Adolescents 'vulnerability to peer victimization: interpersonal and intrapersonal predictors.
Junior high school students (Behavior)
Student guidance services (Methods)
D'Esposito, Susan E.
Riccio, Cynthia A.
|Publication:||Name: Professional School Counseling Publisher: American School Counselor Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Family and marriage; Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 American School Counselor Association ISSN: 1096-2409|
|Issue:||Date: June, 2011 Source Volume: 14 Source Issue: 5|
|Topic:||Event Code: 290 Public affairs Canadian Subject Form: School counselling|
|Product:||Product Code: E197300 Students, Junior High|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States|
This study explored how certain personality traits, behaviors, and
social status may be associated with who is targeted as a victim of peer
aggression. The sample consisted of 233 students in sixth through eighth
grades from rural communities. Results indicate that symptoms of
anxiety, a high sense of inadequacy, and elevated social stress are
associated with victimization. The article discusses implications for
prevention and intervention.
Peer victimization is a serious problem affecting our nation's schools, with nearly 36% of secondary students experiencing victimization at some point during their school career (Wang, Iannotti, & Nansel, 2009). Nansel and colleagues (2001) found that approximately one in three sixth-through 10th-grade students reported moderate or frequent involvement in bullying behavior, which includes being victimized by peers or bullying others. Peer victimization may take many forms, but is most commonly characterized by being the target of physically (e.g., being hit, pushed, or kicked), relationally (e.g., attempting to damage one's interpersonal relations and social status through social exclusion and rumor-mongering), verbally (e.g., name calling or mean teasing), or cyber (e.g., character defamation through technological means) aggressive acts conducted over time that are intended to cause physical harm, psychological distress, or humiliation.
Considerable research suggests that the consequences of victimization extend beyond embarrassment and may result in psychological and physical distress for some victims (Carney, 2008; Klomek, Marrocco, Kleinman, Schonfeld, & Gould, 2008). Whereas much of the research has explored the consequences of peer victimization, few studies have examined which factors may make some children more vulnerable to victimization than others (Hanish & Guerra, 2000; Hodges & Perry, 1999). Thus, the purpose of this study was to examine the intra- and interpersonal characteristics that are most associated with victimization for adolescent youth. Knowing the characteristics that are most related to victimization may provide school counselors the opportunity to engage those students at risk for victimization in counseling efforts, which might prevent future victimization or significant psychological distress.
Available research provides some information on the outcomes associated with peer victimization. Peer victimization affects a student's sense of security such that victims of peer aggression may suffer psychological harm long after the bullying stops (Farrington, 1993; Gladstone, Parker, & Malhi, 2006; Smokowski & Kopasz, 2005). For example, victimization is associated with greater health problems (e.g., somatization; Nishina, Juvonen, & Witkow, 2005), suicidal ideation, symptoms of depression and anxiety, and low self-esteem (Graham, Bellmore, & Mize, 2006; Peskin, Tortolero, Markham, Addy, & Baumler, 2006). In addition to affecting psychological adjustment, being a victim may have a detrimental effect on an adolescent's social status and interpersonal relationships with peers. Research indicates that adolescents who are chronically victimized also may be rejected by peers (Lopez & Dubois, 2005). At the same time, it is possible that the relationship between victimization and peer rejection is reciprocal, with children who are rejected by peers more likely to be victimized than their accepted peers (Buhs, Ladd, & Herald, 2006).
In addition to the impact on social and psychological adjustment, victimization also has been found to negatively affect students' achievement (Erath, Flanagan, Bierman, 2008); this is particularly likely when victimization is associated with a higher rate of absenteeism from school (Ladd & Ladd, 2001; Nishina et al., 2005) and lower academic achievement (Schwartz, Gorman, Nakamoto, & Toblin, 2005). Ultimately, the interaction of victimization, poor social status, academic difficulties, and increased school absence potentially can affect the development of appropriate support systems and coping skills. The same effects may not be present for all individuals who are subject to peer victimization. The combination of context and individual differences leads to increased vulnerability to victimization (Schwartz, Kelly, Cuong, & Badaly, 2010).
