Although some previous work has begun to examine the value students place on socially supportive behaviors (importance ratings; Demaray & Elliott, 2001; Demaray & Malecki, 2003), no previous work has examined importance ratings of social support as related to bullying or being victimized. However, it was generally predicted that victims and bully/victims may place higher levels of importance on social support than their comparison or bullying counterparts. No specific predictions were made regarding differences in importance scores by bully status.
What source(s) of support are most related to bully and victim scores? In developing social support interventions with a goal of affecting bullying behavior in schools, it would be important to determine what sources of support were more related to bullying behavior than others (e.g. support from parents, classmates). Based on previous research, it was predicted that classmate and close friend support would be most related to victim scores (Olweus, 1993; Rigby, 2000) and that parent (Haynie et al., 2001), teacher (Slee & Rigby, 1993), and school support (Bosworth et al., 1999) would be most related to bully scores.
The current study investigated perceptions of social support by students classified into comparison, bully, victim, and bully/victim groups and examined the relationships among perceived social support scores and bully or victim scores. First, the prevalence of self-reported receipt and provision of bullying behavior was presented as well as an investigation of differences in these behaviors based on gender, grade level, ethnicity, and poverty status. Second, differences in levels of perceived social support by bully status were investigated. Third, differences in the importance of perceived social support were also examined by bully status. Finally, data were presented on which sources of support were most related to students' victim and bully scores.
Descriptive analyses revealed that verbal bullying (both direct and indirect) is more prevalent than severe physical bullying; however, severe physical bullying still occurred in the current sample. For example, the three most common types of bullying received were "someone called me names," "someone made fun of me," and "someone said mean things behind my back." The least common forms of bullying received were "someone attacked me," "someone threatened me with a weapon," and "someone used a weapon to hurt me." Thus, the verbal types of bullying were more often reported than the severe physical types of bullying.
Similarly, when asked what types of bullying behavior students engaged in, the results matched what students reported receiving. That is, the same three items were endorsed most often and least often. However, this should not discount the importance or occurrence of more violent types of bullying behaviors that are happening in the schools, even though they are reported less frequently. Although the violent behaviors were reported less often than verbal bullying, approximately half of the sample reported someone had broken or stolen their things, 15% of the sample reported being attacked by someone at school, 6% reported being threatened with a weapon, and 3% reported someone used a weapon to hurt them.
Preliminary analyses found differences between the bully, victim, and bully victim groups as well. For example, it was found that students engaging in bullying behavior as well as being victimized (bully/victims) were, in many cases, worse off than students in either the bully or victim groups. For example, the bully/victim group scored significantly higher than the victim group on the victim score.
This suggests that students in the bully/victim group may be even more at-risk because they were receiving more bullying behavior than students classified only as victims. In addition, the bully/ victim group engaged in more bullying than the bully group with higher bully scores. This highlights that the bully/victim group was reporting higher levels of both being bullied and bullying others.
Group differences (gender, grade level, ethnicity, and poverty status) also were investigated in victim and bully behaviors. With regard to gender, it was found that boys reported being victims of bullying more than girls, which is comparable to previous findings in the literature (Bernstein & Watson, 1997). However, in the current study, boys did not have higher bully scores than girls, which is inconsistent with previous research (Bosworth et al., 1999).
Thus, there appear to be some gender differences with boys being more likely to be recipients of bullying and mixed findings as to whether they are also more likely to be the bullies themselves. This finding is likely due to the limitation of the present study's assessment of bullying behavior. The behaviors assessed included some indirect verbal, direct verbal, and indirect physical, and direct (and severe) physical behaviors, however, not enough low-level direct physical behaviors were assessed on the bully/victim survey.
As noted by Bjorkqvist et al. (1992) as well as Crick and Grotpeter (1995), girls tend to engage in more indirect or relational bullying and boys engage in more direct or overt bullying. The current study was unable to show a reliable assessment of those categories of bullying behavior, thus the gender differences should be interpreted with caution.
Previous research has also documented younger students tend to have higher victim scores (Bernstein & Watson, 1997) and older students to have higher bully scores (Batchse & Knoff, 1994). In the current sample, no grade level differences were found on the victim score. The only significant grade difference found on the bully score was between sixth and seventh graders with sixth graders obtaining a score significantly lower than seventh graders.
Thus, these data provided some evidence that developmental differences do exist in bullying behavior, with older students being more likely to be the providers of bullying; however, it was not overwhelming. Similar to previous literature, no differences in bully or victim scores were found by socioeconomic status or racial groups (Bosworth et al., 1999).
The majority of the study focused on differences in perceptions of the frequency and importance of social support by bully status. With regard to the frequency of social support, as predicted, the comparison group perceived more overall total support than all other groups. Thus, bullies, victims, and bully/victims perceived less support than students not exhibiting bully behavior or receiving bully behavior. Additionally, some interesting patterns were found regarding the specific sources from whom students perceived support.
