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Girl Wars: 12 Strategies That Will End Female Bullying by Cheryl Dellasega, Ph.D. & Charisse Nixon, Ph.D.
256 pages Fireside October 2003 Paperback rated 5 out of 5 stars   

When we think of bullying, the image that typically comes to mind is one of physical violence and intimidation; a schoolyard bully shakes down a smaller kid for his lunch money or a junior high student is beaten up after lunch. Girl Wars introduces the reader to relational aggression (RA), a subtler but equally damaging form of bullying.

Relational aggression is defined as the use of relationships to harm others. Since girls tend to be more social than boys and are more likely to define themselves by their relationships with others, the problem is most often caused and suffered by girls. Most people can relate to the tactics of RA even if they never put them into words. Did a former friend once refuse to sit with you at lunch? That's relational aggression. Did anyone ever spread a rumor about you? That's another example of RA.

Since RA is less obvious than other forms of bullying, it is important to recognize its characteristics. The authors first define relational aggression, give numerous examples and place it in the larger context of teenage development. They then quickly move on to strategies to combat RA, which include ways to build teens' self-esteem and conflict resolution skills so that they don't fall prey to peers' aggression and larger efforts to stem the culture that encourages relational aggression. Expertly combining their own observations with first-hand accounts from girls who lived through RA, the authors create a compelling narrative of an oft-overlooked social problem.

The book ends on a note of hope as the final chapter recounts several successful programs that are fighting the culture that leads to relational aggression. From Ophelia Project clubs that provide mentoring to middle school girls to a full-fledged camp experience that aims to improve self-esteem and squash RA, there is an inspirational "you can do it, too" tone to the examples. These stories are followed by a wealth of resources in four appendices, including websites, movies and books that either provide support for those fighting RA or serve as illustrations of key RA topics.

While Girl Wars is targeted to the parents of teen girls, it should be required reading for anyone who comes in contact with teenagers, especially teachers and school counselors. By reading this book, anyone can become more aware of relational aggression, recognize its signs and take steps to combat it.

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