Academic journal article School Social Work Journal

Relational Aggression from a School Social Work Perspective: A Social Information Processing Counseling Activity

Academic journal article School Social Work Journal

Relational Aggression from a School Social Work Perspective: A Social Information Processing Counseling Activity

Article excerpt

Introduction

Bullying is one of the most prominent forms of aggression in schools today, and being a victim of bullying is a predictor of future acts of school violence by that victim (DeVoe & Chandler, 2005). It has been found that perpetrators of school violence are more likely than victims to have been bullied by their peers (Anderson, et al., 2001). With the prominence of bullying in elementary and secondary schools, it is understandable that bullying and violence in schools are serious concerns. With the numerous environmental influences in students' lives, it is imperative that all forms of bullying (relational, cyber, verbal, and physical) are addressed. Forms of bullying in children and adolescents are visible in media (television, Internet, and print). Children and adolescents are subjected to reality television shows in which relational aggression can quickly escalate into verbal and physical altercations. Also, students have access to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, where incidents of cyber aggression can escalate into verbal and/or physical altercations. Additional influences associated with risk for bullying and violence in the schools are family conflict, exposure to violence, lack of neighborhood role models, and peer influences (Aisenberg & Herrenkohl, 2008; Herrenkohl, Lee, & Hawkins, 2012). With children's widespread exposure to bullying and violence, it is imperative that schools provide the necessary prevention and intervention methods to address this ever-growing problem.

The school environment has been the focus of bullying prevention efforts because the setting is conducive to social development and it offers an efficient method to reach a large number of students. The study of bullying intervention and prevention techniques has been conducted in diverse fields. One of these fields, school social work practice, utilizes specialized techniques to address the frequent bullying experiences of students today. These techniques may include individual counseling for the perpetrator and/or victim, group counseling, and mediation for bullying victims and perpetrators.

The purpose of this article is to examine the role of the school social worker as it pertains to bullying issues in the school environment. The school social worker has typically addressed issues of bullying through counseling programs for the victim and/or perpetrator, yet a more detailed examination and theoretical exploration of the school social worker role is needed. After understanding and implementing theory in school social work practice, the school social worker must consider the implications for practice and evaluation of relational aggression and other aggression subtypes in the school environment.

Bullying Definitions

Olweus (1994) defined bullying as repeated exposure to negative actions by one or more students, coupled with an imbalance of power in the relationship. There are two subtypes of bullying: direct aggression, which includes physical, reactive, and verbal aggression, and indirect aggression, which includes relational aggression and cyber aggression. Beal (2001) has identified four types of bullies:

* the physical bully, who uses direct aggression such as pushing, hitting, or kicking to harm the victim;

* the verbal bully, who uses words to inflict harm or humiliate the victim;

* the reactive bully, who uses taunting, followed by claims of selfdefense, to harm the victim;

* the relational bully, who uses social isolation and rejection to harm the victim's relationships by ruining their reputation/social status.

Relational aggression may include rumor spreading, negative comments shared with others when the victim is not present, sarcasm, embarrassment in public, threats to withdraw friendship based on some request, subtle nonverbal expressions of disdain (commonly referred to as meanmugging and associated with mean staring), and overall popularity hierarchy struggles that entail attempts to diminish a peer's social status (Archer & Coyne, 2005). …

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