Significant differences in ratings of the frequency of social support were found on each of the CASSS subscales corresponding to the different sources of support (parent, teacher, classmate, close friend, and school). First, comparison students reported perceiving more support from parents than did bullies or bully/victims. This finding supports previous literature (Haynie et al., 2001). Thus, bullies and bully/ victims perceived less parental support than the comparison group. However, victims did not perceive less support than the comparison group from parents.
With regard to teacher support, the comparison group perceived significantly more support from teachers than did bullies. Bullies may be more difficult in the classroom and frustrating for teachers. Hence, they reported perceiving less support from their teachers. This finding has significant implications for teachers. One possible intervention is helping teachers find ways to begin or continue to provide social support to students who are bullies in their classroom. More research needs to be conducted in this area and may help by providing interventions in this area.
Interestingly, both the comparison and the bully groups perceived more support from classmates than victims and bully/victims, indicating that bullies perceived obtaining classmate support similar to the comparison group. However, both victims and bully/victims perceived less support from their classmates, which is likely a result of being on the receiving end of bullying behavior from peers in the school. This finding has also been documented in research by Rigby (2000). Thus, although victims perceive less support from their peers, bullies are not "punished" by their classmates or students in their school for exhibiting bullying behavior.
This finding makes sense given past research that has indicated that aggressive boys are often perceived as popular due in part to the "toughness" they display (Rodkin, Farmer, Pearl, & Van Acker, 2000). This finding adds to the notion that interventions aimed at reducing bullying behavior should target children and adolescents' perceptions of that behavior. Methods of demystifying the "tough kid" as "popular kid" phenomena should be explored. Because research has documented that social support is associated with many positive outcomes for children and adolescents, it is troublesome that victims, bullies, and bully/ victims often perceived less support from individuals in their lives than the comparison group.
Especially noteworthy was the lower levels of classmate support perceived by victims and victim/bullies as compared to bullies and the comparison group. Classmate support has been found to be especially related to student's outcomes (Kashani, Canfield, Borduin, Soltys, & Reid, 1994; Malecki & Demaray, 2002b). Thus, victims and bully/victims may be at greater risk for negative outcomes without this support. However, the bully group is not without its own concerns. Lower levels of parent and teacher support is a concern for these students as well. The worst outcomes appeared to be for the bully/victim group; they perceived lower levels of support from parents, classmates, and the school.
A very different pattern of results was found when investigating the differences in perceptions of the importance of social support by bully status compared to the frequency results. First, the victim and bully/victim groups were found, when investigating total ratings of importance, to rate social support as more important than the bully and comparison groups. Differences on importance ratings were also found with regard to all of the various sources of support (parent, teacher, classmate, close friend, and school).
On the importance of parent support ratings and teacher support ratings, again, victims and bully/victims rated this source of support as more important than the comparison group. For ratings of importance on classmate and close friend support, the victim group reported higher importance of this support than the bully group and the bully/victim group reported higher ratings of importance than the bully and comparison groups.
One of the major themes found in the comparisons of the groups' ratings of both frequency and importance of social support is that in general, victims and bully/victims reported less frequency of perceived social support; however, they placed greater importance on social support than the other groups. This is especially problematic because students who highly value social support from specific sources reported that they are not receiving it.
Finally, simultaneous regression analyses were conducted to investigate the source of support most related to participants' victim and bullying scores. For the victim score, the sources of support accounted for 12% of the variance with parent, classmate, and close friend support as significant individual predictors. This supported some previous research that has found classmate and close friend support (but not parent support) related to victimization (Olweus, 1993; Rigby, 2000).
For the bully score, the sources of support accounted for 11% of the variance with parent and school support as significant individual predictors. For the bullying score, current study results support previous research that has found parent (Haynie et al., 2001) and school support (Bosworth et al., 1999) related to bullying.
The prevalence of bullying in the schools is of great concern (Batsche & Knoff, 1994). The current study confirms the need for prevention and intervention strategies in schools. Specifically, results suggest that bullying behavior does not have a negative connotation for many students in school, at least in the form of perceived support from classmates. Furthermore, students who are victims of bullying perceive less classmate support yet value it more than other groups of students.
Parent and teacher support is lacking for students who bully, although it is not clear if support is lessened as a result of the behavior or if less support is a risk factor that may mediate or directly provoke bullying behavior. The present study highlights the need for more research exploring the social context in schools to provide greater direction for practitioners developing interventions.
- Demaray, M. K., & Malecki, C. K. (2003). Perceptions of the Frequency and Importance of Social Support by Students Classified as Victims, Bullies, and Bully/Victims in an Urban Middle School. School Psychology Review,32(3), 471-489.
15 What is one of the major themes found in the comparison between bullies, bully/victims, and bullies? Record the letter of the correct answer the CE Test.