Sticks and stones can break my bones …

The birthday party invitation that never arrived, the whispers by the hallway lockers, the cruel words written on Facebook – it has happened to us and it happens to our children. We know it hurts to be talked about or excluded from groups or activities. Now after listening to the December podcast I have a name to put with this – relational aggression.

Sarah Coyne defines relational aggression as any kind of mean behavior that aims to harm a relationship or the social structure of a group. This includes gossip, spreading rumors, exclusion and so forth. Do you remember the chant – sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never harm me? Well, wrong! Relational aggression can be just as harmful as physical aggression. The pain can linger and even last for years. I can remember incidents from my teen and college years and suspect you can also.

I think a place for parents to start is by being proactive. You don’t want your child to be aggressive in this way and you don’t want your child to be hurt by relational aggression.  Sarah talked about three things that parents need to address – and you may not like these.

Really pay attention to what you and your child watch on TV. Reality shows are popular but research points to the relational aggression that is so common. Being mean is shown in a glamorous way for someone to “win” or become popular.

Next take a look at yourself. How do you interact with other adults in your home? What does your child hear and see? Does she hear you talking “mean” to each other? Does he hear you gossiping or making snide remarks about people? Children model what they see in the home.

Then tune in to your child’s group of friends. Is it a group of kids that practice relational aggression? Are they children with low self-esteem or do they think they are “hot stuff”? Either way, help your child learn how to stand up to the mean behavior.

Ok – I realize I just gave you three things to give your attention to and none are easy. But we are talking about the pain that results from girls and boys being mean to each other. It is worth the effort to help children learn a better way of treating people. I, for one, would like to live in a world with a few less relational aggressive adults!

Donna Donald

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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Video Gaming

To game or not to game … that is the question! With high definition graphics, multiple levels and players, and even bouts against other users via the internet, video gaming has reached a new technological level. These graphics are appealing to children, but researchers and parents often want to know about the potential negative effects of video gaming.

While video games have some positive effects on children (fine motor skills, mouse/keyboard abilities, and visual attention skills), they have been shown to increase aggression in children, both in the short and long term. Even playing a hostile video game just once increases a child’s likelihood of being aggressive towards others in the near future. Continued exposure to hostile video games has the long term effect of making children more aggressive over time. In fact, regular exposure to violent video games increases a child’s likelihood of getting into a fight by two to four times! On top of this, spending too much time playing video games has been linked to decreases in school performance.

To avoid the negative effects of video games, parents need to pay attention to both the content of video games, as well as the amount of time children are playing the video games. Video game ratings serve as a good starting point for gauging whether or not a video is appropriate for your child, but don’t stop there. Parents also need to look at the content of the game. If the game involves aggression or harm toward others, this game is not appropriate for children and will likely cause increased aggression (even if the game involves cartoon characters).

When it comes to the amount of video game playing time, the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued guidelines for recommended total screen time each day. This includes video games, television, and computer usage:

  • Under 3 years old = NO screen time
  • Elementary aged children = 1 hour per day
  • Middle and high school children = 2 hours per day

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Donna Donald

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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