healthy friendships?
  • What do bully behaviors look like and could I be engaging in bully behavior?
  • What are the four types of bullies?
  • How can I stand up for myself and my friends? What can I say? How should I react?

Resources for girls and parents to deal with relational aggression:

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