One of the most insidious yet common forms of bullying is what is known as Relational Aggression. If your daughter has been experiencing bullying it most likely falls under this category, perpetrated by the so-called “mean girls” whose intent is to undermine their target’s self-esteem through ridicule, exclusion, and gossip. And they do so in ways that are often undetectable, making it hard to stop and therefore, even harder for your daughter to cope.
Mean girls are difficult to identify because their acts of bullying can be discreet and anonymous. Consider gossip, where rumors start and spread. If your daughter is being gossiped about, it’s unlikely she knows exactly who or where the rumors started. She may be able to make a guess, but usually, there is no proof. Exclusion or rejection are similar. If a group of girls excludes or rejects her, it is difficult to pinpoint the instigator. “Mean girls” take advantage of social media to bully their targets anonymously and share inappropriate images, comments, or stories, with no recourse for the victim. At worst, these unfortunate events happen simultaneously, making it feel impossible to escape.
Relational Aggression has serious repercussions. The victims often have trouble forming and maintaining friendships. They experience feelings of loneliness, shame, doubt, sadness, and anxiety. Research has indicated that victims of indirect bullying or Relational Aggression are more likely to experience depression, suicidal ideation, and engage in risky sexual behavior. Often, their school performance is impacted and their GPA drops.
During my career as a teacher and now as a coach, I have seen firsthand how girls are impacted by “mean girls.”
Tiffany, one of my first coaching clients, feared going to high school. Her best friend had turned on her and joined another group. Out of nowhere, Tiffany heard her classmates calling her a “whore” and “slut.” She couldn’t figure it out, and she couldn’t escape it. Similar rumors started to spread on social media, along with pictures of her and her ex-boyfriend of two years ago. Tiffany guessed the ex-boyfriend was involved too. She guessed that her ex-best friend was jealous and therefore motivated to hurt her. Her parents reinforced this idea and encouraged her to hold her head high and go to school. But school was torture for Tiffany. She sat alone. In class, she feared everyone was talking about her, and she began finding it hard to focus. She started to doubt her ability to make new friends and trust anyone ever again. At home, even though she knew it would make her feel worse, she was drawn to social media, and again and again, her heart sank when she saw the negative comments her peers posted about her. She felt even more isolated when she saw pictures of classmates and other girls having fun at parties and other social gatherings while she sat at home, alone. This carried on for months!
Some parents dismiss this kind of behavior as just “girl drama” or “girls being girls.” They chalk it up to jealousy and tell their teens to be strong. But this kind of experience cannot be minimized. The impacts of Relational Aggression are far-reaching and girls need to be prepared to handle it or avoid it.
In the next blog, you’ll learn why Relational Aggression happens and how to help.