Bullying and Victimization: Prevalence and Relationship to Gender, Grade Level, Ethnicity, Self-Esteem, and Depression

Article excerpt

The destructive consequences of bullying behavior in U.S. schools have sparked public concern for students' safety (Spivak & Prothrow-Stith, 2001). School shootings have increased awareness that bullying may serve as a precursor to these violent eruptions. Further, bullying and victimization have been associated with negative consequences in adulthood (Olweus, 1991; Perry, Kusel, & Perry, 1988, Tritt & Duncan, 1997).

Research on school bullying has found higher prevalence rates in the United States than in other countries (Duncan, 1999; Hoover, Oliver, & Hazler, 1992). Information on the prevalence of bullying could be useful to school boards, administrators, counselors, and teachers as they plan ways to deal with this increasingly common problem. Not only would it be helpful to know the extent of the problem, but knowing who is involved, where it occurs, the types of bullying, and its effects on both bullies and victims of bullying would be valuable. For example, males have been found to be more involved in physical bullying, while females use more covert forms (Olweus, 1991). Borg (1998) reported that the prevalence of bullying only appears to decline as students mature; it actually changes from aggressive forms to more passive, verbal forms.

Ethnicity as a possible factor in bullying has not been widely studied, though Kaufman, Chen, Choy, Chandler, Chapman, Rand, and Ringel (1998), reporting the results of a national survey, indicated that ethnicity was not as significant as gender and grade level. The effects of bullying behaviors on b, bullies and victims in the areas of self-esteem and depression have been studied, but results have been mixed. Duncan (1999), Rigby and Slee (1991), and Tritt and Duncan (1997) noted that victims of bullying manifested lower levels of self-esteem than did bullies, but O'Moore and Hillery (1989), in their study of Irish school children, found that bullies had lower levels of self-esteem. In their study of Australian school children, Rigby and Slee (1991) found that bullies had high levels of self-esteem but were more depressed than those who were neither bullies nor victims of bullying.

The present study attempted to answer three questions: (1) How prevalent is self-reported bullying and victimization as perceived by students? (2) What is the relationship of bullying and victimization to the variables of gender, grade level, and ethnicity? (3) What is the relationship of bullying and victimization to measures of self-esteem and depression? Students in grades seven and eight were chosen for this study because adolescence has been characterized as a period of transitional stress resulting in impulsive behaviors and rapid fluctuations in emotions, and exposure to repeated insults and rejection by peers can generate deadly results such as suicide or homicide (Olweus, 1991). Participants were drawn from seven public schools in Mississippi, in an area of the state that has a high concentration of African American students. This provided a sample that differed ethnically from those used in most prior studies of school bullying in the U.S., which have been composed primarily of Caucasian students (Duncan, 1999; Hoover, Oliver, & Hazier, 1992).

METHOD

This descriptive study used a sample obtained from a total population of 1,126 students enrolled in seventh and eighth grades in five school districts in the northern delta region. Approval was obtained from the Institutional Research Board of Delta State University and the superintendents of each school district. Parental consent forms were distributed, and 454 signed form- were returned (40%). The ages of the students ranged from 12 to 17 years. The participants were primarily African American (79%) and Caucasian (18%). Fifty-nine percent were female and 41% were male. Forty-eight percent were in schools classified as urban and 52% were in rural/suburban schools.

Instruments

Three instruments were used to collect data: the Peer Relations Questionnaire (PRQ; Rigby & Slee, 1995), the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSE; Rosenberg, 1965), and the Children's Depression Inventory (CDI; Kovacs, 1983). …