Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Can We See It? Can We Stop It? Lessons Learned from Community-University Research Collaborations about Relational Aggression

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Can We See It? Can We Stop It? Lessons Learned from Community-University Research Collaborations about Relational Aggression

Article excerpt

The collection of articles in this special issue on relational aggression gives us a glimpse into the complex social networks, first, of children's relational aggression and, second, of the collaborators who develop and validate children's prevention programs. In these descriptions of nascent efforts to create programs that address relational aggression--nonphysical types of aggression, also called indirect or social aggression--we see how research-based knowledge about children's development and aggression is actively integrated with the wisdom of practice in participatory action models of program development.

The programs described in this special section are among the first to address relational aggression explicitly and to begin to create an evidence base for programs to prevent it (see also Salmivalli, Kaukiainen, & Voeten, 2005). In this commentary, I highlight key questions raised by their approaches to relational aggresssion: Is it a girls'world? Is early adolescence a critical period for intervention? Is relational aggression a result of individual social skill deficits or pathology, or of social norms, or of both? Can we see it? I end by briefly discussing the art and science of program development, evaluation, and dissemination that is so eloquently described in these articles and the benefits of collaborations among researchers, school personnel, and parents for keeping our schools safe for children's healthy development and learning.

Just Girls?

Although publicly accepted, the idea that girls use relational aggression more than boys has been refuted by recent reviews of the international literature (Archer, 2004; Card, Stucky, Sawalani, & Little, 2008; Leff, Waasdorp, & Crick, 2010). Girls do use relational aggression more than physical aggression and more girls report being hurt by relational aggression than do boys. However, boys are also adept at using relational aggression and they do experience its painful consequences. The horrifying stories of young men who were consistently shamed, socially isolated, and humiliated by their peers and went on to kill their teachers and classmates (Garbarino, 1999) give us pause in thinking that girl-only programs will successfully address these concerns. Loss of friendships and social isolation are painful for boys, and they may be less likely to disclose their victimization. Moreover, jealousy in romantic relationships can become fodder for relational aggressive acts in middle and high school (Leadbeater, Banister, Ellis, & Yeung, 2008). Gender-differentiated programs that fail to take account of boys and cross-sex relational aggression will also fall short. We need to know more about boys' use of relational aggression. As seen in Leff, Waasdorp, Paakewich et al. (2010) and Verlaan and Turmel (2010), programs that are based on reducing relational aggression in girls only or that use materials with girls doing most of the talking may not reach out adequately to boys.

Is Early Adolescence a Critical Period for Intervention?

It is not surprising that programs in this special series target late elementary and early middle schools and their students. Leff, Waasdorp, and Crick (2010) note that forms of relational aggression evolve in complexity from the overt use of social exclusion by preschoolers to include more varied and subtle expressions in young adolescents. Reviews of the available cross-sectional evidence suggest that social manipulation and ostracism (e.g., alienation, rumors, social exclusion, and rejection) increase as children move from middle childhood into adolescence. Longitudinal studies of the trajectories of social, relational, or indirect aggression are rare, but these also suggest that the use of social aggression increases in early adolescence for both boys and girls (Vaillancourt & Hymel, 2004).

There are many reasons why late elementary and early middle school students may be vulnerable to the harms of relational aggression. …

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