Center for Injury Research and Prevention

Friend to Friend: Reducing Relational Aggression In School Settings

Friend to Friend (F2F) is a school-based intervention program designed to reduce relational aggression among high-risk girls as well as improve the broader classroom climate in urban schools.  Relational aggression is nonphysical behavior characterized by manipulating social relationships through gossip and social exclusion. Research has established that relational aggression in schools is associated with a host of negative psychosocial outcomes for youth, and can also have a negative broader impact on classroom climate and student-teacher relationships.

Developed by researchers at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) beginning in the early 2000’s, F2F is a 10 week program conducted through a partnership between CHOP facilitators and a classroom teacher. Because relational aggression in schools is particularly prevalent among girls and occurs frequently among ethnic minority youth in urban settings, F2F is uniquely designed for that target population.

How F2F Works

The Community We Serve

F2F Impact on Relational Aggression in Schools

Towards a Replicable Model

Recommended Reading

CHOP Research on F2F

How F2F Works to Reduce Relational Aggression in Schools

The primary component of F2F is a 10 week, 20 session small-group intervention that teaches 3rd-5th grade relationally aggressive girls to recognize both physical and relational aggression, improve problem-solving skills, and promote prosocial strategies for dealing with peer conflicts. A unique aspect of the F2F curriculum is that it addresses the importance of the unstructured school settings (such as the playground, lunchroom, and hallways) in which aggression and bullying most frequently occur.

The pull-out group includes both girls identified as being relationally aggressive and prosocial role models (typically at a 3:1 ratio, respectively) who are selected based on a peer-report procedure. After the group participants have completed 10 to 12 small-group sessions, participants’ leadership skills are reinforced by having them co-facilitate 10 classroom sessions to train their peers in the strategies they have learned.

The Community We Serve

To create a culturally specific and empirically supported intervention, the F2F curriculum and unique teaching modalities (cartoons, videos, and role-plays) were developed through an extensive participatory research framework that combines best practice science with feedback from a diverse range of community stakeholders. Specifically, CHOP researchers integrated psychological theory and prior research on existing empirically supported school-based group interventions for physically aggressive boys in urban school settings with feedback gleaned through partnerships with African-American girls and their teachers, parents, and community members. This approach ensures that F2F is scientifically grounded and developmentally appropriate and relatable for African-American 3rd to 5th grade girls attending schools in urban settings (see Leff et al., 2007 and Leff et al., 2009 below).    

F2F Impact on Relational Aggression in Schools

A series of studies have been implemented with youth from the School District of Philadelphia. A randomized control trial of the program with 144 relationally aggressive girls from six elementary schools found that in comparison to a psychoeducational group intervention, relationally aggressive girls in the F2F intervention demonstrated decreases in relational aggression and increases in knowledge of social problem-solving skills, with findings maintained one year after the conclusion of the program. Further, the F2F program was rated as extremely acceptable and engaging by participating students and teachers, and was able to be implemented with high levels of procedural and process integrity.  Read the press release.

Using data from the same randomized control trial, CHOP researchers also examined the broader effects of F2F by determining the impact of the program on 665 classmates of the relationally aggressive girls.  These classmates did not participate in the small-group sessions, but were exposed to the program through the classroom lessons that the F2F girls helped to run. It was found that after the intervention, in addition to the improvements of the F2F girls as previously described, boys within these girls' classrooms scored higher in peer ratings of positive friendships and being nice, and scored lower in peer ratings of rumor-spreading, exclusion, and fighting, compared to boys in the control classrooms. The boys also had more positive relationships with their teachers. Even girls in the F2F classrooms who were not involved in the small-group intervention were rated by peers as being higher in positive friendships and being nice compared to girls in the control classrooms. Read the press release.

Towards a Replicable Model

The end goal of the research team is to adapt F2F as a program that schools can deliver on their own and outside the parameters of a research study. Given that F2F was rated as enjoyable and feasible to conduct within partnering busy urban schools and that it was able to be implemented as intended, there is great promise for replicability in the real world. Thus, researchers are working towards scaling up the program to be conducted by schools with coaching support from the research team.

To this end, with two years of support from  Kohl’s Cares® (2017-2019), the CHOP aggression/bullying prevention team is training and coaching counselors and 3rd-5th grade teachers in 5 Philadelphia schools to run F2F independently.  This model builds and supports schools’ capacity for sustained program implementation and impact. 

Strong results have been found for students participating in Friend to Friend during first year of Kohl’s funding. Specifically, 82.4 percent of the girls identified as relationally aggressive who participated in the small group intervention improved by at least 20 percent on two or more of the outcomes.  In addition, approximately 200 classmates of the aggressive girls participated in a series of Friend to Friend classroom sessions. Of those classmates with complete pre- and post-data, 68 percent improved by at least 20 percent on one or more of the outcomes. 

To further advance the empirical support for the coaching model of Friend to Friend, the research team has been awarded a 5-year R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health.  In this 40 school clinical trial, 20 schools will receive Friend to Friend with Coaching and 20 schools will follow standard school practice for managing aggressive behaviors, with the goal to examine the effectiveness of Friend to Friend with Coaching for indicated relationally aggressive girls and their classmates.  Further, the team will explore mediators and moderators of program success (for whom and under what conditions the program works best) and factors associated with staff adoption and implementation of the program with more limited support from CHOP.  Overall, this study will provide valuable information for a broader roll out of the program and future scale-up efforts in urban under-resourced schools.

Kohl's Cares | Reducing relational aggression in schools

Recommended Reading

CHOP Research on Friend to Friend