Young people who want to be better appreciated and respected within their group are willing to be violent, says a new study that looked in depth at the social relationships between male and female teenagers, relational violence, and psycho-social adjustment factors such as loneliness and self-esteem.

Published recently in Psicothema,  the study focused on the relationship between relational violence between teenagers, their social adjustment and their reputation, in order to show how young people who long for high "reputation status" are more likely to use relational violence as a tool for achieving this objective.

Relational violence is any kind of behavior designed to provoke harm within another person's circle of friends, or to damage their perception of belonging to a group. The experts say this causes psychological damage, as it marginalizes and isolates the victim, causing suffering that may sometimes be hard to recover from.

"There is a growing interest in studying the violent behavior of teenagers in school, which can have serious consequences for the psychological and emotional adjustment of the people involved and hinders the dynamics of a school", David Moreno Ruiz, lead author of the study and a researcher at the Pablo de Olavide University (UPO) in Seville, tells SINC.

Previous studies have already shown that some teenagers who are popular among their peers use relational violence in order to maintain and improve their reputation in their peer group. "Having high self-esteem is a key aspect, because this is important in inhibiting teenagers from indulging in behavior that involves relational violence between peers at school", explains Moreno.

Teenagers use violence to boost their social standing. (Photo Credit: Kamyar Adl)

The new study was carried out on 1,319 teenagers at seven schools in Valencia, and shows that teenagers whose social status is questioned by their peers and are socially rejected by their classmates, or who do not have intimate friendships, suffer from greater feelings of loneliness, low self-esteem and low levels of satisfaction with their lives.

"We must prevent the development of teenage social identities that are based on harming others, using unjustifiable tactics that are damaging to others, as is the case with relational violence. We need to draw up appropriate psycho-educational programs to prevent, diagnose and intervene in cases of such violence, in order to improve coexistence in schools", the researchers pointed out.

Although the results of studies into this type of violence and its links to gender have been contradictory, the conclusions of this research show that boys use relational violence much more, except when the violent behavior is used as a defensive response to provocation, when there is no difference between boys and girls.

However, contrary to popular belief, it is probable that girls make greater use of violence as a strategy for achieving or maintaining improved social identity within their peer group.

Citation: David Moreno Ruiz, Estefania Estevez Lopez, Sergio Perez Murgui Musitu Gonzalo Ochoa, 'Relational Social Reputation And Adolescent Violence: The Role of Solitude, self-esteem and life satisfaction', Psicothema, 2009, 21(4), 537-542