I wrote the following article April 1, 2007 and posted it on my blog, Teachers at Risk.


Cyber-Bullying: Relational Aggression-Part 1

Filed Under “At-risk” studentsBlogging in and out of the ClassroomBullyingComputers In The Classroom (Edit Post)

April 1, 2007


You know it’s amazing how sometimes things just all come together. Recently, I’ve been thinking and talking a lot about the cyber-bullying that goes on all the time amongst some kids. Last Thursday when I was supervising students while they were writing the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test, I happen to notice a book Sandra was carrying called Mean. Sandra’s also a special education teacher here at the school who works with at-risk kids. We’re both always looking for the answer. Mean girls, I’ve seen plenty of them, so of course the book piqued my interest. Maybe it had the answer.

Sandra had just been to a Mean Girl workshop about bullying and had picked up the book there. We agreed that we needed to do more to help kids stop bullying behaviour and help kids defend themselves against bullying, especially cyber-bullying because it’s more difficult for us to spot and to stop. When kids are using the computer to bully others, it isn’t immediately apparent what they are doing. It just looks like they’re on-line doing their thing. Unfortunately, their thing could be bully other kids.

I noticed some surprising facts about bullying as I thumbed through Sandra’s copy of Mean Girls. For example,

  • §Bullying starts as early as preschool. (Oh, my goodness.)
  • §Genetics accounts for 60% of aggressiveness. (Well that’s not really a surprise. We often hear that a child has his or her Dad or Mom’s temper or sweet disposition)
  • §80% of relationally aggressive behaviour is environmental. (80% is environmental! If that’s the case then there’s hope. We’ll have to work on changing the environment kids find themselves in so that we can change the behaviour.

Other facts include

  • §Kindergarten and grade one kids report being bullied about once about every three to six minutes. ( Imagine that, and we call childhood the age of innocence! Quite the contrary. Childhood is a tough world. One where kids need strong inter-personal skills. Being able to deal with bullies is a necessary life skill. How do primary teachers deal with all that- every three to six minutes? I thought teenagers were a challenge. Now that I think about it, my at-risk kids are like those primary students at times. In some classes, I feel like a referee and not a teacher. I did have to deal with those two separate fights in one class that day not so long ago. How much curriculum can I cover when I have to deal with the excitement of fights during class? It’s hard to teach curriculum and be a referee.
  • §About 50% of middle school kids reported being bullied during a five day period. (I wonder if that’s why by Friday some kids seem so distracted? They’ve had four days of being bullied and can’t wait for the weekend to be able to get away from the bullies.
  • §Kids are reluctant to report that they have been bullied and instead complain about various physical symptoms. ( I get those physical complaints from my at-risk kid all the time – the headaches, the stomach aches etc.

Sandra invited me to talk to the Anti-Bullying Committee when they meet next Thursday after school. She’s one of the staff sponsors for the committee which consists of group students who are committed to stopping the bullying that goes on. Sandra wanted me to talk to them about cyber-bullying. I jumped at the chance. Cyber-Bullying is an important issue that needs to be dealt with.
When I got home fr0m work, I put cyber-bullying on the back burner and decided to check out Cool Cat Teacher to see what Vicki was up to, and what do I see but scores of references to cyber-bullying resources. I may have put cyber-bullying on the back burner, but Vicki had it right under the broiler-so to speak. Thanks, Vicki for doing that. I would have never found all those resources on my own. I discovered that Friday, March 30 was Anticyber-Bullying Day. Maybe we could have an Anticyber-Bullying Day at our school. That would certainly draw attention to the issue.

Thanks to Vicki, I now know about the Stop Cyberbullying Network, and I can join Wired Safely where I can learn even more about the issue. There’s so much more on Vicki’s site. Take a look and listen. Vicki also discusses the issue in her podcast. I especially like the graphics Scott McLeod created for us to use to demonstrate our support for the anticyber-bullying movement. That’s were I got the band aid graphic at the top of my post. Wes Fryer’s Teach Digital is a treasure trove of articles, solutions, books and resources about cyber-bullying. There’s a lot to check out because there’s a lot to know. I’ve put some of the sites in my blog roll so for those of you who are listening to this and not reading it, you access the links by coming to my web site.

