The relevance of social psychology to aggression in children.

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1 Introduction:

The definition of social psychology: Social Psychology is the scientific study of how people's thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others. David, (1994)

Aggression is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “hostile or violent behaviour”. In addition, according to Robert, et al (1994) “aggression is viewed as an intentional form of behaviour which is done to cause harm or pain to another living being.” There are two main types of aggression: physical and verbal.

2 Theories on aggression

There are many theories about the causes of aggression. Firstly, the is instinct theory: the main psychologists who researched instinct as a cause of human aggression were Sigmund Freud and Konrad Lorenz.

Freud believed that humans were instinctively aggressive, that it is their basic nature and this aggression is possessed by all people and it is initially aimed at self destruction, then it is directed at others in the form of the Oedipus complex. This is the child's unconscious desire for the exclusive love of the parent of the opposite sex which results in jealousy and aggression towards the same sex parent.

Lorenz held a related view. He believed that aggression came for an inherited “fighting instinct”. This being developed and inherited through evolution. The strongest and most active animal would pass their genes to the next generation and this ensured the “survival of the fittest”.

Secondly, Flanagan (1997) states that biological theorists believe that aggression results for high levels of the male hormone testosterone which would explain why men are considered usually more aggressive than women.

However, social psychologists would disagree with these theories and would point out that not all countries have the same levels of violence. Aggression is learned by children who grow up in each society, some are more aggressive than others. Albert Bandura demonstrated in experiments of the “bobo doll” that children exposed to aggressive adult models acted more aggressively than those who were exposed to a non-aggressive adult model.

Furthermore, another explanation of aggression is deindividuation which refers to a state in which the individual control over their own behaviours is weakened and concern about normative standards, self-preservation and the consequences of one's behaviour decreases. Festinger, (1952)

3 Practical applications

Social workers in the field of contemporary social care who are working with children with aggressive behaviour need to understand and apply all the theories developed by psychologists about why this type of aggressive behaviour occurs. It is important to understand the nature versus nurture theories. Nature means how children behave naturally and follows the theories of such as Freud and Lorenz. It means that all children are naturally aggressive to a certain event. On the other hand the nurture theory is that children's behaviour depends on the way they are brought up.

This nature versus nurture debate is important when we consider gender roles. Some people think that boys are more aggressive than girls due to the high levels of androgens (a male sex hormone) and girls with a large amount of this hormone will also be more aggressive and behave like a tom-boy. However other people think that the child's behaviour can be a result of the up-bringing and according to Davenport (1994) p254, “aggression in children can be reduced by using a combination of reinforcements and punishments”. That means by praising and learning good behaviour, and punishments.

Social workers are working together with programmes such as Sure Start on parental problems such as not having a good close relationship with their children and some parents being aggressive and violent towards their children. Sure Start brings parents to the centres to work together and attend parenting groups with separate groups of fathers and mothers. They teach parents how to punish their children without physically hitting them. This would give children a positive role model to copy and make them less violent. Flanagan, (1996) p97 states that “the home environment can create aggressiveness in many ways for example: harsh discipline and lack of supervision results in disrupted bonding between parent and child”

Social workers have to deal with child abuse and domestic abuse of mothers by their partners. Social workers need to understand the effects on a child who witnesses aggression and domestic abuse.

Aldgate et al (2006) p194 states that “it should never be assumed that abuse, neglect or trauma in infancy has a lesser impact than in later years.” Social workers have difficult decisions to make about if a child is at risk whether to take the child away or whether to leave the child with their family. There is evidence quoted by Judge, that children suffer a lot of behavioural disturbances when they witness domestic violence and they are more likely to suffer from “bullying, destroying things, running away, depression, poor concentration, enuresis, insomnia and temper tantrums” and that, “children learn that violence is an appropriate way to resolve conflict in humans”.

An understanding of social psychological perspectives can help social workers to do their job, if they understand Bandera's theory that violence is learned and copied from other people they would have evidence to remove a child from a violent home.

According to Davenport, G.C. p275 (1994), “People from some cultures show less aggression than other cultures.” He states that according to studies by Margaret Mead on the Arapesh Indians of Samoa and New Guinea where both the men and women were unaggressive and maternal, so “the most aggressive Arapesh child may have been less aggressive American or British child.” Children learn to copy the behaviour they see in their society.

There is an impact on social care from the way the demographic of our society is changing, such as, the arrival of more immigrants, and asylum seekers and members of ethnic minorities. Parents from different cultures may have learned different parenting skills from their parents and will have different ideas of how to bring up children compared with how social workers think they should. Some groups may use physical punishment of children more, and social workers will need to deal with that. That means that the social workers will need to understand they way they bring up their children and understand how to deal with different cultures.

Society has changed since the first television was produced in the 1950's. Now many children spend more time in front of the television than they do interacting with their parents or playing outside. They also spend time on the computer on games or chatting online. Some children can gain positive influences and information other children can gain negative influences by seeing violence and can copy this violent or aggressive behaviour. According to Bandera and other social learning theorists, referred to by Davenport (1994), children copy some models of behaviour more than others, for example, those with high status or importance to them, like Batman or Superman and will copy violence performed by these characters. Therefore the government should have strict rules about showing less violence, and social workers who work with families can explain these theories to parents.

Children who live in deprived areas and now, especially with the economic down turn more families will have financial problems and live in poverty, are more likely, according to www.socialworkers.org, to experience aggression, hyperactivity and depression, low self esteem. Poverty has a negative effect on children and social workers need to develop more programmes like Sure Start where parents can receive help with literacy, training and getting a job and parenting classes. With reference to how society is changing, there are more single parents who need more support so social care needs to help these families more.

4 Conclusion

In conclusion, social workers can understand all the theories that are available, for example Freud and Lorenz who believed that everyone has a natural instinct to violence compared with Bandura who showed that aggression is the kind of behaviour that children learn by copying other people, maybe their parents, other children or maybe from TV. A social worker's job is to protect children from being harmed. The Child Protection Act (1999) states that “every child has a right to protection from harm, families have the primary responsibility for the upbringing, protection and development of their children.” Social workers can make home visits and set up programmes such as (Sure Start) and other organisations and it is good for them to understand different psychologists' theories in order to try and help children. It helps then to understand why children are aggressive and what they can do to help them by using all theories and by treating the child as an individual and, also as a member of society.

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