Dealing with Today’s Girl Bullying and Relational Aggression

By Carrie Timmins, Middle & Upper School Health Teacher, Dorm Parent, Coach

Whitney Suttell, Maria Alonso and I attended a professional development conference on Relational Aggression in November. Relational aggression is a subset of bullying that includes intentional exclusion, gossiping, rumor-spreading and manipulation. Boys are not immune to this type of maladaptive social behavior, but the conference centered around the effects it has on young girls and young women and strategies educators, school counselors and parents can use to tackle the issue. The conference began by sharing statistics on the R.A. According to YouthLight, Inc. Recent studies have found targets of R.A. tend to be more depressed, anxious and report lower self-esteem, yet in a separate study only 25% of female youth report teachers intervening on issues of R.A. As educators we know the detrimental effects of low self-esteem, depression and anxiety and how these mental health issues can affect a student’s ability to learn and meet her or his potential.  We now need to be proactive in our approach when issues of R.A. come up in school. Along with being responsive to student concerns, we also need to be intentional with an effective, developmentally appropriate mental health and character education curriculum to teach the skills that will empower all of our students to make social and personal decisions that will respect themselves and the community. After discussing media impact, socialization and cultural norms and perspective regarding female development of self, we delved into a number of approaches that would be helpful in beginning to address the issue of R.A. at the middle and upper school levels. Many of the activities help participants examine the impact of their behavior, not only on those around them, but also on how the decision to act in a relational-aggressive way can be detrimental to their own personal development. Some activities help the participants examine the role media (TV, movies, commercials, print ads) and the use of technology (texting, social media sites) shape and inform values and, in turn, behaviors.

Whitney, Maria and I represented many constituencies from Westtown; the MS and US divisions, the Health Center and residential life. I have used two different activities from this workshop, one in all three middle school grade advisory groups and another activity was completed by all prefect groups on a girls’ dormitory hall. The activity is called “My Emotional Bank Account”. The goal is to provide the participant with a greater understanding of how he or she may or may not, in tangible ways, contribute to building a community. In these instances we focused on how our middle school students contribute to a positive community environment in their school and how our boarding students build a supportive community on the hall. Each facilitation was met with very positive feedback from adults and students. As we look to invigorate the health curriculum and make additions to the residential life curriculum, our hope is to use the insight and practical knowledge gained from this professional development to inform our practices.

About Westtown School

Westtown School is a Pre-K through 12th grade Quaker, coed, college preparatory day and boarding school in West Chester, PA.
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