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

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    For example, there are several existing assessments that align with our current definition of relational youth violence that attempt to incorporate attribution of experience across socially located positions of power and identity, such as the Boston Youth Survey, Project EAT-2010 and the National Survey of America Life—Adolescent Interview (Garnett et al. 2014; Seaton et al. 2010; Bucchianeri et al. 2013).

  2. 2.

    While federal laws protect certain groups of individuals from discrimination and harassment by institutions or other individuals, bullying policies and laws tend to focus on ensuring that schools have appropriate prevention and response mechanisms in place.

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Brion-Meisels, G., Garnett, B.R. Toward an Integrated Theory of Relational Youth Violence: Bridging a Gap among the Theory, Research, and Practice of Bullying Prevention. Contemp School Psychol 20, 240–253 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40688-015-0080-8

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Keywords

  • Bullying prevention
  • Discrimination
  • School violence
  • Theory
  • Intersectionality