The Relationship between Levels of Perceived Respect and Bullying in 5th through 12th Graders

By Langdon, Susan W.; Preble, William | Adolescence, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview
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The Relationship between Levels of Perceived Respect and Bullying in 5th through 12th Graders


Langdon, Susan W., Preble, William, Adolescence


Numerous studies have examined childhood and adolescent bullying. Although the definition of bullying is under debate (Sanders, 2004; Naylor, Cowie, Cossin, deBettencourt, & Lemme, 2006), it is consistently recognized as a major social problem for our youth because of the possible negative outcomes for bullies, the bullied, and bystanders (e.g., Frey, Hirschstein, Snell, Edstrom, MacKenzie, & Broderick, 2005). Understandably, numerous interventions to prevent and stop bullying have been put forth in response to this pervasive social issue. At the philosophical foundation of many of these interventions is the concept of respect. Respect is thought to be negatively related to bullying problems (Garrity & Jens, 1997), however, there is minimal empirical evidence of the hypothesized relationship. This study sought to explore this relationship.

Prevalence of bullying in schools has been widely documented and rates have been reported from 6% (Glew, Fan, Katon, Rivara, & Kernic, 2005) to 82% (Dulmus, Theriot, Sowers, & Blackburn, 2004), with a range of 10-20% most commonly reported (Dulmus et al., 2004). The variability in rates is due in part to how bullying is operationally defined and disagreements in definitions of bullying are well documented in the literature (Berger, 2007; Stein, 2001). Definitions vary in many ways such as type (Crick & Werner, 1998), intentionality (Naylor et al., 2006), degree of seriousness (Rigby, 2004), and reference period (Solberg & Olweus, 2006). The definition by Olweus (1993) is the most commonly used and includes three main elements: repeated exposure to negative action; intention to harm; and imbalance in power. Although many researchers claim there is broad agreement on the definition (Nansel, Overpeck, Pilla, Ruan, Simons-Morton, & Scheidt, 2001), close analysis of the operationalization of the definition reveals more variability than reported. For example, in the oft-cited Nansel et al. (2001) study, using a common modification, the operational definition neglects to emphasize that all three criteria must be present to be considered bullying. Further blurring the operationalization is the increasing use of categories of individuals as bully, victim, bully-victim, or bystander. While it is appealing to be able to compare groups and the general perception is that roles are static, roles can and do vary (Orpinas & Horne, 2006; Smith, Talamelli, & Cowie, 2004). Thus, utilizing the category approach loses the interpersonal dynamic aspects of bullying. In a related manner, the method of gathering data also influences reported rates of bullying (Solberg & Olweus, 2003). Common sources include self-report, peer nomination, observation, and teacher report. These yield high variability and low agreement in rates among sources. Also confusing the issue is the misapplication of the term to illegal behaviors such as hazing and sexual harassment (Stein, 2001). Last, in reviewing the literature, other terms have been used to describe similar behaviors including harassment, youth violence, aggression, and peer victimization. Because of the definitional variability, when reviewing the research, it is important to read the operational definition critically.

Despite the differences in how the term is defined, the problems associated with bullying are clear and far ranging. Bullying is associated with several mental and physical health issues including depression, anxiety, suicide, and psychosis (Campbell & Morrison, 2007; Mills, Guerin, & Lynch, 2004; Nansel et al., 2001 Rigby, 1998). These associations apply to both bullies and victims, although the correlates may manifest differently along the bully-victim continuum. For example, Marini and colleagues (2006) found that bullies were significantly less anxious and depressed than bully-victims, and no-status students. Hawker and Boulton (2000) found in their meta-analysis that victims had consistently lower self-esteem and more depression than other categories of students.

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