Essay on Aggression in Children and Gender Differences

Aggression is a word that is part of everyday language and appears misleadingly unambiguous. The Oxford dictionary defines aggression as an unprovoked attack or assault.Moyer (1968) presented an early, and highly influential, classification of seven different forms of aggression, from a biological and evolutionary point of view.

  1.  Help with Essay on Aggression in Children and Gender Differences

    Help with Essay on Aggression in Children and Gender Differences

    Predatory aggression: attack on prey by a predator.

  2. Inter-male aggression: competition between males of the same species over access to females,. dominance, status etc
  3. Fear-induced aggression: aggression associated with attempts to flee from a threat
  4. Irritable aggression: aggression directed towards an available target induced by some sort of frustration(e.g. schedule-induced aggression)
  5. Territorial aggression: defense of a fixed space against intruders.
  6. Maternal aggression: a female’s aggression to protect her offspring from a threat. Paternal aggression also exists.
  7. Instrumental aggression: aggression directed towards obtaining some goal, maybe a learned response to a situation

No one disputes that there is a male-female disparity in levels of aggression. This difference remains constant across time, cultures, and species. Evolutionary psychologists trace the difference to the male role of hunter and protector.

But boys are more confrontational than girls, and boys persistently display the symptoms. Similarly, 6 percent to 16 percent of boys, and 2 percent to 9 percent of girls, under the age of 18, are diagnosed with “conduct disorder.” Such behavior includes fighting, stealing, vandalism, and general aggression.

Boys who seriously misbehave in school frequently commit crimes out of school. Aggressive behavior is also a precursor and predictor of school dropout rates, antisocial behavior, delinquency and criminality, and suicides. So, while there is no evidence of an aggression epidemic in today’s boys, it is clearly in the interest of boys themselves, and of the rest of us who must deal with them, to address destructive aggression early.

Furthermore, in adolescence, boys are responsible for more delinquent behavior than are girls. It is also a truism that regardless of culture, time, or species, males are more aggressive than females. Males are predominantly responsible for criminal activity, no matter where one looks. Thus aggression in males is not a new development; rather, it is typical of males. If boys are in trouble because they are aggressive, then they have always been, by definition, in trouble.

Many girls are waging a war in their back yards, on the playground and even in the classroom. “You can’t come to my birthday party unless you give me that box of juice.” “We have to play this game my way, or I won’t play with you at all.” “You’re my best friend – not hers.”

Actually, girls and boys are equally aggressive, but they usually express such feelings differently, social scientists say. While boys use physical harm or its threat to get what they want, girls are more likely to hurt others by wreaking havoc on relationships with peers or by sabotaging other girls’ feelings of acceptance.

Girls who practice such behaviors – dubbed “relational aggression ” – might purposefully ignore someone when angered. They might spread rumors about a child they don’t like. Or they might even instruct friends to stay away from a specific classmate as a way to retaliate.

Friendships are golden to girls, and many child-development practitioners agree that it’s this intrinsic value that is vulnerable. Teaching girls to face conflict, express anger directly and create supportive relationships with other girls is key to helping them avoid relational aggression.

As toddlers, girls and boys are equally likely to be physically aggressive with no sex differences; that’s a pretty well known finding. Something happens during the preschool years, however. Around the age of 4, girls’ engagement in physical aggression drops off dramatically but it doesn’t for boys. We don’t know the reason, but suggestive research says that the drop occurs around the same time that girls begin to understand what it’s like to be a female in our culture. There’s a side of physical aggression that goes along with being tough and cool that’s part of the male gender role, but we want our girls to be nice.

Boys call the shots in the cultures of middle and high schools. For girls status depends on boys liking them. This supports girls not being supportive of each other – it puts them into competition. It’s a whole cultural phenomenon where we’re interested in the betrayal of girls and we kind of support that mythology, ignoring the depths of friendships in girls’ lives.

American culture doesn’t encourage boys’ friendships except in teams. The media foments issues of gender and power as well, underscoring messages of the different expectations for boys and girls. The girl-power commercials are about makeup and hair and dolls. Boy toys are about action things. Parents within the four walls of their daughters’ homes repeat the stereotypes, too.

We have assumptions for what makes a good girl and what makes a good boy, and they’re different. Good girls are compliant and compassionate and kind. What we don’t really do is push them to get out in the world and be assertive and aggressive when it’s appropriate to do so. Boys are content with accomplishments, while girls find it important to be accepted and to have a friendship group.

Parents play into the equation. Parents are very happy when their girl students are well-liked at school,” the former kindergarten teacher says. With boys, the parents seem much more concerned with grades and their athletic accomplishments.

Relational aggression occurs in the schools inasmuch as girls will use what is most important to them – their friendships – to get what they want. The use of relational aggression reflects girls’ inability to directly communicate their feelings and needs. Adolescent females may resort to indirect communication with relationally aggressive behaviors. Intense relational aggression directed toward another over an extended period may develop into overt aggression.

