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Adolescent Relational Aggression – How to Diminish the Damage

Bullying-and-Relational-AggressionI began at the University of Baltimore in the spring of 2013. I was in the process of a major transformation in my life. I had lost thirty pounds, switched from another graduate program where I was severely unhappy, and overall I was trying to maintain a more positive attitude. I was excited and happy about the changes I was making. It was about that time I started hearing rumors and gossip as to why I lost the weight, how I had lost the weight, and why I switched graduate school programs. Shortly after that, I found out that the origins of these rumors were coming from two girls I had considered my closest friends. I realized that the unsupportive and negative behavior was something I had experienced in most of my female friendships throughout my life. I spoke to other women and found out that they too, had experienced the same thing. I researched and found out that this behavior had a term.

The National Association of School Psychologists describes Relational Aggression as “harm within relationships that is caused by covert bullying or manipulative behavior.” Relational Aggression can be demonstrated as social exclusion, giving someone the silent treatment, or spreading rumors and gossip among other behaviors. I became so passionate about this topic that I wrote my Master’s thesis about relational aggression in female friendships. I should note that relational aggression can be utilized by males too, but women tend to behave this way more than men.

How can young adolescents combat relational aggression? The teenage years are already awkward, stressful, and full of angst. Teens tend to turn to their friends more often than their parents even if the friends are bullying them. This can be very detrimental. I compiled a short list for teens on how best to handle these conflict-ridden situations.

  1. Be confident in yourself. I know the adolescent years are a time when you are the most self-conscious. You know for the most part what you value and what you deserve. When I was a teen, I allowed people who claimed to be my friends dictate how I saw myself. If I had been more self-confident, I could have stood up for myself by standing by choices instead and giving into what my friends wanted.
  2. Expand your circle of friends. Friends are everything during these years, but shouldn’t it be the quality of the friends, not the quantity? I wish I would have had higher standards for my friendships during my adolescent years. If your friends are treating you poorly, branch out and meet new people. I am not saying the moment you get into a fight with a friend you cut them off and find new ones. But having more friends from different circles allows you to be well-rounded and less dependent on the friends who are being mean.
  3. Confront constructively. If a friend is acting relationally aggressive towards you, confront them. Don’t approach them when they are with a large group. Approaching them this way might cause them to be embarrassed and lose face in front of others. Instead wait for a private moment with them and so you can talk to them face-to-face. While face-to-face confrontation can be scary, you are better able to see their non-verbal responses. You could say, “Hey Megan, I noticed recently we haven’t talked as much. Did I do something wrong?” If she responds yes, or nastily, you could say, “If I did something wrong, then I would like to apologize so we can move forward.”
  4. Recognize differences of perspective. I remember a friend of mine in middle school once got mad at me and didn’t speak to me because she thought I had rolled my eyes at her when she was speaking. I didn’t know what I had done for a week before she told me, and I apologized. I didn’t realize I had rolled my eyes, and we resolved the issue. Adolescent years are full of emotions, so the quicker you try to address the conflicts the more likely you can fix and move forward.


Abigail Clark M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management



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