Study: Boys, Not Just ‘Mean Girls,’ Use Relational Aggression


Recent research on social bullying revealed the unexpected: boys get involved in emotionally victimizing their peers just as much as, if not more, their female counterparts.

Gone are the days when society would stigmatize female children as resorting to gossip and social ostracization to establish their dominance while young boys would prefer to stick to a fistfight to settle their feuds.

Also known as "relational aggression", the paper published under the name Aggressive Behaviour focuses on the negative stereotyping by culture and society on children's psychology to deal with confrontations. Females were thought to be the ones monopolizing relational aggression, but the study declared that males also deal with a similar level of emotional conflict. This changes the way parents treat their children, usually believing that the boys do not require the same amount of attention girls to and do not need a platform to voice their emotional concerns.

The team, led by the University of Georgia professor of health promotion and behavior Pamela Orpinas, and co-authors Caroline McNicholas and Lusine Nahapetyan, analyzed 620 students from grade six through twelve. The students were asked how often they had chosen to emotional manipulation against their peers within the last 30 days, be it through spreading rumors or ousting them from the social circle. The paper concluded that there was a higher degree of relational aggression displayed by the male population of the study — roughly 66.7 percent of the whopping 90 percent who conceded to using relational aggression as a tool to manipulate their peers.

This may change society's view of boys expressing lesser psychological maturity than girls. Such stereotyping has led to boys not receiving the same amount of emotional support from a very young age, leading them to use such psychological tools to control their relationship with their peers regardless of sex.

Boys also tend to treat emotional bullying with less severity, feeling that recognizing the emotions of others would emasculate them. This was supported in the study that showed that more girls tended to be oppressed by relational aggression.

This may persuade parents to rethink their strategy on how to raise their young ones. Parents and schools should re-consider the premise that girls are more susceptible to emotional displays of anger rather than boys and address this issue as a unisex problem. Displaying empathy enhances a child's view to the wrong in negative actions and helps them establish that relational aggression is an unfair means of asserting dominance.

The study had its limits though; it had a small sample and did not show if the result was comparable to the students of other schools in the district. Research into why boys tend to use such a framework of behavior is still being continued.

12 8, 2014
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