Schools have become increasingly aware of the prevalence, seriousness and negative impacts of bullying. Investigation into the direction and strength of the relationship between social health factors and bullying victimisation during early adolescence and the determination of a critical time to focus school-based bullying intervention programs is a high priority. Data were collected using a self-completion questionnaire four times over 3 years from 3459 students aged 11-14 years during the transition from primary to the end of the second year of secondary school. Results show the path coefficients for bullying victimisation to social heath factors were stronger at the beginning of secondary school than the reverse paths, with bullying victimisation associated with greater loneliness, less peer support, less connectedness to school and feeling less safe at school. Reciprocal relationships between bullying victimisation and social health were found during the first 2 years of secondary school. Consequently, the time prior to the transition to secondary school and within the first 2 years of secondary school appears to be a critical time to implement a whole-school bullying intervention program to reduce victimisation.
Connectedness, loneliness, peer support, safety, school bullying, victimisation
Schools have become increasingly aware of the prevalence, seriousness and negative impacts of bullying--a type of aggressive behaviour involving the systematic abuse of power through unjustified and repeated acts intended to inflict harm (Smith, 2004). Approximately 10% of Australian school students in Grades 4-9 reported being bullied most days or more often, with 25% reporting being bullied every few weeks or more often in the previous term (10 weeks) at school (Cross et al., 2009). This bullying victimisation impacts on social health (the ability to get along with others, how others react to them, how they react to social institutions and societal mores), physical health (Tremblay et al., 2004) as well as mental health (Gini & Pozzoli, 2009; Kaltiala-Heino, Rimpela, Rantanen, & Rimpela, 2000). Cross-sectional studies found victimisation was associated with many social health factors including a loss of friendships (D. Espelage, Bosworth, & Simon, 2000), feelings of isolation and hopelessness (D. Espelage et al., 2000), unhappiness and lack of self-esteem (Glover, Gough, Johnson, & Cartwright, 2000) and disruptions to learning (Bosworth, 1999).
The application of social-ecological theory to the conceptualisation of bullying and victimisation suggests that bullying perpetration and victimisation are reciprocally influenced by the individual, family, school, peer group, community and society (Swearer et al., 2006). Social health factors that have been identified as protective against victimisation include the ability to make new friends (Akos & Galassi, 2004), the number and quality of friends (Pellegrini & Bartini, 2000), peer support (Pellegrini, 2002), feeling comfortable in new social situations (Cohen & Smerdon, 2009), positive evaluation of self by others (Storch, Brassard, & Masia-Warner, 2003) and having a positive self-image (Mizelle, 2005). Liking school (Barber & Olsen, 2004), school belonging (Benner & Graham, 2009), connectedness to school (O'Brennan & Furlong, 2010) and feeling safe at school (D. Espelage et al., 2000) are also protective against victimisation.
There is evidence that during a student's school life there are periods of time when the risk of being bullied is higher than at other times. For example, victimisation peaks twice for Australian school students first at age 10 and then again following their transition to secondary school, around age 12 (Cross et al., 2009). The transition from primary to secondary school provides both challenges and opportunities for adolescents as they experience environmental, physiological, cognitive and social changes (Barton & Rapkin, 1987). …