Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Development Process and Outcome Evaluation of a Program for Raising Awareness of Indirect and Relational Aggression in Elementary Schools: A Preliminary Study

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Development Process and Outcome Evaluation of a Program for Raising Awareness of Indirect and Relational Aggression in Elementary Schools: A Preliminary Study

Article excerpt

At recess, there was the four of us girls together and as soon as we saw her, we'd start saying to one another: 'Look at her hair! She's filthy!' We always talked about her behind her back and when she came close we'd stop until she'd walked past to start up again. That's how it was at every recess. We didn't have much to say to one another otherwise, but as soon as we saw her, we came up with all sorts of things to make fun of her, even if they weren't true ... [...] It amused us to laugh at her ... it was something to do. [translation]1

Spreading false rumors, telling malicious lies about others, and sending anonymous letters of insult are all acts of ostracism and social manipulation that are not uncommon among children and adolescents. Using the social network as their vehicle, these acts can have potentially grievous repercussions on their victims, while allowing the aggressor to remain in the shadows. Victims not only dread this sort of gossip but also experience rejection, social isolation, and loss of self-esteem as a result of being excluded by their peers. An old phenomenon that has only recently become the subject of investigation, indirect and relational aggression, is more and more being condemned as an insidious form of violence that demands preventive action.

Indirect and Relational Aggression in Schools

School-based aggression is a disturbing phenomenon that has received considerable media coverage. It figures among the socio-educational issues that in recent years have been the focus of sustained attention in North America and around the world. Aggression spans an array of behaviors including fighting, mocking, and various other repeated acts aimed at hurting others (Olweus, 1993). Frequent overt or physical aggression perpetrated by boys against peers is recognized as a key indicator of academic and social difficulties in the course of their development. An investigation of the developmental trajectories of these boys revealed that a majority of them maintained a high level of problems over time, with regard to delinquency, criminal offending, or drug and alcohol dependence (Olweus & Limber, 1999). Scientific knowledge of the nature and consequences of aggression perpetrated by girls, however, is more limited. For example, in a landmark study, Olweus (1987) did not consider girls in his sample, convinced that they were in no way involved in school-based violence. He would change his position a few years later.

In fact, if we broaden the definition of aggression to include acts of ostracism and social alienation, what emerges is a considerably different portrait for girls. Spreading rumors, betraying confidences, soiling reputations, and excluding from the group all constitute manifestations of more subtle acts of aggression referred to as indirect aggression (Bjorkqvist, Lagerspetz, & Kaukiainen, 1992) or relational aggression (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995). Indirect aggression, which includes maliciously ignoring a peer, gossiping, and rumor-mongering, differs somewhat from relational aggression. Whereas relational aggression involves acts of verbal or nonverbal threats or actions to damage one's reputation or social standing in a manner that is often openly confrontational, indirect aggression covers solely more covert and "behind-the-back" acts of interpersonal conflict.2 These constructs, however, refer to a relatively similar phenomenon--namely, behavior aimed at harming the interpersonal relations of others.

Low, Frey, and Smith (2010) reported that overt episodes of malicious gossip were the most common acts of aggression observed in elementary schoolyards. These consisted of a small group of students speaking in a secretive manner, while glancing or laughing at a solitary student. There is mounting evidence to suggest that these acts of aggression generate as much emotional distress as physical aggression does, if not more, but in a more surreptitious way (for a review see Crick & Zahn-Waxler, 2003). …

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