Study Debunks Mean Girls Myth: Boys Are Worse At Social Bullying

When we think of bullying, we usually think of mean girls ostracizing someone or spreading rumors, and mean boys being more likely to use physical aggression.

But a new study from the University of Georgia published in the journal Aggressive Behavior says that boys do both – and are crueler than girls when it comes to tormenting peers socially.

Social researchers have long focused on girls when it comes to “relational aggression,” or the tendency to socially bully rather than physically. In other words, according to Time, boys are more likely to shove you into a locker and girls are more apt to spread a rumor that you have body odor. In fact, the movie Mean Girls was based on relational aggression – spreading mean stories about others and excluding them socially.

It turns out that boys are just as bad, if not worse than girls, at such behavior.

The researchers followed a group of middle and high school age boys and girls, and found that boys engaged in social bullying more often than girls at all age levels. They were also more physically aggressive than the girls.

The study found that the most aggression, both relational and physical, was present in students at the middle school level – grades six through eight – or during the pre-pubescent and early puberty stages.

Professor Pamela Orphinas defines relational aggression as “harming others through damaging or manipulating peer relationships.” Orphinas and her co-authors, Caroline McNicholas and Lusine Nahapetyn, analyzed data from 620 students in six Georgia school districts. The students, who completed yearly surveys from the beginning of middle school until their senior year of high school, self-reported their aggressive behaviors both physically and socially.

According to the New York Times, the survey asked students how often they had done things such as spreading false rumors, socially ostracizing others, or making mean comments about people to turn others against them.

The results showed nearly twice as many boys took part in social bullying than girls in the middle school age group than girls. Both groups reported a decline in relational aggression as they got older, which the researchers expected.

“People say ‘well, boys are physically aggressive, but girls are aggressive in their relationships,'” Orpinas said. “And it just seems to be a myth.”

The pressure to be “normal” and popular is high among teens, and bullying is a serious problem for those who don’t conform, such as this 12-year-old boy who the Inquisitr reported committed suicide after being bullied for being a cheerleader.

Orpinas told the Times that schools need to recognize that social bullying isn’t just a “mean girl” thing.

“It’s really important to think about boys and girls when we do prevention programs,” she said.

She adds that parents need to pay attention to what their kids are doing too, and set forth a good example for both boys and girls by not being relationally aggressive themselves.

[Image via Stop Child Bullying]