Peer Harassment in School: The Plight of the Vulnerable and Victimized

Peer Harassment in School: The Plight of the Vulnerable and Victimized

Peer Harassment in School: The Plight of the Vulnerable and Victimized

Peer Harassment in School: The Plight of the Vulnerable and Victimized

Synopsis

Which students become the targets of aggressive behavior, and why? What are the psychological and health consequences of victimization? What can school professionals do to help? This volume presents the latest psychological research on chronically victimized children and adolescents. Chapters review conceptual and methodological issues, identify developmental differences in types of harassment, and explore reaction patterns associated with victimization.

Excerpt

Humiliation, taunting, threats, social ostracism by classmates—these are common school experiences encountered around the world. Survey data reveal that anywhere from 40% to 80% of students report that they personally have been the targets of such peer hostilities at school. Although considerably fewer students are estimated to experience repeated or severe victimization at school, there is no question that peer harassment is a problem shared by children and adolescents across cultures. And the recent rash of school shootings in the United States, some apparently traced to a long history of peer abuse, is a stark reminder that peer-directed hostility cuts across race, class, and geographical boundaries.

We define peer harassment as victimization that entails face-to-face confrontation (e.g., physical aggression, verbal abuse, nonverbal gesturing) or social manipulation through a third party (e.g., social ostracism, spreading rumors). The crucial element that distinguishes peer harassment from other types of negative encounters, such as conflict, is that there is an imbalance of power between perpetrator and target. Such asymmetric power relations can take many forms, such as when the physically strong bully the weak, numerical majorities intimidate numerical minorities, older youth harass younger targets, or the intellectually superior deride their less competent peers. We hope that this definition clarifies for our readers that, although we are aware of the widely publicized U.S. school shootings, this book does not contain analyses of the most lethal sorts of peer-directed hostilities. Rather, our focus is on more typical and widespread types of harassment that affect the lives of many youth and that may have far-reaching and uncertain consequences.

The term harassment is used as a synonym for victimization in this book, and most of the authors use these terms interchangeably. We prefer harassment because victimization is sometimes associated with either severe or chronic abuse perpetrated by adults as well as peers, whereas harass-

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