Boys and girls engage in aggression, but girls are more likely to express aggression in a relational sense, including behaviors such as rumors, gossip and social exclusion. Girls purposefully ignore or exclude other girls, spread rumors, and tell peers not to associate with another girl as a means of retaliation. Girls use their relationships to inflict harm, manipulate peers, and injure others' feelings of social acceptance.
For example, a relational aggressive girl may insist that her friends ignore a particular child, exclude her from their group, form secret pacts to humiliate the child, call her names, and/or spread rumors about her. Examples of such manipulation include, "If you don't do what I say, I won't play with you." Children in preschool have been observed excluding peers by saying, "Don't let her play," or using retaliation, "She was mean to me yesterday, so she can't be our friend." In older girls, the gossip can be more vicious, for example, "Her dad's a druggie," "I saw her cheat," or "She think she's all that."
The consequences are serious. Both victims and aggressors are at risk for serious adjustment problems that can have far-reaching effects on their lives, including depression and suicide. Relational aggression creates a social environment in schools that is hostile and affects a girl's ability to learn and grow. Three groups are involved in relational aggression: the aggressor or bully, the victim, and the bystander.