Relational bullying becomes highly prevalent during the early middle school years because tweens have strong social skills yet are still quite emotionally immature. The combination creates the perfect breeding ground for many forms of social aggression. Left unchecked by acquiring conflict resolution skills and strategies to deescalate situations, tweens are left to experience bullying behavior much more than they should.
Relational bullying is a subtle form of aggression. As such, effective relational bullies must have a complex understanding of social dynamics. Compared to earlier in development, tweens are better able to read social cues and negotiate complicated interpersonal relationships. These abilities set the stage for relational aggression to flourish.
In addition, a relational bully must know how to cause another person to feel pain. This knowledge requires advanced cognitive and social abilities, including the abilities to take others’ perspectives and to empathize. Tweens have recently gained both abilities, which is another reason relational bullying in middle school is common. Middle school students are better able to understand emotional triggers and have the words to connect the dots. When the time is ripe, tweens may test out their acumen on an unwilling participant.