Background. Despite progress in understanding aggressive behavior among youth in urban settings, little is known regarding more subtle forms of aggression, such as relational aggression, in this population.
Objectives. The purpose of this dissertation was to examine the relationship between relational aggression and (a) dating violence and (b) adverse psychosocial and physical health symptoms among urban adolescents.
Sample. 194 predominantly African American 7th grade students (59% female) participated in this study.
Design. A cross-sectional, predictive correlational design was used. Data were collected as part of a larger, quasi-experimental dating violence prevention program. Participants completed self-report, anonymous surveys assessing individual experience with violence and aggression, including relational aggression, relational victimization, and personal, family, community, and dating violence. Adolescents also reported on adverse psychosocial (i.e., internalizing behaviors, externalizing behaviors, and attention problems) and physical health symptoms (i.e., colds/flu, headaches, and stomachaches).
Findings. Relational aggression and dating violence were highly prevalent in this sample. Females reported higher rates of dating violence perpetration (females:45.8%, males:32.8%) and males reported more victimization (females:24.0%, males:37.3%). No significant gender differences were found for perpetration of relational aggression (females:16.5%, males:17.1%); however, males reported more relational victimization (females:12.8%, males:26.3%). Relational aggression and relational victimization were predictors of emotional dating violence perpetration among females, after controlling for exposure to personal, family, and community violence. Relational aggression was not associated with dating violence perpetration among males or dating violence victimization among males or females. Perpetrators of relational aggression reported higher levels of internalizing and externalizing behaviors compared to students who were not classified as perpetrators. This was true for both males and females. Male perpetrators also reported more physical health symptoms. Victims of relational aggression also reported higher levels of internalizing behaviors, externalizing behaviors, attention problems, and physical health symptoms compared to non-victims; however, this was only true for males. Among females, significant mean differences were found only for externalizing behaviors.
Conclusions. This dissertation provides support for the notion that relational aggression and dating violence are significant problems among urban youth and cause for concern. Intervention strategies are needed to prevent relational aggression, dating violence, and associated adverse health symptoms.