Science News

‘Mean girl’ antidotes benefit entire classroom

Programs designed to curb “mean girl” behaviors in the classroom also benefit male students and teachers.

Relational aggression, unlike physical aggression, uses gossip and social exclusion to control social hierarchies and harm reputations.

Recently, researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia analyzed the results of Friend to Friend, a program designed to diminish relational aggression among at-risk ethnic minority girls in urban schools.

Previous studies have confirmed the promise of the program. It is the only such program to yield results for as long as a year after its conclusion.

But the latest research looked more broadly, finding benefits among teachers and the girls’ male peers.

The Friend to Friend intervention program includes small-group teaching sessions. Participants learn problem-solving and anger management strategies, as well as leadership skills. In the middle of the 20-week program, girls work with instructors to design and teach several lessons for the benefit of their classmates.

The latest study looked at the benefits of mean girl interventions among 665 male and female students — third, fourth and fifth graders from six schools in the School District of Philadelphia. Students rated their classmates behavior, such as being nice or spreading rumors, and techers rated their relationships with students. Aggressive girls were randomly selected to participate in either Friend to Friend or another education-based program called Homework, Study Skills and Organization.

The results — detailed in the journal Behavior Modification — showed Friend to Friend consistently outperformed Homework, Study Skills and Organization.

Not only did Friend to Friend earn more significant behavior improvements among female participants, it also encouraged better relationships — an uptick in niceties and positive attitudes, as well as a reduction in rumor spreading — among classmates, including boys and girls who did not directly participate. Teachers also reported improved relationships with their students.

“A program focused on improving behaviors among urban aggressive girl students also had positive effects on non-targeted students and served to improve the classroom climate,” study leader Stephen S. Leff, co-director of the Violence Prevention Initiative, said in a news release.

“We hope our future studies will determine why the program has such strong effects for non-targeted youth,” Leff added. “Regardless, we are excited about the initial impact, and feel that the program has great potential for helping aggressive girls and their classmates.”