Differential Effects of Episodic and Chronic Bullying: How Victimization Affects School Experiences, Social Support, and Mental Health
Authors: Paul R. Smokowski, Caroline I.B. Robertson, Katie L. Cotter, Shenyang Guo, & Martica Bacallao
Background/Purpose: The majority of bullying studies are cross sectional and therefore fail to examine the differential impacts of chronic and episodic physical and cyber bullying victimization on youth. Much of the existing longitudinal research does not distinguish between episodic victims (i.e., youth who are victimized one year and then the victimization stops) and chronic victims (i.e., youth who are victimized repeatedly year to year). The existing literature suggests that when victimization is stopped, former victims are able to recover from the experience of bullying victimization. However, victimization that endures year to year takes a significant emotional and social toll on victims. The current study examines the school experiences, perceived social support, and mental health outcomes for chronic victims (i.e.., victimized in year 1 and year 2), episodic current year (i.e., victimized in year 2 and not year 1), episodic last year (i.e., victimized in year 1 and not in year 2), and non-victims (i.e., not victimized in year 1 or year 2). It was hypothesized that chronic victims would have the worst outcomes, followed by both forms of episodic victims and then non-victims would have the best outcomes.
Methods: A sample of 3,127 youth participated in the current study. Two types of bullying victimization were measured with two dichotomous variables: During the past 12 months have you ever been bullied on school property? and Have you been electronically bullied? Hierarchical regression models were estimated for each of 10 dependent variables (i.e., school satisfaction, school danger, school hassles, perceived discrimination, parent support, teacher support, friend support, peer rejection, future optimism, self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and aggression). For each model, the following variables were entered in blocks: (1) demographics, (2) physical/verbal victimization and cyber bullying victimization in year 1, (3) the year 1 assessment of dependent variable, (4) Year 2 physical/verbal and cyber bullying victimization, and (5) chronic physical/verbal victimization and chronic cyber bullying victimization.
Results: In general, all three victim groups (i.e., episodic-last year, episodic-current year, chronic-both years) had worse developmental outcomes than nonvictims. Findings confirm that chronic victimization results in the lowest reported levels of school satisfaction, school safety, perceived social support, future optimism, and self-esteem. Chronic victims also reported the highest levels of peer rejection, anxiety, depression, and aggression. Episodic-current year victims had poor outcomes on several indicators, but these effects were mediated by the Year 1 psychosocial measure for other outcomes.
Conclusions/Implications: Given the pervasive negative effects associated with ongoing bullying victimization, chronic victimization is discussed as a source of interpersonal trauma.