Story by Ryan Gavin
Published Oct. 3, 2014
As fans of the movie Mean Girls can tell you, Oct. 3 is National Mean Girls Day! Fittingly, a newly released Mizzou study reports an intervention method that effectively decreases so-called "mean girl" behavior.
This relational aggression, commonly used by teen girls, includes gossiping, rumor spreading, exclusion and rejection. As media coverage illustrates, such behavior can lead to tragic and sometimes fatal outcomes. But little has been done to prevent and eliminate these behaviors until now.
Researchers developed a 10-week intervention that consists of counseling, training and phone consultations. The name? Growing Interpersonal Relationships through Learning and Systemic Supports, or GIRLSS.
Their work was a success.
Students ages 12 to 15 participated in weekly 70-minute sessions that included interactive discussions, media-based examples, role-playing, journaling and weekly goal setting. At the end of the 10-week period, school teachers and counselors reported a decrease in the mean-girl behavior.
Help from Adults
Caregivers of students also participated in separate workshops and phone consultations. They learned new communication, monitoring and supervision strategies as well as appropriate disciplinary responses.
“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. “This study represents a first step in helping school personnel meet the intervention needs of a diverse group of relationally aggressive girls.”
Co-author Connie Brooks, an assistant professor in the Department of Health Psychology in the School of Health Professions, says relational aggression is a complicated issue with many variables. Parents and teachers should be aware of it so they don't unknowingly contribute to the negative behaviors.
Spreading the Love
To help more schools adopt the intervention method, researchers hope to improve and further evaluate GIRLSS using feedback from the participants.
The study’s lead author, Joni Williams Splett, completed this research at MU while she was a doctoral student. The study, “GIRLSS: A Randomized, Pilot 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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