Day-Care Boys – Acting Like Mean Girls

The problem of adolescent bullying has attracted a great deal of attention in the media and in public-policy forums in recent years. Curiously, journalists and policymakers rarely acknowledge one of the root causes of that bullying—namely, America’s increasing reliance on the day-care center as a replacement for the at-home mother. But the role of the day-care center in incubating bullying has recently come to light in an illuminating study of gender-typed aggression, a study revealing that boys who spend a lot of time in day care as toddlers are curiously likely to behave like the cattiest girls when they are in middle school. Completed by researchers affiliated with the National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) Early Child Care Research Network, this new study focuses particularly on “relational aggression” among boys and girls ages eight through eleven. Defined as “behaviors that harm others through damage (or the threat of damage) to relationships or feelings of acceptance, friendship, or group inclusion,” relational aggression has not yet been fully explained by social scientists. But this NICHD team seeks to shed light on its antecedents, its development, and its dynamics. At the outset, the scholars recognize that relational aggression fits within a larger typology of aggression and that aggression of all sorts may be affected by early childcare. Indeed, in explaining their research agenda, the NICH investigators cite a number of earlier studies linking non-maternal childcare to childhood aggression. They note, for instance, a 2003 study finding that “any type of [nonparental] child care from 6–54 months of age was associated with aggressive behavior reported by caregivers at 54 months and teachers at kindergarten.” They also point to research evidence from the same period implicating “center-based care . . . with externalizing problems and conflict with adults.” A 2007 study of interest to the NICHD team establish
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