Vulnerability to Victimization
Although extensive research exists about the social and psychological consequences of victimization and the contexts in which victimization is likely to occur, less is known about the intraindividual factors that are associated with or may predict adolescents' risk for victimization. Some studies have suggested that bullies distribute their aggression in a selective process, thus suggesting that factors proprietary to the victim may play a role in attracting their perpetrators (Crick & Bigbee, 1998; Stoody, 2000). Horowitz et al. (2004) suggested that being different from what peers expect and value could target an adolescent for victimization and peer rejection. Further, it is possible that victims have some traits that make them more vulnerable to being bullied than others (Dodge, Bates, & Pettit, 1990; Hodges & Perry, 1999).
Hodges and Perry (1999) found that, in addition to peer rejection, the display of internalizing symptoms and physical weakness significantly predicted victimization in a sample of seventh-grade students. For the children in their study, risk of victimization seemed to be greatest for adolescents who were disliked by peers, perceived as anxious or depressed, and were physically weaker than peers. Physical weakness appears to consistently contribute to victimization, particularly among boys; however, other physical characteristics do not (Hodges & Perry, 1999; Card & Hodges, 2008). That is, studies have found that children who possess physical attributes such as obesity, wearing corrective lenses, speech problems, or exhibiting some form of physical disability are no more likely to be victims of aggression than their peers who do not possess these characteristics (Card & Hodges, 2008). Olweus (1993), however, suggested that these physical characteristics may cause children to have low self-esteem and possess a demeanor that invites harassment. Thus, internal characteristics (e.g., low self-esteem) rather than physical characteristics appear to be a possible predictor of victimization (Perry, Hodges, & Egan, 2001).
Children who appear socially inept have an increased likelihood of being victimized (Ladd & Kochenderfer-Ladd, 2002; Schwartz, Dodge, & Coie, 1993). For example, Bernan (2009) found that children who display inattentive and hyperactive behaviors are more likely to be victimized by peers, perhaps because their impulsive behaviors annoy aggressors, making them easy targets. In addition to exhibiting inattentive and hyperactive behaviors, children who evidenced disruptive behaviors were also more likely to be victimized. Little agreement exists as to whether some victims have poor social skills or are using poor coping strategies that include aggressively reacting to bullying (e.g., bully-victims; Farrington, 1993; Hanish & Guerra, 2000; Olweus, 1993). Hanish and Guerra found aggression and withdrawal to be predictive of victimization in the upper elementary grades. In sum, the current research suggests that children who are physically weaker and who exhibit internalizing symptoms, inattentive and hyperactive behavior, and aggression are at greater risk for victimization than their peers who do not possess these qualities.
Purpose of the Study
Only limited research has examined how behavioral traits and personality factors contribute to an individual's vulnerability to be the target of victimization, particularly in rural communities. Internal psychological characteristics and external behavioral characteristics need to be considered, yet researchers have integrated few of these factors into recent empirical investigations (Hodge & Perry, 1999; Hanish & Guerra, 2000; Ladd & Ladd, 2001). In the context of universal screening for early intervention and prevention programming, identifying those personality and behavioral characteristics that may be markers of at-risk status for victimization is needed. The purpose of this study was to explore what factors, intrapersonal (e.g., personality traits such as display of internalizing symptoms, behaviors) or interpersonal characteristics (e.g., social status and interpersonal relationships with peers), are associated with victimization. Specifically, the authors were interested in whether intrapersonal characteristics such as internalizing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and secondary symptoms (e.g., sense of inadequacy, locus of control, feelings of independence, and low self-esteem) would be related to victimization.
The authors also sought to examine whether interpersonal characteristics such as social support from peers, perceived social skills, and feelings of stress surrounding interpersonal relationships would be associated with the likelihood that a child is a target for victimization. Given research suggesting that girls are more vulnerable to depression and stress than boys (Leadbeater, Blatt, & Quinlan, 1995) and gender differences in the association between victimization and social status (Berger & Rodkin, 2009), this study also examined whether the relation between intra- and interpersonal characteristics differed for boys and girls.
