COLLEGE STATION, TX — Parents are a child’s first teachers, and the lessons they share stay with their children and can shape their lives. One of the most important lessons parents will ever teach their children is how to relate to others, notes a Texas A&M University school psychology professor.
Jamilia Blake, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology of Texas A&M’s College of Education and Human Development, is heading a study with the goal of better understanding how parental attitudes and beliefs about aggression influence children’s behavior and what kinds of differences might exist across racial and ethnic groups.
“There’s considerable research looking at ethnic differences in aggressive behavior. What has been found is that African-American and Latino students are at greater risk for engaging in aggressive behavior,” Blake says. “The purpose of my study is to understand why that might be and look at the role of parents in influencing aggression.”
Blake notes that some parents condone their children’s use of aggression, particularly when it’s provoked — like a self-defense mechanism.
Aggressive behavior is different from bullying, where there is victimization and some kind of status differential between the children involved. Aggressive behavior occurs between two or more children who are of equal status and unable to resolve a dispute.
Aggression also takes different forms, including verbal, physical and social. Social aggression may include gossip, the spreading of rumors and purposeful exclusion, either verbally or non-verbally. Blake notes that children typically use more than one form of aggression at a time.
Blake and her research team also are looking at the protective factors of racial or ethnic identity that reduce a student’s chances of engaging in aggression.
“Children who feel more connected to their racial or ethnic group actually feel better about themselves,” she says. “If that’s the case, the question is whether these children may be less interested or likely to engage in aggression.”
The researchers surveyed approximately 300 parents and 600 students from diverse backgrounds about their beliefs regarding aggression. The students’ teachers also were asked about their classroom behavior.
“I think we may find that ethnically diverse parents view aggression differently than white parents,” she says. “What I hope to find is that ethnically diverse parents aren’t advocating that their child use aggression, but that they may view aggression in retaliation as appropriate.”
The study may eventually help to adapt existing intervention and prevention programs to be more culturally responsive or to yield new parent trainings programs that address parental beliefs about aggression. These programs also may incorporate components that positively reinforce racial or ethnic identity.
“Aggression is a persistent problem that can detrimentally impact children’s social, psychological and academic achievement, increasing their risk for academic underachievement, engagement in delinquency and adult criminality,” Blake says. “By identifying protective and risk factors that may explain aggression, we may be closer to developing interventions to reduce low-level aggression in ethnically diverse populations.”
About research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world’s leading research institutions, Texas A&M is in the vanguard in making significant contributions to the storehouse of knowledge, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represents an annual investment of more than $582 million, which ranks third nationally for universities without a medical school, and underwrites approximately 3,500 sponsored projects. That research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting in many cases in economic benefits to the state, nation and world.