Identifying Victims of Bullying: Use of Counselor Interviews to Confirm Peer Nominations

By Phillips, Victoria I.; Cornell, Dewey G. | Professional School Counseling, February 2012 | Go to article overview

Identifying Victims of Bullying: Use of Counselor Interviews to Confirm Peer Nominations


Phillips, Victoria I., Cornell, Dewey G., Professional School Counseling


Schools often rely on anonymous self-report methods to measure bullying victimization, but these methods prevent school personnel from identifying those students who may require support. In contrast, this study employed peer nominations to identify student victims of bullying and used school counselor interviews to confirm the students' victim status. A sample of 1,178 middle school students completed a confidential peer nomination form as part of a standard bullying survey. Students with multiple nominations were interviewed by school counselors to confirm victim status. The proportion of students confirmed as victims increased from 43% for students with two or more nominations to 90% for students with nine or more nominations.

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Anonymous self-report surveys are routinely administered as a means of assessing the prevalence of bullying. A major drawback of this method is that schools may learn the prevalence of bullying, but will not know who is being bullied (Juvonen, Graham, & Schuster, 2001; Kim, Koh, & Leventhal, 2004; Wang, Iannotti, & Nansel, 2009). In principle, peer nominations can be used in conjunction with self report surveys to identify those students who are victims of bullying (Branson & Cornell, 2009; Crick & Bigbee, 1998; Ladd & Kochenderfer-Ladd, 2002); however, it is essential to validate peer nominations as an accurate measure of bullying victimization. The purpose of this study was to present evidence supporting the use of peer nominations by school counselors to identify victims of bullying.

A large body of evidence now shows that victims of bullying experience increased rates of many social, emotional, and academic problems. Meta-analyses of dozens of studies have found that bullying victimization is associated with increased rates of depression, anxiety, psychosomatic complaints, and other internalizing problems (Gini & Pozzoli, 2009; Reijntjes, Kamphuis, Prinzie, & Telch, 2010; Ttofi, Farrington, Losel, & Loeber, 2011). A meta-analysis of 33 studies found a consistent relationship between peer victimization and lower academic achievement (Nakamoto & Schwartz, 2010).

Recent media attention to cases of bullying in school has increased pressure on school administrators to address bullying. Several court decisions (e.g., Davis v. Monroe County, 1999; L.W. v. Toms River Regional Schools Board of Education, 2007) also have held school administrators accountable for severe bullying. Currently, 45 states have anti-bullying laws (Bully Police USA, 2011). From this perspective, being able to identify victims of bullying is important for schools so that they can intervene promptly. Unfortunately, studies have consistently found that students are often reluctant to seek help for bullying and that school staff members are unlikely to detect bullying by direct observation (Bradshaw, Sawyer, & O'Brennan, 2007; Olweus & Limber, 2000; Unnever & Cornell, 2003). The primary method that schools use to assess the prevalence of bullying is an anonymous self-report survey such as the Youth Risk Behavior Scale (YRBS; Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009) or the Revised Bully/Victim Questionnaire (BVQ; Olweus, 1996). A major drawback of these surveys is that they provide no means to identify the students who self-report that they are victims of bullying. Therefore, schools need alternatives to anonymous self-report surveys that make it possible for schools to identify victims (Cornell & Mehta, 2011).

Previous studies support the validity of peer nominations for identifying students with a variety of emotional and behavioral characteristics (Clifton, Turkheimer, & Oltmanns, 2005; Crick & Bigbee, 1998; Weiss, Harris, & Catron, 2004). Peer nominations were used to measure internalizing (anxiety, depression, somatic complaints) and externalizing (aggression, delinquency) psychopathology in a sample of more than 2,000 third through sixth graders (Weiss et al. …

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