Students in middle school and junior high school were chosen for this study because adolescence is a period of transitional stress resulting in impulsive behaviors and rapid fluctuations in emotions, which in turn result in the possibility of repeated insults and rejection by peers (Marsh, Parada, Craven, & Finger, 2004; Seals & Young, 2003). Moreover, this specific age group was selected because research indicates that peer victimization occurs most frequently within this age group (Kokkinos & Panayiotou, 2004). The authors selected children from rural communities given the limited research on victimization within that type of community setting. Although students' risk for experiencing violence is generally lower in rural communities (Foster et al., 2005; Hope & Bierman, 1998), students in rural communities might be as likely to experience victimization as children from other settings due to the small and closely knit community context which characterize most rural settings (Beggs, Haines, & Hurlbert, 1996). In many rural schools, the peer network or peer dynamics is unlikely to change, with the same cohort of students being maintained from elementary through high school. Thus, the possibility exists that children from rural communities present the same likelihood of experiencing victimization as adolescents from non-rural settings because they are subject to the same group of aggressors year after year (Beggs et al. 1996).
Participants were recruited from three middle schools and one junior high school in rural communities in the southwestern United States. The sample consisted of 243 students in sixth (1.7%), seventh (45.1%), and eighth grade (53.2%), aged 12 to 15 years. Due to incomplete assessments, 10 cases were eliminated from the study, leaving 233 valid cases for analyses. Of the participating students, 45% were drawn from school one; 34% from school two; 12% from school three; and 3% from school four. With respect to student's racial/ethnic background and gender, 55.8% of participating students were female and 63.9% of students self-identified as Caucasian (n = 149), 14.6% as African American (n = 34), 11.2% as Hispanic (n = 26), 4.7% as Asian/Pacific Islander (n = 11), and 5.6% as Biracial or other (n = 13). Information on individual student's socioeconomic status was not collected; however, the 2004 United States census data indicated that the median household income for the communities in which the four schools were located ranged from $21,180 to $39,404 (United States Census Bureau, 2004). Additionally, school records indicated that participating school districts were predominantly White; approximately 24 to 55% of the students were economically disadvantaged according to state records.
In accordance with IRB approval, parent consent and student assent were obtained. Participating students were administered a battery of instruments. At the request of the principals, these measurements were administered in small groups (between eight and 10 students at a time) to ensure that the students' questions could be easily answered within a reasonable period of time. The students were encouraged to answer each question truthfully, according to their own opinions and not the opinion of their peers. As an incentive to participate in the study, the name of each student who agreed to participate was placed in a drawing to win one of five $20 gift cards to a local store of the student's choice. In order to maintain confidentiality, participating students completed a separate form with their name, mailing address, e-mail address, and phone number to be used for the drawing.
Behavior Assessment System for Children--Self-Report. The Behavior Assessment System for Children--Self-Report (BASC-SRP; Reynolds & Kamphaus, 1992) was used to assess children's self-reported intra- and interpersonal characteristics that might lead to victimization. The BASC-SRP is a 186-item, true-false measure that assesses clinical and adaptive measures of adjustment. The measure consists of 14 clinical and adaptive scales. Scale scores are reported in t scores with a mean of 50 and standard deviation of 10. The BASC-SRP is an established instrument with acceptable internal consistency reliability and validity (see Reynolds & Kamphaus, 1992). Reliability coefficients from the technical manual for each scale used in the present study are provided; however, a more comprehensive description of the psychometric properties of individual scales as well as the factor analytic structure of the BASC-SRP is available for review in the technical manual (Reynolds & Kamphaus, 1992).
The clinical scales used for this study have adequate reliability as presented in the BASC-SRP manual, and the reliability coefficients from the manual are reported by content area below. The scales provide information on the extent to which the child reports generalized fears, oversensitivity, and worry (anxiety scale; 17 items; [alpha] = .87); feelings of loneliness, sadness, and hopelessness (depression scale; 17 items; [alpha] = .88); the child's perception as to who has control over his/her life (locus of control scale; 16 items; [alpha] = .87); the child's belief in the ability to achieve at expected levels (sense of inadequacy scale; 12 items; [alpha] = .77); and the level of stress children experience when interacting with peers (social stress; 12 items; [alpha] = .81). Specific adaptive scales were also used to assess students' emphasis on how successful they feel in relating to their peers (interpersonal relations; 10 items; [alpha] = .81), their self-satisfaction (self-esteem; 6 items; [alpha] = .79), and their confidence in their own ability to make decisions (self-reliance; 14 items; [alpha] = .71). Whereas elevated scores on the clinical scales suggest that a child might be experiencing psychological maladjustment, elevated scores on BASC-SRP adaptive scales are indicative of positive adjustment and coping. The internal consistency of these scales could not be calculated because access to raw data was unavailable for this sample, but based on other research and replication of internal consistency of the scales (Blake, Lease, Turner, & Outley, in press; Reynolds & Kamphaus, 2004), and the similarity in demographics to the standardization sample, the authors have no reason to believe that the internal consistencies would change for this sample.
