Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Adolescents 'Vulnerability to Peer Victimization: Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Predictors

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Adolescents 'Vulnerability to Peer Victimization: Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Predictors

Article excerpt

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.

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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. …

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