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Agression: Managing aggressive behaviour in students

02 March 2020
Volume 1 · Issue 1


I Levels of aggressive behaviour among children and young people appear to have been rising over the years. Stephanie Thornton asks what the reasons are behind this rise

Aggressive behaviour in school is an escalating problem: surveys of teachers report that verbal and physical abuse, toward peers and staff is at levels that would have been unimaginable a few decades ago. Such outbursts may vary from jostling to bullying, from spitting to threatening with knives. Aggression is a problem for the school, for society, and for the individuals involved—aggressors, victims and observers alike.

Why are so many more of our young aggressive today than was the case a decade or so ago? The tendency to be aggressive is partly a matter of genes, which shape temperament (Rothbart and Bates, 1998). But the change in levels of aggression have been far too swift to be the result of genetic change in the population. This is something to do with the way we live, and are, today.

Is the rise in aggression due to poor parenting (Morris et al, 2011)? Poor parenting (and overly permissive parenting can be as damaging as neglect here) means than a child can fail to learn how to manage and control powerful emotions such as anger or fear, and has not been socialised to understand where the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour might lie (Moulin et al 2014). Is it a reflection of the increasing tensions, financial and emotional, in family life, exposing children to more stress and to more role models for aggression? Children's perceptions of what is acceptable are affected by the aggression they observe in their families (Roisman and Fraley, 2006). And children subjected to harsh, punitive parenting are more likely to be aggressive (Weiss et al, 1992). Is it connected to the increasing violence children observe in the media? After much controversy, there is evidence that exposure to violence in film and the like does foster aggression in the young (Gentile and Bushman, 2012). Is this aggression part of a school culture, a way for an individual to ‘belong’ to or impress some group? Or is the rise in aggression in our schools due to rising rates of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and the like? Aggression is the most common reason for mental health referral in school children (Sukhodolsky, 2016).

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