Today I’m going to begin to examine a form of bullying called relational aggression. Relational aggression according to the Ophelia Project is “behaviour that is intended to harm someone by damaging or manipulating his or her relationship with others”, and a is complex and subtle. For those of you who may not be familiar with the Ophelia Project, it’s an organization that is “committed to helping youth form healthy peer relationships while creating safe social climates for all”. That’s exactly what we all want to do. Just as an aside here, The Ophelia Project has a monthly newsletter that you can subscribe to. Simply go to the Ophelia Project’s web site and follow the link.

To really understand relational aggression, we need to be aware of all its various forms (Mean Girls, p. 7). As you might know, it can take the form of

  • §Peer aggression- Physical, verbal and relational aggression between youth near the same age or grade
  • §Physical Aggression- Harm through damage or threat of damage to another’s physical well being
  • §Verbal Aggression- Obvious and hidden verbal acts of aggression, such as threats or put downs and name calling
  • §Overt Aggression- Obvious, blatant acts of aggression
  • §Covert Aggression- Hidden acts of aggression (e.g. body language, exclusion, cyber bullying
  • §Relative Relational Aggression- Defensive response to provocation with intent to retaliate
  • §Proactive Relational Aggression – achieving a goal, for example , a girl may exclude someone to maintain her own social status


What does relationship aggression look and sound like? It looks and sounds like the following:

  • §Exclusion
  • §Ignoring
  • §Spreading Rumours
  • §Verbal Insults
  • §Teasing
  • §Eye Rolling
  • §Taunting
  • §Manipulative Affection
  • §Three Way Calling
  • §Video Phoning
  • §Cyber Bullying

We’ve all witnessed the exclusion, the ignoring, the spreading of rumours etc. occurring in our classrooms, in the halls, in the school cafeteria and even while shopping at the malls. We’re all too familiar with those bullying behaviours. But, we may not be all that familiar with the bullying behaviours that occur on the digital highway. How do kids bully other kids there? Some of the ways are to:

  • §Send cruel and threatening e-mail messages from a computer or text messages from a cell phone
  • §Ridicule others by posting stories, pictures, cartoons and jokes
  • §Break into someone’s e-mail account and send nasty messages to others pretending to be that person
  • §Use the digital camera on a cell phone to take embarrassing pictures of a person then sending the picture to others
  • §Post pictures of a person on line and then ask others to rate that person’s appearance

Unfortunately I’ve been witness to many of these behaviours as well. Some of the at-risk students I teach use my classroom as a home base and drop in during the day and tell me what’s going on. Sandra, Judy (the behaviour teaching assistant at school), and I have our hands full. It’s almost like there’s a culture of bullying with these kids. Almost, there’s no almost about it. There is a culture of bullying with some of these kids, and to use a buzz word of the times we need to reculture that culture.

The kids use a number of different devices to bully other kids. Most of us know about cell phones used to send short messages using words and symbols and e-mail messages using the computer, but there are others ways to communicate as well. There’s private instant messaging using social networking programs like MSN and chat rooms sometimes known as “bash rooms” where kids can anonymously communicate with others in real time. Kids use a variety of symbols, codes and acronyms to write anything they want about anyone or anything. It doesn’t even have to be true. Who’s to know? Chat rooms are a powerful tool in the hands of bullies. They are sometimes used as voting or polling booths. Bullies ask questions like who is the fattest, who is the ugliest or who is the least popular to embarrass and humiliate victims. Web sites are also used to bully kids. They’re so easy to set up that many kids have their own. Kids can post anything- text, pictures or videos. There is no control as to what someone posts. Schools have blocked some of the sites, but kids can still bully from home.

In my last post, I talked about how schools are trying to stop bullying from off school sites like at home and at work because bullying can happen anywhere and it affects the climate in the schools. The Board expectations are that

when using electronic resources students must demonstrate appropriate on-line conduct/manners and refrain from improper/unethical use of technology, including computer hacking. Internet use for any purpose which is contrary to the school’s Code of Conduct is strictly prohibited. This includes all forms of violence, threats and harassment directed at the students or school. This applies to school, work and home Internet use.

harassment and physical, verbal (oral or written) sexual or psychological abuse; bullying; or discrimination on the basis of faith, gender, socioeconomic status, ability, age, sexual orientation or any other attribute is unacceptable…

Any student who demonstrates behaviour inconsistent with Board policy or the school Code of Conduct will face consequences which may include loss of privileges, detention, community service, making restitution, suspension or full expulsion from any school in the province.