Situations involving this manipulative behavior most likely occur in the classroom or during unstructured times, such as lunch and recess and typically the classroom teacher will handle them. Sometimes the guidance counselor may be called in and when available, peer mediators are scheduled, particularly at the secondary level, to address such issues.

Actually, girls who frequently exhibit manipulative behavior fall into two patterns. They either are both highly liked and highly disliked, their social status is controversial; or they are just disliked and their social status is rejected.

Kids who were highly relationally aggressive at the beginning of the school year may enjoy a certain amount of popularity with some kids for a while, but it catches up with them. Other kids discover they have other options.

Girls learn particular behaviors from their mothers and many women have problems with someone being mad at them. There’s an equation that girls grow up learning: ‘If I am angry with someone, they will not want to be my friend anymore. Conflict will terminate my relationships and leave me alone,’ which for girls is a terrifying thing.

There is  a common power play featuring conflict avoidance  among girls:

“We’re really good friends. You start hanging out with someone else a lot, and I feel threatened by that. Instead of talking to you, I go and hang out with someone you don’t like to make you jealous and angry. Maybe I walk by you with this new girl and I say something loudly about how I’m really excited that we’ll be hanging out together this weekend.”

While substantial male-female differences exist in levels of activity and aggression, it is true that certain kinds of family environments can exaggerate aggressive behavior in boys. Gerald R. Patterson of the Oregon Social Learning Center has studied disruptive aggression in boys for four decades and finds that aggressive boys tend to come from a certain kind of family environment. Parents of aggressive boys tend not to take an interest in their sons’ friends and do not keep track of their activities. Aggressive boys tend to have parents who use halfhearted and inept disciplinary techniques. They threaten, scold, and nag without backing up their threats with effective action. Families of aggressive boys employ confrontation instead of negotiation to resolve conflicts. As a result of this disciplinary approach, aggressive boys tend to interpret the intentions of others as malicious, when in fact they are not.

Once a pattern of aggression is established, it often leads to other problems. Parenting practices per se are not the best predictor of adolescent and adult problems, such as delinquency, criminality, and dropout rates. Rather, it is the level of childhood aggression that predicts these outcomes. Early styles of parenting can reinforce a pattern of aggression in childhood, which, in turn, encourages later forms of destructive behavior.

Parents of aggressive boys may practice their particular style of child rearing, in part, because their sons are temperamentally difficult. Patterson notes that aggressive boys tend to be coercive, obstinate, less responsive to positive reinforcement, and more impulsive, and there is evidence that these traits precede any child-rearing techniques employed by adults. Thus it may be that parents, faced with problematic children, become ineffective socializers. It is possible to improve the behavior of such children, by establishing firm, rule-oriented parental control. When parents begin to consciously adopt such tactics, confrontations among family members may decrease, and more effective conflict resolution and problem-solving practices become possible. Relations between parents and children then can become more affectionate.

Interestingly, Patterson finds that a parental emphasis on rule following works for boys but not for girls. Boys appear to need structure more than girls. Thus discipline and monitoring help to minimize disruptive aggression in males but not females. Girls, on the other hand, are more affected than boys by a lack of positive reinforcement, especially from their mothers. To the extent, then, which parents lay down the law for boys more than for girls, it’s a good thing.

It would be a good thing if we took more seriously the need boys have for a father. Male children are typically less compliant than their sisters, and women have trouble controlling them. Hence the familiar refrain of mothers everywhere: “Wait ’til your father gets home.” Across cultures, in families where fathers are absent, boys are more likely to display aggressive, antisocial behaviors. It is principally men, not women, who moderate the aggressive impulses of boys. Thus feminists, who argue that there are no real male-female differences, and who encourage women to raise children without males in the house, are courting disaster. The probable result is that the most disruptive of sex-linked male traits, destructive aggression, is exacerbated.

Parents can help their children weather different situations by modeling more appropriate behavior. Role-playing exercises are a good time to ask children to think about how someone else might feel. Exercises in empathy can help children see that relational aggression can be very painful. Relational aggression can easily become a cycle of children ‘striking back’ that they cannot end without adult assistance.

To be sure, parents always want to know what they can do to help their children suffering through relationship problems with their peers.


  1. Appel, M. (1943). Aggressive behavior of nursery school children and adult procedures in dealing with such behavior. Journal of Experimental Education.
  2. Coddington, R. D. (1984). Measuring the stressfulness of a child’s environment. In J. Humphrey (Ed.), Stress in childhood. New York: AMS.
  3. Dawe, H. (1934). An analysis of two hundred quarrels of preschool children. Child Development.
  4. Johnson, J., & Melamed, D. (1982). Life events as stressors in childhood and adolescence. In B. Lahey & A. Kazdin (Eds.), Advances in clinical child psychology (Vol. 2). New York: Plenum Press.
  5. REID, John B., PATTERSON, Gerald R., & SNYDER, James. Antisocial Behavior in Children and Adolescents: A Developmental Analysis and Model for Intervention. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2002
  6. Sharon Lamb .The Secret Lives of Girls: What Good Girls Really Do-Sex Play, Aggression, and their Guilt. New York: The Free Press, 2001.
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