Relationship Skills

Family Resources on Relationships: Relational Aggression

Project and Purpose

Students analyze poetry to identify the signs of relational aggression and create a plan for combatting relational aggression in their own lives

Essential Questions

Why do people participate in relational aggression and what can we do to change it?

If this lesson was used in the classroom: Students learned about the effects of relational aggression-often used as a type of bullying. In class students discussed relational aggression, covert bullying and manipulation. In groups students read poems about relational aggression and discussed how relational aggression can affect others and how to prevent relational aggression.

Getting Ready for the Conversation

Relational aggression is a type of bullying and manipulation that sometimes occurs within social relationships among adolescents. Relational aggression can take many forms but most often involves saying bad things about others, spreading rumors and gossip, excluding someone, or leaving mean or negative messages about others. Although social media often allows relational aggression to happen quickly, social media is just one way that relational aggression occurs and spreads.

Conversation notes:
As social networks grow and become more important for adolescents, so does the possibility that relational aggression can grow. Many adolescents do not realize that relational aggression is a type of bullying behavior and often adolescents minimize the damaging effects for others who are targeted for exclusion.

Please note that when discussing issues of bullying it is helpful not to use the terms “victim” and “bully”. A person should not be defined by these learned behaviors. Instead, when discussing bullying we recommend using terms such as “targeted by bullying behaviors” and “participating in bullying behaviors” to focus on the behavior not the person as a whole.

Relational aggression article and definition from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia blog:

A more thorough article by Dr. Ditta M. Oilker in Psychology Today:

Constructive Conversation Starters

The first item is for follow-up after participating in class activities.

What struck you about the poem your group discussed during class? Why do you think this made an impression for you?

Why do you think some people might not believe that relational aggression is a type of bullying (use examples)?

Do you think that relational aggression happens much at your school? If so, describe why you think so using examples. If not, what do you think prevents these types of events from happening at your school?

Why do you think that relational aggression can be so hurtful to people who are the targets of relational aggression?

School to Home Resources on Relationships: Relational Aggression


  • What Is Relational Aggression? Slide/handout
  • Chart paper, 2-3 posted around the room
  • Post it notes and writing implements
  • Copies of poems about relational aggression (Note: one poem per group of students)
  • Relational Aggression Poetry Analysis worksheet

Note: Consider presenting this session with school support staff such as a counselor or a social worker


1. Let students know that they will be talking about a difficult topic today: relational aggression. While individual students may have experience with this topic, they should do their best to refrain from using specific names or using the time to accuse or confess. Explain to students that if they have experienced relational aggression they may find the need to speak with someone. Remind them they can speak to a trusted adult at home or in school or to a school counselor or social worker.

2. Post or handout copies of the slide What Is Relational Aggression? Discuss: what is meant by “covert bullying”? “Manipulating behavior”?

3. Have students silently read the list of tactics used in relational aggression. Ask students to think about times they have noticed, participated in, or been a victim of any of the tactics. They do not need to share this information out loud.

4. Add that RA used to be called “The Mean Girl Phenomenon,” but current research tells us that an equal number of boys participate in and are affected by RE. This may bring up the topic of the movie Mean Girls or other like films and pop culture references. Without squelching their participation, point out that those films are indeed examples of RA, but in this session they will not talk about RA as a form of entertainment but rather the serious effects of RA in their lives

5. Distribute Post-it notes and ask students to write their responses to the following question: What would repeated covert bullying or manipulating behavior cause a victim to feel or do? In other words, what are the effects on a victim of long term relational aggression? Have them post their answers on one of the pieces of chart paper.

6. When students have finished posting their answers, read their responses out loud. Add the following to their list if not included:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Feelings that they are ugly, awkward, unlikeable
  • Hopelessness
  • Isolation/Loneliness
  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Feelings of rejection
  • Substance abuse
  • Self-injury
  • Eating disorders
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts
  • Delinquency
  • Homicidal thoughts and attempts
  • Academic suffering or failure
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty making healthy friendships

7. Ask the group to react to this list of effects. Which, if any, are surprising? Which, if any, are upsetting? Which, if any, are familiar? Why?

8. Break into five groups and give each group a copy of one of the poems about relational aggression. Their tasks are:

  • Read the poem silently and then aloud.
  • Determine the speaker (gender identity, age, any other details that would give us a window into the person’s character) and cite evidence to support the claim.
  • Determine what relational aggression strategies were used against or by the speaker. Cite evidence to support the claim.
  • Determine the effects of relational aggression on the speaker.
  • Predict what might possibly be the next step for the speaker.
  • What are some helpful, realistic ways other people in this person’s life could intervene?

9. Determine the way you would like students to share their poems and responses.


Many times people participate in relational aggression because they have never stopped to take other people’s feelings into account either in person or online. Ask students to respond to the following questions as a journal entry or a personal written response: What part do you play in relational aggression in your school? How can you be a part of the solution?

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