Welcome to the May issue of The School Mediator.
This month's feature story discusses "relational
aggression," a kind of hurtful behavior that girls employ
more often than boys.
Wishing you the best, wherever you are,
Founder and Director
School Mediation Associates
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|How Girls Fight
"Conflicts involving boys are one thing, but fights
between girls are the most challenging."
If I had a dollar for every educator who has said this to
me with a knowing grin, I could buy each of you a book
on the suddenly popular topic of "relational aggression."
"Relational aggression" is the new term used to refer to
behaviors that are intended to hurt another person's
friendships or sense of inclusion in a peer group. It
commonly takes the form of either social exclusion
("Don't let her sit at our table") or rumor spreading ("If
you don't help me, I'll tell Jess that you said she was
And it is practiced much more by girls than by
Why girls? Girls are socialized to be "nice," to value
relationships, and to not be physically aggressive. As a
result they tend to:
*Channel their aggressive impulses in more
ways than their male peers
*Use what they more keenly appreciate and are
attuned to: relationships.
And although relational aggression is certainly subtler
than a punch in the nose, it can be just as hurtful.
A growing body of research confirms what experienced
educators have known for years: It is untrue that
are not as aggressive as boys; they are just aggressive
in different ways.
I was recently in close proximity to the pain
relational aggression. Administrators at a small middle
school asked me to work with a class that was having
tremendous problems with harassment, exclusion, and
overall meanness. One boy even had recently been
transferred to another school because of his extremely
offensive and hurtful behavior.
After meeting with the class as a whole, and then
interviewing students individually, I learned that the male
students were "fine." They had come through the
particularly egregious incident that led to their peer's
transfer, had learned important lessons, and were now
much kinder to one another.
The girls were having a lot more trouble, however. It
became clear to me during our private discussions that
they were struggling with the emotional fallout of years
of relational aggression.
I have never observed so intricate a tangle of alliances
and enemies among such a relatively small group of
people. Many girls were former "best" friends with one or
more of the girls in rival cliques, and has seen what they
had assumed were the closest of relationships
transmogrify in an instant into cold shoulders and spiteful
rumors. (This is consistent with relational aggression,
which often occurs within intimate circles.)
Thankfully, the girls involved in the most
immediate conflict made the courageous
decision to come together and talk. And after they
put the bitterness behind them during our sessions, the
tension dissipated for their classmates as well. As I
write this today, a month later, the girls report that they
are getting along much better.
Lately there has been a burst of coverage about
relational aggression in American popular media. Talks
show hosts (including Oprah) have talked about it, the
York Times Magazine featured an article entitled "Mean
Girls" in February, a number of highly publicized books
about it were published this Spring, and two weeks ago,
over 4 million 4th-7th graders in the US learned about
relational aggression in Time Magazine's school
I for one certainly hope that all this attention leads
*Attune themselves to notice this type of
*State unequivocally that relational aggression
*Subject students who engage in it to
At it's worst, relational aggression is a form a bullying,
and it must be dealt with in the way that all bullying is
dealt with: With a firm NO to the bully and a
and empowering place for victims.
But one thing conspicuously missing from popular
a mediator!) is the importance of processes like
mediation to help girls (and boys), when
heal the wounds that result from relational aggression.
Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, postulates that
girls carry the scars from this malicious behavior into womanhood,
where it chronically hinders women from trusting one another.
Although I assume that time, maturity and positive experiences
heal many of these wounds, my recent time with the middle
school girls, as well as informal conversations with friends,
colleagues and family, lead me to concur.
All the more reason to encourage young people to heal
their relationships by utilizing processes like mediation.
School-based mediators have been helping girls
(and boys) resolve these sorts of conflicts for
almost two decades. As we applaud the recent
attention given to relational aggression, let's be sure to
use this opportunity to speak up about the tools we
already have, tools like mediation, that can make a
Send us your thoughts...
One of the leading organizations helping to raise
awareness of relational aggression is The Ophelia Project.
Click the link below to visit their site, where you will find
an annotated list of print and electronic resources as
well as a checklist of helpful actions for parents,
teachers, and girls themselves.
The Ophelia Project
| About Us
For almost twenty years, School Mediation Associates
has been devoted to the application and promotion of
mediation in schools. SMA's mission is to transform
schools into safer, more caring, and more effective
institutions. Our books and training programs have been utilized by tens
of thousands of people around the world.
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