Risk and Protective Factors Associated with the Bullying Involvement of Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders

Article excerpt


Bullying has been recognized as a dynamic process, where involvement is based on interactions between an individual and the social-ecological factors related to the individual's environment. While involvement in bullying is not exclusive to one population of students, evidence suggests that students with disabilities are overrepresented within the bullying dynamic. However, few empirical studies have explored subgroup differences among this population of students. The current study examined rates of bullying involvement and the intersection of individual attributes among middle school students (n = 163) identified with specific disabilities and their peers without disabilities (n = 163). As hypothesized, students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) engaged in significantly higher levels of bullying and fighting than other subgroups of students. Additionally, higher levels of anger predicted higher levels of bully perpetration for students with EBD, where higher levels of victimization predicted higher levels of bully perpetration for students with disabilities other than EBD. These findings demonstrate the importance of recognizing the influence of the characteristic differences between subgroups of students with disabilities, and the unique influence these characteristics may have on student involvement within the bullying dynamic.

* Over the past decade, research on the bullying phenomenon has increased exponentially due to national and international tragedies, increased media attention, and state and federal legislative agendas (Espelage & Swearer, 2011). These efforts have resulted in a stronger understanding of the complexities surrounding prolonged involvement within the bullying dynamic. The ideology that bullying is a dyadic process between a bully and victim has been challenged and discredited, with the dynamic and group process of bullying emerging as a more credible explanation, where involvement is fluid and youth can take on different roles (e.g., bully, victim, defender) at different times (Espelage, Holt, & Henkel, 2003; Salmivalli, 2010). Therefore, involvement in bullying is more complex than simple static roles of pure bullies and victims, where involvement may be exacerbated or buffered by students' broader social environment (Espelage, Green, & Polanin, 2012). While the bullying dynamic is not exclusive to one student population (Espelage & Swearer, 201 1 ), research suggests that students with disabilities are overrepresented as bullies and victims (Rose, Monda-Amaya, & Espelage, 201 1b), yet very little attention has been given to the unique predictive and protective factors associated with the individual characteristics of students identified with various disability labels (Rose, 2011). Consequently, understanding the social ecology behind these individual factors and their association with bullying involvement may serve as the foundation for decreasing bullying among specific subgroups of students with disabilities (Rose, 2011).

Social-Ecological Framework for Bullying/Victimization

Because bullying is a dynamic process, factors that influence involvement may be related to interactions between an individual and his or her family, peer group, school community, and societal norms (Espelage & Swearer, 201 1). In fact, these interactions may influence the stability or fluidity of roles associated with bullying involvement (Dempsey, Fireman & Wang. 2006). Many scholars have extended Bronfenbrenner's (1 986) socialecological model of child development to encompass social-ecological factors associated with bullying involvement. This theoretical framework posits that children and adolescents' behavior is shaped by a range of nested contextual systems, including family, peers, and school environments (Bronffenbrenner, 1986; Espelage & Swearer, 2011). These contexts with which children and adolescents have direct contact (e.g., peers, family members, school staff) are referred to as the microsystem, interactions among microsystems is the mesosysfem (e. …


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