Indirect Aggression Amongst Teenage Girls and How Parents Can Help
When people think of aggression and bullying in schools, they often conjure up images of overt or direct physical behaviors such as punching or kicking or perhaps verbal conflict including shouting at or teasing others. However, there is a much wider range of ways that people can use to hurt their peers including more subtle and socially sophisticated forms of indirect aggression.
Our research team at Flinders University conducted studies of gender and age differences in aggression (1, 2) and particularly indirect aggression amongst teenage girls (3, 4, 5, 6, 7).
What is Indirect Aggression?
Indirect aggression (also called relational or social aggression) is “a kind of social manipulation: the aggressor manipulates others to attack the victim, or, by other means, makes use of the social structure in order to harm the target person, without being personally involved in attack (8)”. This includes behaviors such as
- excluding others from the group,
- spreading nasty rumors about others,
- breaking confidences,
- getting others to dislike a person.
We (2) found that girls in Australia tend to be more indirectly aggressive than boys are, especially during the teenage years.
In 2000, we conducted an in-depth qualitative study into the nature of teenage girls’ indirect aggression. We found that girls commonly exhibited the following types of indirect aggression:
- Talking nastily about others – what the girls described as “bitching” about others; spreading rumors; breaking confidences; using code names to talk about peers
- Exclusionary behaviors – from low scale ignoring to more serious exclusion from the group and ultimately ostracism by the class and whole school
- A wide range of other indirect harassments – e.g., spreading of nasty notes, leaving hurtful messages on desks, prank telephone calls, hiding personal property
- Use of non verbal behaviors - including huddling together to exclude others; use of daggers or death stares to intimidate others.
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