As a facilitator of a female support group, I often meet with teen girls and their families before a new group starts. It is surprising the number of girls who announce to me on our first meeting “I do not get along with girls.” During the support group, Discovering Possibilities, I explore this more in depth with the teen girls. I ask them how girls treat each other and the answers are always something like:
“Girls are mean to each other; they talk behind your back and cut you down with dirty looks. Girls destroy you from the inside. With boys you know where you stand.”
Girls aren’t socialized to use the same form of direct aggression boys’ use. Female aggression is indirect and covert, making it harder to address than a shouting match or physical fight. This is called relational aggression and can include exclusion, rumors, backbiting and is mostly fought with silence and body language to create psychological harm that can have a lasting effect on a girl’s self-esteem.
In our support group, we discuss how girls sometimes treat each other and what that looks and feels like. Then we discuss how we can create an environment in the group that is safe and supportive for everyone. The youth brainstorm possible guidelines and write them on a poster that is initialed and hung in the group room. Here are some examples from the last two groups I facilitated:
- No judgment
- Be nice/ no dirty looks
- No making fun of people
- No rumors/ talk to a person you have a problem with
- Cell phones on silent
- Be insightful of others feelings
- Take conflict to the source
- Be polite
- (A heart)
- What happens here stays here (confidentiality)
- Lets have fun….sober
- Listen when someone is talking
- Your attendance affects the group
Once these guidelines are established in the group they can be revisited often to see how well the group is doing to follow them and how safe everyone feels. Any sort of body language or act of covert aggression isn’t ignored but brought into the open and discussed. I believe this is the first step to creating an environment girls enjoy coming back to, an environment where the focus is compassion and support.
Tips for parents
Relational aggression is a behavior found mostly among females. If you have a teen daughter, here are a few tips to prevent or to help your daughter get through relational aggression:
- Encourage your daughter to be involved in groups and activities and find friends who have common interests. Researchers have found that girls who are involved in academics and extracurricular activities are more resistant to relational aggression because their self esteem isn’t limited to their social standing.
- Start teaching daughters at a very young age to pick friends that are nice to them. Though this may seem obvious to an adult, girls caught up in the cycle of trying to be popular often lose sight of this.
- If your daughter is a victim of relational aggression be a strong support by listening and brainstorming with her the best plan of action.
- Both victims and bullies can benefit from counseling
- Talk to someone at your daughter’s school about how they handle this type of bullying. Too often relational aggression goes ignored, unnoticed or is looked at as ‘something girls just do.’ You can start the discussion on how this behavior should be handled.
“Long after the crisis has passed, girls grow into women who remember the refuge of home and family as the one thing that helped them survive. So turn your home into a sanctuary for your daughter. Let it be the place where she can fill herself up with unconditional love and support to replenish what she is losing day after difficult day.”
Rachel Simmons, author of ODD GIRL OUT
Discovering Possibilities- More about the group
Discovering Possibilities is a free ten week female support group at Youth Services for young women ages 13-17. The group uses the strength based and holistic gender specific curriculum Girls Circle. Some of the topics that are discussed are healthy relationships, body image, healthy sexuality, goals, stress reduction techniques, self talk and affirmations and self discovery. The group relies on and appreciates the YWCA and Planned Parenthood who have guest speakers come to the group to talk about teen dating violence and healthy sexuality. To see the dates for the next group, click HERE.
- Odd Girl Out, The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls By Rachel Simmons
- Queen Bees and Wannabees By Rosalind Wiseman
- Reviving Ophelia, Saving the Selves or Adolescent Girls By Mary Pipher