Elementary school-age girls, particularly those in urban schools, gossip and ostracize others less when they are taught problem-solving skills and given leadership opportunities, according to a new study from the Violence Prevention Initiative at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).
Behaviors such as using gossip and social exclusion to harm others, which is the most common form of aggression among girls, are termed “relational aggression” in social psychological research.
The study was a randomized control trial involving third- to fifth-grade urban African-American girls. The aim was to evaluate the effectiveness of the Friend to Friend (F2F) aggression prevention program.
“This study demonstrates not only the effect of a specific aggression prevention program, but also the promise of curricula that emphasize social problem-solving and leadership skills to reduce relational aggression in urban schools,” said psychologist Stephen Leff, Ph.D., the study’s lead author, and co-director of the Violence Prevention Initiative (VPI).
F2F is the first and only relational aggression intervention to effectively lower relationally aggressive behaviors among urban minority girls that continued at least a year after the conclusion of the program.
Specifically, it improved the girls’ social problem-solving knowledge and lowered their levels of relational aggression.
“Including this type of positive skill development in urban school curricula is important because children attending inner-city, under-resourced schools are at high risk for emotional and behavioral problems,” said Leff.
“There is evidence that having these skills and positive leadership opportunities increases the students’ resilience and leads to better future social interactions. This positive approach is infused into the school-based prevention programs that are part of our Violence Prevention Initiative at CHOP.”
The team developed and refined the program based on over a decade of committed research.
“This partnership approach was used to develop F2F curricula, as well as the innovative teaching modalities utilized in the program, such as cartoons, videos and role-plays,” said Brooke Paskewich, Psy.D., a psychologist and VPI program manager.
“Involving students, teachers, and parents in the design of the program helped to ensure its cultural sensitivity, developmental appropriateness, and engagement of urban minority youth.”
Friend to Friend is a 20 session pull-out small group program that is conducted for 40 minutes during the lunch-recess period. The group teaches social problem-solving strategies and provides opportunities for the girls to co-lead classroom sessions of F2F for their classmates.
A pilot study published in 2009 established the promise of F2F in decreasing relational aggression among elementary school-aged girls in two urban elementary schools.
The current study involved 144 relationally aggressive girls from 44 different classrooms across six elementary schools in the School District of Philadelphia. Participants were randomly assigned to either F2F or to a control group that used a homework and study-skills development program.
The study group found significant improvements on self-report and teacher-report measures completed before and after implementing the program. In a one year follow-up, the participants’ new teachers completed the same measures about the students’ social behaviors as their previous teachers the year before.
Notably, the new teachers were unaware of the girls’ aggressive and intervention status, a fact that helped to strengthen the validity of the findings.
The findings are published in the journal Psychology of Violence.