Contemporary School Psychology

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 240–253 | Cite as

Toward an Integrated Theory of Relational Youth Violence: Bridging a Gap among the Theory, Research, and Practice of Bullying Prevention

  • Gretchen Brion-MeiselsEmail author
  • Bernice Raveche Garnett


Despite an increased interest in bullying prevention programming over the last 10 years, significant gaps remain among theory, research, and practice in this critical area of school psychology. This article argues that the current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) definition of bullying does not fully capture the experiences of many US youth, making it difficult for practitioners to apply theory and research from the field to their everyday work. As an alternative, we introduce the idea of relational youth violence—behaviors (physical, relational, sexual, verbal, or psychological) and policies (formal or informal) that are intentionally or unintentionally harmful to a young person or group of young people, based on real or perceived power imbalances that reflect larger social structures of equity and power. This framework pushes back against a simple categorization of behaviors as bullying, discrimination, and harassment, and asks that educators pay attention to the overlaps in students’ lived experiences with these phenomena. In addition, the framework demands that educators consider factors across ecological levels, including larger organizational and sociocultural influences. Finally, by allowing for multiple perspectives and attributions, relational youth violence gives prominence to the role of intersectionality in shaping young peoples’ interpretations of harmful experiences. After describing the new construct in detail, we describe how it might help to bridge the gap among research, policy, and practice.


Bullying prevention Discrimination School violence Theory Intersectionality 


Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


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Copyright information

© California Association of School Psychologists 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gretchen Brion-Meisels
    • 1
    Email author
  • Bernice Raveche Garnett
    • 2
  1. 1.Harvard Graduate School of EducationCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.University of VermontBurlingtonUSA

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