Childhood Peer Victimization: Studying Types and Outcomes

Boy sitting alone on dock overlooking lakeA pair of recently published studies show how experiences of childhood peer victimization can vary by gender and type, but the long-term impact may be most visible in stress response. These findings add to a rapidly growing database of information about the effects of peer victimization (largely fueled by an anti-bullying movement) and could help in the development of more inclusive interventions.

Childhood bullying has been a problem for a long time, and its negative effects have become increasingly apparent. About 75% of all American children say they have been victims among their peers at some point in time, with 10-15% going on to be long-term targets. Bullying is not the only kind of peer victimization many children regularly experience, though it may be the most visible.

Examining Childhood Peer Victimization

The first study, published in the journal Child Development, helps to identify a wide range of bullying tactics using the framework of a larger investigation on victimization types. Researchers used two main categories. Overt victimization is the result of outward acts of aggression, such as verbal assaults and physical violence. Relational victimization refers to often-concealed tactics that aim to sabotage the victim’s relationships, such as spreading rumors, intentional exclusion, or manipulation.

To examine the associations between each main type along with gender of the kids involved, researchers performed a review of 135 studies featuring children and adolescents ages 4-17. They noted only one gender effect. While rates of relational victimization were about equal for boys and girls, boys were more likely to experience the overt type of victimization. Problems associated with relational victimization for both boys and girls included internalization, perceiving less support from peers, and participating in acts of the same type.

Childhood Peer Victimization’s Effect on Stress Response

The effects of being victimized by peers during childhood are almost universally negative. However, researchers are still discovering the ways in which the damage occurs.

The second study, also published in Child Development, examined the impact of childhood peer victimization on stress response later in life. Children usually start out having relatively poor reactions to stress, often leading to outbursts of emotion. These typically fade with age and are replaced with healthier responses to stress.

Based on behavioral observations, the authors of this study theorized that stress response development may be impeded by exposure to peer victimization in childhood. After examining data from 636 young people (averaging about 8 years old), their prediction was supported. Children who were victimized by peers were more likely to display unhealthy stress responses in adulthood.

References:

  1. Casper, D. M., & Card, N. A. (2016). Overt and relational victimization: A meta‐analytic review of their overlap and associations with social–psychological adjustment. Child Development. doi:10.1111/cdev.12621
  2. Society for research in child development. (2016, October 6). Peer victimization in schools: Two studies explore types, repercussions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161006102658.htm
  3. Troop‐Gordon, W., Sugimura, N., & Rudolph, K. D. (2016). Responses to interpersonal stress: Normative changes across childhood and the impact of peer victimization. Child Development. doi:10.1111/cdev.12617

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  • Jenni

    October 20th, 2016 at 10:54 AM

    Totally agree with the findings. If you are bullied as a child I would say that the chances are much greater that you will not only do poorly with stress in your life even as an adult but that there will also be other ways that it will hold you back as well.

  • Catherine

    October 21st, 2016 at 10:55 AM

    I am so glad that I have a better capability now as an adult to mange and handle stress than I did as a child growing up, but I think that for the most part that is a part of growing up and most of us get there. I can definitely understand though how someone who may have been mistreated as a child might have problems with this because their coping mechanisms may have been set back in terms of maturity due to the experiences that they had to grow up with.

  • Sal

    October 24th, 2016 at 2:56 PM

    You think that once you get the bullies out of your life then you might have a chance to turn things around-
    and then you realize that no, they have screwed you up royally and even if they are no longer a part of your life the lasting results of their torment still is.

  • ruth

    October 25th, 2016 at 10:24 AM

    Do you know how sad it makes me to think that someone is continually victimized and traumatized long after the behavior has stopped?

    I just wonder would bullies actually continue with this abusive behavior if they knew just how long that the scars that they inflict on others do indeed hang around.

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