Academic journal article School Psychology Review

General versus Specific Methods for Classifying U.S. Students' Bullying Involvement: Investigating Classification Agreement, Prevalence Rates, and Concurrent Validity

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

General versus Specific Methods for Classifying U.S. Students' Bullying Involvement: Investigating Classification Agreement, Prevalence Rates, and Concurrent Validity

Article excerpt

Empirical research on school bullying has grown substantially in the past four decades (Hymel & Swearer, 2015). As a result, bullying has been recognized as a major problem in schools around the world (Jimerson, Swearer, & Espelage, 2010) and especially for students in the United States (Nansel et al., 2001). Although definitions of bullying have varied, there is scholarly consensus that bul lying is a multidimensional behavioral construct characterized by three key features: (a) harmfulness, (b) frequency, and (c) peer power differential (Olweus, 2010). To be considered bullying, then, a given behavior must (a) injure another person (e.g., physically, psychologically, or socially), (b) occur repeatedly over time, and (c) be situated within a relational context wherein the perpetrator has a distinct advantage (e.g., physically, psychologically, or socially) over the victim. This last feature--peer power differential--is what primarily distinguishes bullying from typical peer conflict.

By use of this three-dimensional definition, much empirical research has investigated prevalence rates of students' bullying involvement as well as the characteristics of youth involved in bullying at different levels. Most work in this area has used youth's self-reports to classify youth into one of four mutually exclusive bullying involvement groups, which are typically referred to as uninvolved (had no participation in bullying as a victim or perpetrator), victims (received bullying from peers), bullies (perpetrated bullying to peers), and bully-victims (both received bullying and perpetrated bullying; Veenstra, Lindenberg, Oldehinkel, De Winter, & Ormel, 2005). In the present study, these four groups of bullying involvement are hereafter referred to as uninvolved, victim only, perpetrator only, and perpetrating victim, respectively, as these terms offer more precision regarding the nature of bullying-related behavior that characterizes each group within the classification schema. The purpose of the present study is to investigate the functionality of two different methods, one using 2 general self-report items and the other using 18 specific self-report items, for classifying U.S. students into these four bullying involvement groups.

LEVELS OF BULLYING INVOLVEMENT

Research regarding the characteristics of youth involved in bullying has focused primarily on the association between subgroups of bullying involvement and the presence of problem behaviors and undesirable life outcomes. For example, compared with uninvolved youth, perpetrator-only youth are more antagonistic, more aggressive, less prosocial, and exhibit greater dominance over their peers (Cook, Williams, Guerra, Kim, & Sadek, 2010; Veenstra et al., 2005). Perpetrators are also at greater risk of developing antisocial behavior and of engaging in future criminal activities (Haynie et al., 2001; Olweus, 1995). On the other hand, victim-only youth demonstrate higher levels of insecurity, anxiety, and depression than their uninvolved peers; are less likely to attend school; and are more likely to perform poorly at school (Cook et al., 2010; Haynie et al., 2001; Kochenderfer & Ladd, 1996; Swearer, Espelage, Vaillancourt, & Hymel, 2010). Victims also have a greater risk of suicide and are more likely to experience internalizing symptoms throughout their lives (Olweus, 1995). That said, perpetrating-victim youth have the greatest risk, as they exhibit the least prosocial behavior, are the most aggressive, have the highest rates of internalizing symptoms, show the poorest academic performance, and are considered the most "dislikable" (Cook et al., 2010; Farmer et al., 2010; Veenstra et al., 2005).

Although all research regarding youth's bullying involvement and its association with problem behavior and undesirable life outcomes is cross-sectional and correlational in nature, the pattern of empirical evidence resulting from this line of work clearly indicates meaningful differences in the quality of life experienced by those involved in bullying compared with those who are uninvolved. …

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