Bullying Victimization Scale. The Bullying Victimization Scale (BVS; Reynolds, 2003a) was used to measure adolescents' experiences with peer victimization. The BVS is a 46-item, self-report scale designed to assess the bullying behaviors and victimization experiences of children and adolescents in third through 12th grade. Children are asked to report the frequency in which they engaged in bullying or experienced victimization in the past month on a 4-point likert scale (Never to Five or more times). The BVS yields two scales, Bullying and Victimization, that are scored independently since each scale represents distinct dimensions of student involvement in bullying incidents (Reynolds, 2003b). For this study, only the Victimization scale was used. The Victimization scale consists of 23 items measuring physical and relational victimization (e.g., if an adolescent has been physically assaulted, threatened, teased, called names, or intimidated by peers). The items from the Victimization scale were summed to yield a Victimization score and converted to a t score with a mean of 50 and standard deviation of 10. Elevated scores on the BVS victimization scale suggest that a student is the target of bullying and experiencing peer victimization. According to the technical manual, the BVS Victimization scale has adequate psychometric properties. The internal consistency for the Victimization Scale is .93 and the test-retest reliability for the Victimization scale was .80 as reported in the technical manual (Reynolds, 2003b). Consistent with the manual, the Cronbach coefficient alpha of the Victimization scale for the present sample was .93. The BVS Victimization scale evidences adequate construct and content validity. The manual indicates that the Victimization scale correlates moderately with well-validated measures of victimization and established measures of psychological adjustment and distress. Specifically, the BVS Victimization scale correlates with teacher ratings of victimization and various scales within the Beck Youth Inventories of Emotional and Social Impairment (Beck, Beck, & Jolly, 2001) and the Reynolds Adolescent Adjustment Screening Inventory (RAASI; Reynolds, 2001).
Hatter Social Support Scale for Children and Adolescents. The Harter Social Support Scale for Children and Adolescents (Harter, 1985) was used to assess adolescent perceptions of the degree of social support they received from close friends and peers. This scale is a 24-item measure that yields four subscales: classmates, friend, parent, and teacher; however, for the purpose of this article, the authors used the classmates and friend subscales. Each subscale has six items. Students were asked to rate the extent to which they experienced support from their peers, friends, teachers, and parents on a 4-point likert scale (Never true to Always true). Whereas elevated scores on the friendship and classmate subscales are indicative of a student experiencing positive levels of support from peers and classmates, low scores suggest that a student feels unsupported by friends and classmates and may not be accepted by peers.
The Harter classmate support subscale evidences adequate validity and reliability as reported in the manual (Harter, 1985). Specifically, the classmate support subscale is significantly correlated with children's self-report ratings of global self-worth as well as children's social acceptance and popularity. Reliability estimates for the subscale for middle school students reported in the technical manual range from .74 to .79. The reliability indicated by the test developer was confirmed with the present sample, with a Cronbach's coefficient alpha of .80 noted for the friend subscale and .75 for the classmate subscale.
Demographic Survey. Children's self-reports from a demographic questionnaire was used to identify the gender of students participating in our study.
Dummy coding was used to create the gender variable (1 = Girls).
Pearson correlations between student's Victimization score, Intrapersonal Characteristics (Anxiety, Depression, Self-Esteem, Sense of Inadequacy, Locus of Control, and Self-Reliance), and Interpersonal Characteristics (Interpersonal Relations, Social Stress, Social Support Among Classmates, and Social Support Among Friends) were in the expected direction. Correlations and descriptive statistics are presented in Table 1. Of the intrapersonal characteristics, higher levels of victimization were associated with higher levels of anxiety, more depressive symptoms, feelings of inadequacy, and an external locus of control. Additionally, victimization had a negative correlation with self-esteem and self-reliance, indicating that higher victimization was associated with lower self-esteem and children's difficulty with making decisions. For interpersonal characteristics, victimization was associated with poorer interpersonal relations, stress surrounding relationships with peers, and less social support among classmates and friends.
