Mean Girl Behavior Not Exclusive to Girls

Studies show boys can be more relationally aggressive than girls


“Boys are so much easier to raise than girls.”

“I’m glad I don’t have to deal with girl drama. Boys settle things so much more quickly.”

Statements like these are commonplace when it comes to discussing the differences in the way girls and boys bully. In fact, so much has been written about mean girls and relational aggression, that most people know exactly what it looks like. Whether it is a line from the Mean Girl movie or an exchange between girls on Instagram, most people can easily identify mean girls.

But what about boys? Are they ever mean in the same ways girls can be mean, spreading rumors and excluding others? A new study finds that mean behavior once attributed primarily to girls may actually be more prevalent in boys.

According to University of Georgia researchers boys use relational aggression to harm or manipulate just as much if not more than girls. In fact, according to the study significantly more boys showed a pattern of relational aggression in the middle school and junior high years than girls. In fact, the study showed that students reporting mean behavior were more than 66% male.

What’s more, this is not the only study to question whether or not girls are the only ones who can be mean. A study of kids from nine different countries found no difference between girls and boys when it came to mean behavior or relational aggression.

To many people, this comes as a surprise. Most people don’t associate manipulation, cliques, gossip and rumors with boys. When they think of boys and bullying, they picture physical bullying, name-calling and other more obvious forms of bullying. But studies show it is happening.

Perhaps the difference is that boys don’t talk about it like girls do. But if you look closely at boys’ relationships in middle school and junior high, you will see it. One boy will be on a path of social security while another appears to be a social outcast. That doesn’t just happen by chance. Characteristics like physical strength, height, attractiveness, athleticism, intelligence, humor and other popularity markers set the stage for social success for boys.

And it appears that the desire to be accepted combined with the natural competitiveness of boys can lead to mean behavior very similar to what has been identified in girls at this same age. As a result, boys that don’t make the grade often fall victim to banishment, verbal insults and manipulation by other boys.

What’s more, relational aggression can exist even within longstanding friendships. Underneath the trash talking, the bantering and the rivalries, boys are fighting for acceptance just like girls. In reality, most boys’ days are filled with many of the same social challenges girls face.

But a lot of these challenges often go unnoticed by parents and teachers primarily because boys don’t communicate about what they are experiencing. Very rarely do boys share their feelings when a group of boys excludes them from a game of basketball or leaves them off an invite list to a party. Instead, they hold onto resentment or look for ways to get even. Additionally, society expects them not to be bothered by it either.

But to change bullying in boys and address relational aggression, parents and teachers need to equip boys with ways in which to deal with and prevent mean behavior. Their emotional lives, self-esteem and social skills are deeply impacted by this type of bullying, even if they aren’t saying anything.

While more research needs to be conducted on the issue of “mean boys,” it is clear that parents and teachers need to address relational aggression issues in boys. Future bullying prevention programs should be aimed at reducing relational aggression in both boys and girls equally. Labeling relational aggression, or mean behavior, as a “girl-only” issue is a grave disservice to boys. 

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