- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2005

Girls control

social cliques

Girls as young as 4 display “Queen Bee” traits — using fear and control to create and manage social cliques — according to the first study to link relational aggression and social status in preschoolers.

These girls, who are equally liked and disliked by peers, regularly exclude others and threaten to withdraw friendship when they don’t get their way.

“These are kids who know how to get along with others and are pro-social when they want to be, but they also have this knack for using subversive forms of relational aggression,” said Craig Hart, study co-author and a professor of marriage, family and human development at Brigham Young University.

Queen Bee behavior is mostly associated with elementary and junior high school girls, a phenomenon that has provided grist for such mass-market books as “Queen Bees and Wannabes,” “Odd Girl Out” and “Cliques: 8 Steps to Help Your Child Survive the Social Jungle.”

Other research has found that about 17 percent to 20 percent of preschool and school-age girls display such behavior, Mr. Hart said. It also shows up in boys, but much less frequently.

David Nelson and Clyde Robinson of BYU are the other authors of the study, which appears in the current issue of the journal Early Education and Development.

The BYU researchers asked 328 preschoolers to identify three children they liked to play with and three they did not like to play with from a picture board. Each child then identified classmates who acted in certain ways — sociable, physically aggressive and relationally aggressive.

Or, as the researchers put it to the children: Who is fun to play with? Who grabs toys and pushes? Who says, “Don’t play with that kid or you can’t play with us”?

Children assigned to the “controversial-status” category were more likely to be girls. The preschool Queen Bees were well-liked and socially skilled, but also tended to be more arrogant and aggressive in managing relationships.

They would exclude specific classmates from play groups, demand others not play with a specific child, threaten to not play if their needs or demands weren’t met and refuse to listen to someone they were mad at. The little Queen Bees were also masters at spreading gossip and telling secrets.

This mix of positive and negative social behavior allows these girls to maintain their social standing, the researchers said — a somewhat disturbing finding.

“By the age of 4 a substantial number of children have apparently figured out from their environment that relational aggressive strategies can be used to their advantage and are rewarded with social status,” Mr. Robinson said.

So how does a little Queen Bee develop? Researchers are not sure. It could be genetic, something they pick up from other children or behavior they learn from observing their parents.

Other research by the BYU professors has shown that physically and relationally aggressive children are more likely to have parents who discipline with psychological control and manipulation — withdrawing love, avoiding eye contact and laying guilt trips on the kids.

“With relational aggression, we are early on in trying to tease apart these relationships,” Mr. Hart said.

One thing researchers do know is that childhood slights can have lasting impacts.

Mr. Hart said the study may help teachers and parents key into relational aggression and the psychological and emotional trauma it can cause. Just as they do with physical aggression, adults need to monitor such behavior and help children recognize the harm it can cause.

“We’ve done studies showing that reasoning with children, not just one time but taking lots of opportunities to reason with them about how their behavior is affecting others, can help diminish it,” he said.

Distributed by Scripps Howard

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