To examine whether students' intrapersonal or interpersonal characteristics contributed to peer victimization, the authors conducted hierarchical regression analyses. Prior to conducting these analyses, gender interactions were tested to assess whether the relationship between victimization and intrapersonal and intepersonal charactisitcs differed for boys and girls. A two-step procedure was employed to test interaction effects in which the predictor and moderator variable (e.g., gender) were entered first in the models, followed by the product term of the moderator and predictor variable. All predictor variables included in the interaction models were mean centered (Aiken & West, 1991). Gender interaction effects were nonsiginificant for all the intrapersonal characteristics, but were significant for the interpersonal variables. Thus, interaction effects were added to subsequent hierarchical regression models for the interpersonal characteristics. Intrapersonal characteristics was entered into the model first (e.g., Block1), followed by the addition of gender, main effects, and interaction effects for interpersonal characteristics (e.g., Block 2).
Results revealed that intrapersonal characteristics explained 17% of the variance in peer victimization. Anxiety and sense of inadequacy contributed significantly to peer victimization; that is, children who were anxious and reported feeling inadequate endorsed greater levels of peer victimization.
Interpersonal characteristics explained an additional 12% of the variance in victimization above and beyond intrapersonal characteristics, Fine (8,217) = 4.85, p = .000. Of the interpersonal characteristics, social stress and the interaction effects for classmate support and interpersonal relations were significantly related to victimization. Children who reported experiencing more stress surrounding their interpersonal relations endorsed greater victimization. Whereas having low support from classmates contributed to victimization ([beta] = -.40, t = -3.41, p = .001) for boys, classmate support was not as related to girls' victimization experiences ([beta] = .84, t = .69, p = .490). Although poor interpersonal relations did not contribute to victimization for boys ([beta] = -.02; t = -.201, p = .804), for girls, poor intepersonal relations was associated with elevated peer victimization ([beta] = -.28, t = -2.40, p = .018).
The present study was designed to explore how personality traits and behaviors were associated with who is targeted as a victim of peer aggression. The authors found that both intra- and interpersonal characteristics were significant contributors to victimization in adolescents. In particular, these results support the findings of others that anxiety and feelings of inadequacy contribute to whether a child is victimized by his or her peers (Bernstein & Watson, 1997; Horowitz et al., 2004). Also consistent with this is the finding that children who appear socially incompetent and are not assertive have an increased likelihood of being victimized (Ladd & Kochenderfer Ladd, 2002; Schwartz et al., 1993). Thus, children who exhibit feelings of inadequacy, oversensitivity, and worry may be providing a signal to aggressors that they are unable to defend themselves (Bernstein & Watson, 1997; Horowitz et al., 2004), thus increasing the likelihood that they are seen as easy, but not justifiable, targets for bullying.
In contrast to prior research (Craig, 1998; Hanish & Guerra, 2002; Hodges & Perry, 1999; Kochenderfer-Ladd & Skinner, 2002), self-esteem and depression were not significant contributors to victimization in this study. The authors' failure to find a significant relation between victimization and self-esteem is curious, but consistent with the work of Seals and Young (2003). Given that self-esteem was moderately correlated with other intrapersonal variables in the present study, it is possible that the order in which the self-esteem variable was entered into the aggression model might have impacted the degree to which self-esteem explained the variance in victimization; however, the order used was most supported by the existing research. A reanalysis of the model with self-esteem entered first did not alter the findings. These results indicate that self-esteem does not make an important contribution to explaining the variance in victimization for the present sample.
The authors found only partial support for the role of internalizing symptoms in predicting victimization as noted by Hodges and Perry (1999); although anxiety contributed to victimization in the present study, depression did not. The authors attribute this discrepancy to the manner in which they assessed depressive symptoms. Whereas Hodges and Perry (1999) used peer nominations to assess whether children displayed excessive worry (e.g., anxiety) and cried often (e.g., depressed symptoms), the present study used a broad band, self-report measure of psychological functioning to assess whether children experienced symptoms of anxiety or depression. Thus, the peer nomination method employed by Hodges and Perry (1999) may have highlighted the depressive component in a different way (i.e., their peers are interpreting their behaviors as depressive) than the self-report measure used here (i.e., individuals are interpreting their own behaviors as low self-esteem).
Outside of intrapersonal characteristics, the present study identified a number of interpersonal characteristics that were associated with victimization. Children who experienced greater social stress surrounding their relationships with peers endorsed greater victimization. Social stress may be associated with victimization because it serves as a proxy for social support or as an indicator of peer relations. Specifically, children who experience elevated social stress are less likely to have close friends who can assist them in coping with difficult situations and these children may feel anxiety as a result (Reynolds & Kamphaus, 1992). Support from classmates and interpersonal relations were found to be significantly associated with victimization; however, this relationship differed for boys and girls. Low social support among classmates emerged as a significant factor for victimization for males, but not females. The gender difference in the relation between victimization and social support from classmates may be attributed to the differing structure and nature of girls' and boys' friendships and social networks in schools. Research suggests that girls' social networks are more cohesive than boys, allowing for increased intimacy and greater disclosure (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995). Given the cohesiveness of girls' social networks and the relational nature in which girls are more likely to victimize peers (i.e., relational victimization; Crick, Grotpeter, & Bigbee, 1998; Felix & McMahon, 2007; Paquette & Underwood, 1999) it is possible that girls are more likely to experience victimization within their friendships, as opposed to boys. Thus, support from peers may be less important to victimization for girls, because girls are more likely to experience victimization in their friendships as opposed to in the larger peer network (Besag, 2006).
Poor peer relations also were associated with victimization, but this relation was more pronounced for girls than boys. That is, whereas poor interpersonal relations with peers was a significant factor in victimization for girls, having negative peer relations was not as great a factor in boys' risk for victimization. Given the importance girls place on relationships, girls who are unable to relate positively to same gender peers may be at greater risk for exclusion and, consequently, victimization than more socially savvy girls who better understand the inner workings of the peer network (Adler & Adler, 1995).
Limitations of the Study and Directions for Future Research
Several caveats should be considered when interpreting the findings of the current study. Due to the concurrent design of the study, it is not clear whether the significant behavioral difficulties reported by adolescents existed prior to their experiences of victimization or were the result of being victimized by peers. Given the lack of temporal ordering of the variables, causality cannot be inferred. In order to accurately identify the role of interpersonal and intrapersonal behaviors in predicting victimization, the authors recommend that short-term and long-term longitudinal studies be conducted in which intra- and interpersonal characteristics and data on victimization experiences are collected over time. Investigators may consider examining children's social and emotional adjustment and experiences with victimization in late elementary school and compare how these experiences change as the children transition and progress through middle school, when peer aggression and victimization is believed to peak (Seals & Young, 2003). Such information would be particularly useful in determining whether children who exhibit specific psychological and behavior profiles characterized by anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, poor interpersonal relations, and who do not feel supported by their social network are at greater risk of becoming victims of peer aggression.
A second limitation was that the sample used in this study was primarily Caucasian, recruited from three middle schools and one junior high school in rural communities. The inclusion of students from non-urban areas is a strength of this study, as few victimization studies have focused specifically on students from rural communities. However, future studies should include a more ethnically diverse sample of adolescents from rural communities and conduct comparisons between victimization experiences of children from rural and urban community settings. Despite these limitations, this study contributes to the current literature on victimization by identifying the factors that make some children, particularly those in rural communities, vulnerable for being the target of peer aggression, and suggests that, similar to students in other settings, rural middle school students might also pose risks for experiencing victimization.
Implications for School Counselors
School counselors play a vital role in the development and implementation of prevention and intervention efforts to address peer victimization in schools (Blake, 2010). Much of the literature on strategies to reduce peer victimization has focused on school counselors' involvement in program implementation to foster positive school climate (Wigfield, Lutz, & Wagner, 2005) or counseling interventions to reduce bullying once a child has been identified as being victimized (Jacobson & Bauman, 2007). Less discussion has centered on the role of school counselors in implementing early intervention services to prevent peer victimization. Given preliminary evidence that some children may exhibit intrapersonal (e.g., anxiety and feelings of inadequacy) and interpersonal characteristics (e.g., poor social skills, lack of social support from peers) that place them at elevated risk for being victimized and that this relation might vary by a child's gender, school counselors might elect to increase their victimization prevention strategies for certain types of students. For example, school counselors might recommend that girls who appear socially awkward or display interpersonal difficulties participate in counseling groups that emphasize the development of social skills in order to prevent victimization. For boys believed to be at risk for experiencing peer victimization, school counselors might consider inviting participation in counseling groups that focus on fostering alliances and creating friendships, which buffer them against aggressive acts. School counselors can also consult with teachers on how to develop strategies to increase peer support and inclusion in their classrooms (Song & Stoiber, 2008). School counselors can recommend that middle school teachers create inclusive cooperative learning groups by basing group formation on student interests that in turn might foster friendship formation (e.g., "Please gather into groups based on your interests").
School counselors can lead guidance lessons that provide activities for students to learn about moral inclusion and exclusion, which parallels major tenants of peer intolerance for bullying advocated in many anti-bullying prevention programs (Leets & Sunwolf, 2005; Opotow, Gerson, & Woodside, 2005). School counselors can collaborate with history teachers to engage middle school students in discussions on blatant forms of moral exclusion, such as hate crimes, sweatshops, ethnic cleansing, etc., and history teachers can develop lesson plans in which students have to identify when moral exclusion has occurred in history. Then, counselors can collaborate with classroom history teachers by relating historical lessons on moral exclusion to less severe and perhaps more subtle forms moral exclusion within students' immediate social context. School counselors can then help students make conceptual links between moral exclusion and victimization and assist students in identifying what their role is to address or intervene when they observe these acts.
Alternatively, school counselors might consider implementing universal screenings for mental health as a method to identify children at risk for experiencing peer victimization. The identification of such children could be considered a method of early intervention or, if detected early enough, a form of prevention, as it might place school counselors in a unique position to disrupt the cycle of victimization before it starts. In general, universal mental health screening provides a means for early identification of mental health problems through the administration of a screening instrument that is designed to assess psychological or behavioral adjustment difficulties or high-risk symptoms of psychological disorders that students may exhibit (e.g., anxiety; Levitt, Saka, Romanelli, & Hoagwood, 2007). Current data suggests that universal mental health screenings in schools in general leads to improved outcomes for students and a decrease in emotional and behavioral problems (Weist, Rubin, Moore, Adelsheim, & Wrobel, 2007). However, given that mental health problems could be a both a cause and consequence of victimization (Card & Hodges, 2008; Cook, Williams, Guerra, & Sadek, 2010), school counselors might want to administer screening instruments that assess not only student's social and emotional functioning but also their experiences with victimization.
Universal screenings, in the form of brief rating scales that can be administered school-wide, could be used as one tool by school counselors to identify students who display characteristics that place them at risk for victimization. Such screenings could also provide a method to identify children with general psychological adjustment difficulties who are in need of counseling (e.g., children who arc experiencing grief after loss of loved one; Dowdy, Ritchey, & Kamphans, 2010). One example of a screening measure is the BASC-2 Behavioral and Emotional Screening System (Kamphans & Reynolds, 2007). This is a brief measure, with parent, teacher, and child forms, for usedoi:1grades preschool through 12. It takes approximately 5-10 minutes to administer, is available in Spanish, and can be hand scored, computer scored, or scored via scantron. Once students are identified as being at risk for exhibiting mental health problems or experiencing victimization, the school counselor could interview these students to determine whether additional counseling services are needed, such as group or individual counseling, or general social skills training is required. Through the use of universal mental health screening and early intervention, school counselors can be actively involved at the school and individual level in effecting changes that affect the likelihood of victimization for these children. Moreover, the early identification of children with risk factors associated with victimization may provide school counselors with baseline data for monitoring change over time as a result of interventions at the system and individual level.
Evidence is increasing that victimization and bullying are serious problems in schools (Bradshaw et al., 2007; Nansel et al., 2001). The most dramatic findings to date indicate that up to one third of students in middle to high school report either being bullied, being a bully, or both (Nansel et al., 2001). The purpose of this study was to identify critical intra- and interpersonal characteristics that predict victimization, or at least vulnerability to being a victim. Results indicate that factors such as anxiety and feelings of inadequacy are highly associated with a child being victimized. Additional factors, including social stress, peer relations, and level of social support, also were associated with victimization. The students in this study were in sixth through eighth grade, and, in some cases, already may have been victims of bullying at the time of the study. With identification of key characteristics of vulnerability, school counselors may easily implement preventive activities and supports as part of school activities. School counselors can take the lead by providing supports and educational programming school-wide, and by providing individual programming to address not only the bullies, but the potential victims. Clearly, additional research is needed in this area as bullying remains a serious issue.
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Susan E. D'Esposito, Ph.D., is a psychologist in Massachusetts. Jamilia Blake, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of school psychology at Texas A&M University, College Station, TX. Email: email@example.com Cynthia A. Riccio, Ph.D., is a professor of school psychology, also at Texas A&M University.
Table 1. Correlation Coefficients and Descriptive Statistics of Study Variables 1 2 3 4 5 6 1. Victimization 2. Anxiety .30 3. Interpersonal -.31 -.33 Relations 4. Self-reliance -.08 -.25 .43 5. Social Stress .44 .67 -.53 -.38 6. Locus of Control .34 .49 -.38 -.39 .69 7. Sense of .33 .39 -.41 -.44 .59 .63 Inadequacy 8. Self-esteem -.24 -.58 .45 .30 -.68 -.51 9. Depression .30 .52 -.48 -.44 .73 .70 10. Classmate Support -.33 -.36 .62 .32 -.57 -.39 11. Friend Support -.15 -.17 .42 .17 -.27 -.30 7 8 9 10 M SD 1. Victimization 51.69 11.03 2. Anxiety 50.86 9.49 3. Interpersonal 51.97 7.68 Relations 4. Self-reliance 51.34 9.07 5. Social Stress 51.14 10.31 6. Locus of Control 50.73 10.60 7. Sense of 48.67 9.23 Inadequacy 8. Self-esteem -.45 48.54 10.08 9. Depression .67 .64 50.59 9.48 10. Classmate Support -.39 .44 -.48 3.19 .59 11. Friend Support -.24 .15 -.23 .49 3.49 .59 Note. All correlations are significant at the p < .001 level; variables are reported in t scores with a mean of 50 and standard deviation of 10. Table 2. Summary of Hierarchical Regression Analyses Predicting Victimization from Intra-and Interpersonal behaviors Victimization Total Predictor [beta] 95% CI [R.sup.2] Block 1: Intrapersonal .17 Characteristics Anxiety .16 * .00 .36 Depression .04 -.20 .29 Self-esteem .00 -.18 .19 Sense of Inadequacy .20 * .03 .44 Locus of Control .16 -.02 .36 Self-Reliance .12 -.02 .31 Block 2: Interpersonal .30 Characteristics Gender -.01 -31.85 39.15 Social Stress .36 * .12 .67 Gender X Social Stress -.01 -.33 .31 Interpersonal Relations -.01 -.33 .32 Gender X Interpersonal -.40 * -.85 .04 Relations Classmate support -.44 ** -13.21 -3.49 Gender X Classmate support .43 ** 3.76 16.46 Friend Support .18 -.25 7.10 Gender X Friend support -.15 -9.55 1.10 [ALPHA] [R.sup.2] .12 Victimization Adj Predictor [R.sup.2] Block 1: Intrapersonal .12 Characteristics Anxiety Depression Self-esteem Sense of Inadequacy Locus of Control Self-Reliance Block 2: Interpersonal .23 Characteristics Gender Social Stress Gender X Social Stress Interpersonal Relations Gender X Interpersonal Relations Classmate support Gender X Classmate support Friend Support Gender X Friend support [ALPHA] [R.sup.2] Note. Adj [R.sup.2] = Adjusted [R.sup.2], [ALPHA] [R.sup.2] = [R.sup.2] change, 0 = standardized regression coefficient; * p < .05; ** p < .001
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