Are Boys More Aggressive Than Girls?

Are Boys More Aggressive Than Girls?

Who is more aggressive little boys or little girls? I think most people would immediately reply that boys are more aggressive than girls. However, if you observe young children carefully, you will notice that the amount of aggression employed by boys and girls is pretty much equal. Where you see a big difference is in the type of aggression they employ. That requires us to make a distinction between “overt” and “relational” aggression.

Because of the way we typically socialize boys, they tend to favor overt aggression. That is out-in-the-open, direct, physical aggression. They punch, kick, shove, or at least threaten bodily harm. Because of the way we typically socialize girls, they tend to favor relational aggression. They ostracize from the group, spread rumors, and otherwise undermine someone’s social standing. So, if a little boy is mad at you, he may hit you – overt aggression. Meanwhile, if a little girl is mad at you, she will tell everyone you still wet the bed – relational aggression.

I’ve always said that sticks and stones may break my bones, but names really hurt. If a little boy knocks you upside your head, it hurts. But after a couple of days, the bruise fades and the pain goes away. On the other hand, if a little girl tells everyone you still wet the bed, you never get out from under that. Years later in high school they’re still calling you “Betty Wetty.” And the thing is that while all the boys are getting into trouble because their overt aggression is impossible to miss, the girls are ripping each other to shreds and no one is doing anything about it because their relational aggression is flying under the supervisory radar.

Consequently, it is necessary to control the boys and teach them better ways to deal with their anger, frustration, and other ill-feelings. But it is critical to keep an eye on the girls and do the same for them. Their favored form of aggression is no less damaging and no less appropriate simply because it does not involve fractures and blood.