The “Mean Girls” phenomenon is not just the subject of fiction. Relational aggression, such as using gossip and social exclusion to harm others, is all too common among preadolescent and adolescent girls. A study from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia suggests that educational interventions including problem-solving skills and leadership opportunities can help, with lasting effects.
The study, published in the journal Psychology of Violence, is the first and only demonstration that a relational aggression intervention decreased these behaviors among urban minority girls for at least a year after the conclusion of the program. Specifically, in a randomized controlled trial, the Friend to Friend (F2F) aggression prevention program improved urban African-American relationally aggressive girls’ social problem-solving knowledge and decreased their levels of relational aggression.
“Including this type of positive skill development in urban school curricula is important because children attending inner-city, under-resourced schools are at high risk for emotional and behavioral problems,” said study leader Stephen Leff, PhD, who is co-director of the Violence Prevention Initiative and a psychologist at CHOP. “There is evidence that having these skills and positive leadership opportunities increases their resilience and leads to better future social interactions. This is indicative of the positive approach taken by all of the school-based prevention programs that are part of our Violence Prevention Initiative at CHOP.”
The F2F program’s curricula and innovative teaching methods, including videos, cartoons, and role-plays, were developed and refined through more than a decade of committed research at CHOP in partnership with key community stakeholders. Students, teachers, and parents were all engaged as partners in the program’s design.
The current study involved 144 relationally aggressive girls in third to fifth grades from 44 classrooms across six School District of Philadelphia elementary schools. Participants were randomly assigned to either F2F or to a control group teaching homework and study skills.
See the full version of this article in the November 2015 issue of Bench to Bedside. To learn more about this study, view the CHOP press release and blog post from CHOP’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention.