Social Network Predictors of Bullying and Victimization

Article excerpt

The school context provides an opportunity for youth to socialize with selected peers, independently from adults (Youniss & Smollar, 1989). Friends make unique contributions to each other's learning, emotional support, and socialization beyond that of their parents (Hartup & Sancilio, 1986). Validation from friends provides psychosocial support that leads to healthy development and adjustment (Ladd, Kochenderfer, & Coleman, 1996; Harris, 1995). However, adolescents also face pressures to live up to the norms of their friendship group (Brown, Dolcini, & Leventhal, 1997), which may include involvement in bullying behaviors. For this reason, the friendship network, the pattern of friendships among individuals within a group, is an important aspect of adolescent school bullying.

Friendship networks are associated with several health risk behaviors, including smoking (Alexander, Piazza, Mekos, and Valente, 2001; Ennett & Bauman, 1994), risky sexual behaviors (Ennett, Bailey, & Federman, 1999), drug use (Bauman & Ennett, 1996), and syringe sharing among drug users (Valente & Vlahov, 2001). Friendship network characteristics are also associated with bullying (Huttunen, Salmivalli, & Lagerspetz, 1996) and victimization (Graham & Juvonen, 1998).

School Bullying--Prevalence and Correlates

Bullying in elementary schools and high schools is well documented and is recognized as a growing problem in the United States, Australia, several European nations, and some Asian countries, including Japan (Smith & Brain, 2000). The social context in which bullying occurs in Western and Eastern cultural settings may have similarities (Schwartz, Farver, Chang, & Lee-Shin, 2002). Within the United States, The Kaiser Family Foundation (Acre [CNN report], 2001) found that 8- to 15-year-olds considered bullying a "big problem," ranking higher than racism, AIDS, and peer pressure to use drugs and alcohol. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2001) reported that one in eight high school students nationwide was in at least one physical fight on school property during the past year. Both bullying and victimization are associated with intrapersonal problems such as anxiety and depression (Kumpulainen & Rasanen, 2000; Salmon & West, 2000; Kumpulainen, Rasanen, & Puura, 2002), eating disorders (Kaltiala-Heino, Rimpela, Rantanen, & Rimpela, 2000), low self-esteem (O'Moore & Kirkham, 2001), and less satisfaction with school (Kochenderfer & Ladd, 1996; Karatzias, Power, & Swanson, 2002).

Who Are Bullies, Victims, and Aggressive Victims?

Since bullies, victims and aggressive victims (those who are both bullies and victims) may have unique patterns of friendships and social status, it is important to clearly define the behaviors and common characteristics of these three groups. Bullies are those students who physically and/or emotionally harm another student repeatedly over time (Olweus, 1991). An imbalance of power exists, such that the victim has difficulty defending him/herself from aggressors (Olweus, 1991). In this case, the aggressor also has the distinction of being a "bully" because there is no retaliation. Bullies represent approximately 7-15% of the school-aged population (Pelligrini, 1998), and have been described as having a strong need to dominate others (Olweus, 1991) and the social skills and understanding of others' emotions to do so (Sutton, Smith, & Sweetenham, 1999). Collins and Bell (1996) found that bullies have higher peer-nominated scores on sociability and leadership relative to other students.

Victims are those students who are frequent targets of aggressive, hurtful actions, and provide little defense against their aggressors. Victims represent approximately 2-10% of the school-aged population (Pelligrini, 1998), and have been characterized by their cautious, sensitive, and quiet mannerisms (Olweus, 1991) and low self-esteem (Collins & Bell, 1996). …