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Intervention can Reduce “Mean Girl” Behaviors, Study Reports

Update Date: Oct 02, 2014 11:28 AM EDT

Bullying is a serious problem that adolescents and teenagers experience. Despite efforts to end bullying, we still see many different forms of it everyday. In a new study, researchers from the University of Missouri tested a new method aimed to reduce "mean girl" bullying, which is a nonphysical form of relational aggression between adolescent girls. The team found that an intervention strategy was effective in reducing instances of this kind of bullying.

"Good outcomes can happen when priorities are set by schools and families to prevent and eliminate relational aggression," said co-author Connie Brooks, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Psychology in the School of Health Professions and in the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. "This study was an attempt to address this social problem in a meaningful way by testing an intervention to reduce relational aggression among teen girls."

"Mean girl" bullying typically involves gossip, rumors, exclusion and rejection. For this study, the researchers tested the effectiveness of an intervention program called Growing Interpersonal Relationship through Learning and Systemic Support (GIRLSS). The program, which was created by the researchers, involves group counseling and training for caregivers. There is also a caregiver phone consultation intervention for middle school girls and their families.

The team enrolled students who were between the ages of 12 and 15. Each week, the participants had to attend a 70-minute session that incorporated interactive discussions, media-based examples, journaling and role-playing. The students were also encouraged to set weekly goals. By the end of the intervention, teachers and school counselors stated that they saw a reduction in the amount of relationally aggressive behaviors that the girls exhibited.

"It takes a village to raise relationally healthy children," said Melissa Maras, co-author and assistant professor in the Department of Educational, School and Counseling Psychology in the MU College of Education according to the University's press release. "This study represents a first step in helping school personnel meet the intervention needs of a diverse group of relationally aggressive girls."

The study, "GIRLSS: A Randomized, Plot Study of a Multisystemic, School-Based Intervention to Reduce Relational Aggression," was published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies.

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