The Board makes it very clear that whether the bullying occurs at school, at home or at work, it is not acceptable and the consequences for bullying can be very severe.

What happens to kids when they are bullied? How are they affected in the short term and in the long term? Relational aggression can affect kids negatively for a life time- depression, helplessness, loneliness, poor self esteem, anger, the inability to trust, suicide, eating disorders and the list goes on and on. But relational aggression doesn’t just affect students; it affects the school and teachers. Poor academic performance, delinquent behaviour, absenteeism on the part of students leads to frustrations for staff and creates an environment of fear and disrespect.

How wide spread is relational aggression.? A study done by Kowalski in 2005 cited in Mean Girls involving 6th, 7th and 8th graders found that

  • 58% were victims of internet messaging
  • 28% were bullied in a chat room
  • 20% were bullied on a web site
  • 19% were bullied through e-mail
  • 14% were bullied through text messaging.

That’s pretty high. If we think in terms of a classroom of 28 kids that’s a lot of kids. In each classroom that are suffering from the effects of cyber-bulling. No wonder teachers are finding the behaviour in classroom deteriorating. If that many kids are suffering from depression, helplessness, loneliness, poor self-esteem etc., small wonder that kids aren’t doing as well as expected.

Having said all the above, what is it that we should do to stop relational aggression? First, lets’ examine some things that we shouldn’t do. We shouldn’t use conflict mediation or peer mediation. Bullying is not a conflict. It is abuse. Let’s not confuse the two. Conflict mediation and peer mediation are ineffective because there is an imbalance of power . Conflict resolution works best when the parties have equal power. A bully and his victim do not have equal power. Also, using conflict mediation to resolve bullying issues implies that the victim is equally responsible for the problem, and that just isn’t  the case. In addition, a zero tolerance policy is not useful as an intervention to bullying. Zero tolerance policies make students and adults hesitant to report incidences of bullying. Expulsion and suspension sometimes seems like an extreme form of punishment for bullying. People feel guilty about reporting incidences of bullying that might result in suspension or an expulsion. Although, sometimes that’s exactly what is called for. I guess the point here is that a a zero tolerance policy shouldn’t be used as an relational aggression policy.

Ok, if that’s what we’re not supposed to do, what is it that were are to do? We can

  • §Begin by educating staff, parents and students about the effects, dangers and harm caused by cyber-bullying.
  • §Have anti-bullying policies and procedures in place for reporting and for dealing with any incidents.
  • §Publish the policies and procedures so that they become common knowledge.
  • §Monitor student use of computers at school and at home.
  • §Install and use filtering software on computers at school and at home.
  • §Report any incidences of cyber-bullying that we are aware of.
  • §Notify parents of victims and bullies and share information about the cyber-bullying
  • §Notify the police if cyber-bullying involve threats or other inappropriate criminal behavior.
  • §Give support to victims through counselling
  • §Contact police immediately if there are any, threats of violence, extortion, obscene phone calls, harassing messages, stalking or child pornography

Cyber-Bullying is a huge problem, and it’s not just confined to kids in school. Adults are bullies too; adults are victims too. Adults use the digital highway for purposes of relational aggression too. Adults are affected negatively by cyber-bullying, too- depression, helplessness, loneliness, poor self-esteem, anger, suicide, eating disorders etc. are probably the effects of bullying in adults ,too. Although I don’t have any hard data about cyber-bullying pertaining to adults, we all know people or have read about people who have been bullied and have seen how it affected them and the people around them. It seems logical to say that some kids who bully, probably grow up to be adults who bully. It’s important that we stop that cycle.

Now, there’s much more to be said about this topic. I’ve really just scratched the surface here. The links I’ve included in this post will provide more information about the topic. My aim here was to make people more aware of the nature of relational aggression and its negative effect on children and adults. I also wanted to suggest ways that we could prevent bullying and deal with it when it occurs. It’s not just a school problem; it’s not just a home or work problem. It’s an everywhere problem. The negative effects of bullying are making it difficult for people to lead happy lives. Bullying needs to be stopped- at least the way I see it.



