WASHINGTON - The vast majority of past studies on peer victimization have focused on boys and physical aggression. But new research illustrates that girls also experience peer victimization, usually relational aggression, in which a person is harmed through hurtful manipulation of their peer relationships or friendships. Examples of relational aggression include retaliating against a peer by purposefully excluding her from one's social group or badmouthing her to her peers. Girls who are relationally victimized are rejected by their peers, feel lonely, experience social anxiety, are socially distressed, and are significantly more submissive than their peers, according to a study in the April issue of the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
Researchers Nicki R. Crick, Ph.D., of the University of Minnesota, and Maureen A. Bigbee, M.S./M.S.W., of Ramsey Elementary School examined 383 fourth and fifth graders' (194 boys and 189 girls) self-reports of victimization and assessed peer perception of children's positive and negative treatment by classmates. While most past studies concentrated on the initiators of aggressive behavior, the researchers focused their efforts on the children who are targets of such behavior and they examined how such aggression affects their adjustment. The authors found that girls were significantly more relationally victimized, while boys were significantly more overtly victimized (overt aggression harms others through physical damage or the threat of such damage).
The researchers note that victims of relational aggression experience significant adjustment problems, and all victimized children report relatively high levels of emotional distress and loneliness. Relationally victimized children also report more self-restraint problems than their peers, including more difficulty inhibiting anger and greater impulsivity. The authors say assessment of relational victimization provides valuable insights into children's adjustment difficulties that are not evident when examining overt aggression, overt victimization, or relational aggression. "These insights demonstrate the value of studying relational victimization in order to increase our knowledge of social contributors to children's mental health problems, particularly for girls," says Dr. Crick, lead author of the study.
The researchers suggest that those who work with children, including teachers and clinicians, must pay attention to victims not only of physically aggressive attacks, but also to those who are victimized by relational slights, for both types of victims may be at risk for adjustment difficulties. Future research should examine the preceding factors and consequences of both forms of peer victimization in order to develop effective treatment programs for victimized boys and girls.
Article: "Relational and Overt Forms of Peer Victimization: A Multiinformant Approach," by Nicki R. Crick, Ph.D., University of Minnesota and Maureen A. Bigbee, M.S./M.S.W., Ramsey Elementary School, in Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 66, No. 2.
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