EUSARF, Troubled children in a troubled world edition:9 location:Paris X Nanterre date:21-24 September 2005
Recent research has identified a relational form of aggression in which harm is inflicted through the manipulation and destruction of peer relationships. Although relatively neglected in the past literature, since research on bullying and victimization has traditionally focused on overt aggression, this area of bullying has been receiving increased attention. This relationally oriented form of peer aggression has been shown to be more characteristic of girls than the overt forms studied in the past. These aggressive acts are more likely to be effective in girls’ peer groups as they are particularly effective in damaging social goals that are more important to girls (i.e., establishing close, intimate connections with others). In the first part of the presentation, we will discuss the impact of serious relational aggression on both the victims and the perpetrators of this kind of bullying. It appears that these relationally aggressive behaviours are highly aversive and damaging to children. Children who are frequently targeted as the victims of relationally aggressive acts experience significantly more social- psychological distress (e.g., loneliness, social avoidance, depression, suicidal ideation, and anxiety) than their non-targeted peers. Relational aggression may also be harmful for the initiators of these behaviours. Specifically, relationally aggressive children are more socially and emotionally maladjusted than their nonrelationally aggressive peers. However, studies are limited by their correlational design, firm conclusions await future longitudinal research. Still, these initial findings have a number of implications for teachers, clinicians, and others who work directly with victimized children. Most obviously, they point to the hurtful nature of relational victimization and suggest that professionals should pay attention to not only the victims of overt bullying but also to those who are victimized through relationally aggressive acts. Studies on the factors causing or maintaining relational aggression are very scarce. At the present time, we are studying the influence of parenting practices on the development of relational aggression in elementary school children in a longitudinal project. In the second part of the presentation, we will briefly discuss the preliminary findings of the first wave of this study, focusing on the prevalence, distribution and impact of relational aggression on children’s social functioning.