Center for Injury Research and Prevention

Friend to Friend: Reducing Relational Aggression In School Settings

Friend to Friend (F2F) is a small-group school-based intervention program aimed at addressing relational aggression—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 1990’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 African-American relationally aggressive 3rd to 5th grade girls in urban schools. 

How F2F Works to Reduce Relational Aggression in Schools 

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 relationally aggressive girls problem-solving and anger management strategies. The program helps girls 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 having relational aggression and prosocial role models (typically at a 3:1 ratio, respectively) who are selected based on a peer-nomination 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 students who 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. The study included over 665 youth from these same six elementary schools, and found that F2F also had a broader impact beyond girls who were relationally aggressive.

After the intervention, not only did the targeted relationally aggressive girls participating in F2F improve their behaviors, as previously described, but 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 to their classrooms in need of such a program 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 support from Kohl’s Cares®, the CHOP bullying prevention team is providing trainings, ongoing consultation and feedback to staff implementing F2F at two Philadelphia elementary schools during the 2017-2018 school year. The ultimate goal is to build and support the schools’ capacity to run F2F independently for sustained implementation and impact.

Strong results have been found for students participating in Friend to Friend during first year of our 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.

Kohl's Cares | Reducing relational aggression in schools

Recommended Reading

CHOP Research on Friend to Friend