Researchers have found that programs designed to curb relational aggression or “mean girl” behavior also help boys and teachers. In relational aggression, bullies use gossip and exclusionary tactics to dominate social hierarchies and harass outsiders.
To combat this behavior, schools in Philadelphia implemented the Friend to Friend program, which is designed to help at-risk girls belonging to ethnic minorities. Friend to Friend sessions run for 20 weeks. During that time, the participants learn anger management, problem-solving and leadership skills. The girls also work with instructors to develop lessons they then teach their classmates.
Researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have been studying the program to determine its effectiveness. While other studies have shown that Friend to Friend gets results, the researchers at the hospital wanted to know if it had any effect on teachers or male students.
The researchers studied 665 boys and girls who attended public elementary schools. They solicited opinions and descriptions of their behavior from teachers and other students. They wanted to know, for instance, if a student frequently spread rumors. The researchers also randomly assigned aggressive girls to Friend to Friend or to another program called Homework, Study Skills and Organization.
The researchers found that Friend to Friend was far more effective in curbing aggressive behavior. In addition, even people who did not participate in the program benefitted, for Friend to Friend encouraged better behavior and attitudes and thus improved the atmosphere at the school. Better behavior led to improved relationships with other students and with their teachers. The researchers reported their findings in the journal “Behavior Modification.”