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9 Responses to “Cyber-Bullying:Relational Aggression-Part 1”

  1. kathleen3au on April 4th, 2007 7:33 am

    I’ve been working for the past few years on my Master’s thesis and it will be submitted I hope at the end of this month or the first part of May. You presented a good argument. My thesis is entitled: Deadly Playgrounds: Relief Teachers and the Reporting of Bullying Incidents in Victorian Schools. I’ve been exploring other ramifications of bullying as well such as student drop out rates, skipping classes and impact on school policy and procedures.
    If you are working on a program to use, I found the site: http://www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov and it is in the USA and if you request information, they will send you a packet with CD you can download and print forms. They sent it to me in Australia (cost 10.40) and didn’t charge me. Write to me if you wish to share future insights on bullying. I had opportunity to meet some of the Canadian leaders at the 2005 National Conference here in Melbourne against bullying.
    Since your work is on cyberbullying – you may wish to look up Li,Q (2006)Examining cyberbullying through a different angle.

  2. Regina Mullen on April 20th, 2007 1:22 pm

    Thank you so much for this blog. I will put it on my blogroll for ADRDiversity, as the issue of school bullying is near and dear to me. I started my own public discussion after the recent shooting in Virginia, but this is something that has touched me in many ways.

    As a mediator, I am extremely interested in issues of power imbalance and in helping people be heard. I have mediated more than a few cases that boiled down to the bullying behavior of one person and often found that the aggression stopped cold once the victim of the bullying was made to be *heard*. It’s not necessarily the victim that has to hear it, and it’s not the same as therapy: it is a process by which active listening is used to solve a real problem.

    One theme that I find constantly is that parents put their kids in martial arts training to deal with the issue, but the problem is not the so much the kid who is being bullied, but the person who feels the need to bully. In my experience, the victim has something the bully needs…the problem is that the bully is either “asking the wrong question” or going after it in entirely the wrong way. It might be highly productive to deal with bullies, we need to focus on “hearing” bullies and removing the cause of their obsessive need to make inappropriate contact. It makes no sense to tell a child to ignore a bully,–any schoolkids knows that it is absolutely impossible for a child to ignore someone who is causing them misery. Adults have the obligation to deal with it, not sweep it under the carpet as insignificant.

  3. Elona on April 20th, 2007 6:10 pm

    Thanks for the encouragement.

    I agree with you when you say that we need to “hear” the bully. I am working on a post about listening to the bully’s cry for help. Thanks for adding me to your blogroll.

  4. ESther on June 12th, 2007 8:52 pm

    Hey this is a verry informative websit Ilearned a whole lot.

  5. Elona on June 12th, 2007 9:19 pm

    I’m glad you found this post informative. I appreciate you telling me. Thanks.

  6. sarah on June 24th, 2007 4:12 pm

    Good info, but it seems that no one has any answers for what to DO about relational aggression. We know the signs, we know it is wrong, we know the consequences. But what can we as teachers in the classroom do?

  7. Elona on June 24th, 2007 5:15 pm

    What can we do? That’s the question, isn’t it. I’ve come to the conclusion that we need to change the way kids think about one another. We need to change their “culture”, and I think that can be done with some type of values education.

    At our school, about 24 teachers including me are being trained in a character education program called Tribes. We have completed three of the eight units, and I like what I see so far. Tribes trained teachers who practice the approach have had great results in other schools. Kids respect one another and much of the nastiness disappears.

    The training is continuing in the Fall and I hope to apply what I have learned to help the kids in my class be more respectful of one another and develop respect, empathy and compassion for one another.

    I don’t think we as teachers can do it all. The school, parents and the community need to work together to change things.

    I am going to visit some schools in our board this Fall who have had good results with their character education program and get the details. They had parents and the community involved.

    I plan to share what I have discovered in my blog/podcast this Fall.

    There is no easy answer. That’s for sure.

  8. No Room For Tolerance | Teaching Sagittarian on April 21st, 2009 8:25 am

    […] Elona Hartjes blogged about some eye-openers she’d gleaned from the book Mean Girls by Kaye Randall & Allyson A. Bowen. […]

  9. Cyberaggression and bloodless violence | learn4kicks on December 14th, 2012 4:52 am

    […] will explain more in another post, don’t have time now) In the meantime – this is a fantastic summary of relational aggression by Elaine Hartjes and can be applied to both adults and children. […]

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