Excerpted from http://iris.nyit.edu/~prstars/binet.htm
Most of us are familiar with the movies Mean Girls, She’s All That, as well as the books “Queen Bees and Wannabes” and “Odd Girl Out.” What most of us don’t know is that they all deal with an issue that affects many young girls. It’s called relational aggression (RA).
Dr. Charisse Nixon, assistant professor of developmental psychology at Penn State Erie and Director of Research and Evaluation for The Ophelia Project, uses her research and expertise in the field of psychology to help educate the public on the developmental repercussions of RA, a form of social bullying that uses relationships to harm others.
Girl Wars, which Dr. Nixon co-authored with another established professional in the field, Cheryl Dellasega, Ph.D., breaks standing up against RA into strategies. Strategy One is to inform yourself and others. Strategies Two and Three say that to prevent RA you first have to teach girls that any behavior that hurts someone is never acceptable and that teaching girls the courage to be nice is important. Strategies Four through Seven teaches us to confront RA and provide support. Strategies Eight through Ten encourage support, while strategies Eleven and Twelve tell us the actions we can take to change the culture. Girl Wars is about building self-esteem, teaching conflict resolution skills and providing support.
Dr. Nixon feels our society is to blame for the difficulty in detecting RA. For example, an objective observer seeing an adolescent exclude another youngster knows it is an act of RA. But although “exclusion” is considered RA, Nixon’s research shows 82% of middle school kids do not think it is. The author claims this is because, “we are accepting of it as a culture.” Our culture teaches us that RA is just part of growing up. She feels this can be corrected by “helping young people find their existing beliefs and replacing them with more constructive beliefs.”
Dr. Nixon tours the country educating and training the public by arming teachers, counselors, volunteers and other adults interested in the subject with the tools needed to detect and fight RA. Dr. Nixon feels it’s not about targeting the victim or the aggressor. It’s about teaching healthy friendships. She says empowering others can help bring about change and she is optimistic with the findings that children with genuine self-esteem, who feel a connection with their schools and have good morals, are less likely to be involved with RA.
In her 2005 statistical analysis report, “Creating a Safer School,” Dr. Nixon studied both private and public school students in grades 3-8 from seven schools throughout the U.S. Students were 51% male and 49% female, mostly American of European descent and from middle to upper class backgrounds. The study found that one in three students, RA is a big problem at their school; 19% of students do not feel safe at school; 14.5% do not want to come to school because they are afraid that other kids will be mean to them and 17% reported adults do not care about them. Another interesting finding is that the more relationally aggressive students are the lower academic grades they report. Finally, the study finds girls experience RA more than do boys and older students are more likely than younger students to use relationally aggressive behaviors. Dr. Nixon encourages us all to get informed so that we can help empower girls with the skills necessary to help them fight RA.