Childhood bullying victimization has been recognized as a problematic behavior that results in potentially severe and long-lasting consequences for young people. Recent studies have been demonstrated the significant associations between traditional bullying, cyberbullying, and mental health problems; yet little research has been done to identify the influence of childhood bullying victimization on subsequent psychological distress in emerging adulthood. The purpose of this study is to understand the relationship between childhood traditional and cyberbullying victimization and psychological distress. Childhood parent and peer factors that may mitigate these impacts are also explored.
An online survey was utilized to collect response from junior and senior undergraduate students aged 19-25 in two large public universities in Florida. The retrospective and cross-sectional survey was performed between November 2016 and January 2017 and yielded a final sample of 360 undergraduate students (68.9% females, 56.1% non-Hispanic White, 87.8% heterosexual/straight, and 35.8% income-based grant receipt). The average age of participants was 20.67 years (SD=1.31, range 19-25).
To test our hypotheses, the current study included the following measures: 1) childhood traditional bullying and cyberbullying victimization (CTBV and CCBV) as exogenous variables, 2) childhood parent and peer factors (parent attachment, parental monitoring, and deviant peer association) as moderators, 3) young adult psychological distress (depression and anxiety) as endogenous variables, and 4) confounding variables (age, gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, expected family contribution, hours spent online, and perception of online safety). All measures used in this study were validated and had acceptable internal consistencies. Descriptive analyses, independent sample t-test, path analyses, and multiple linear regression analyses were used to test the hypotheses.
Findings indicated the prevalence of CTBV was higher than that of CCBV. Meanwhile, females experienced more CTBV and CCBV than men. CTBV increased the likelihood of both young adult depression and anxiety, while CCBV increased the likelihood of anxiety only. The results for interaction effects of childhood parent and peer factors indicated that childhood parent attachment buffered against a positive relationship between CCBV and young adult depression. Childhood parental monitoring also buffered against a positive association between CTBV and young adult anxiety. However, childhood deviant peer association did not moderate the impact of childhood bullying victimization on subsequent psychological distress among emerging adults.
Conclusions and Implications:
This study contributes to the useful information regarding the pathways from childhood bullying victimization to psychological distress for emerging adults and its application in social work research and practice. It is also important to investigate the moderating effects of childhood parent and peer factors to reinforce the resilience against childhood traumatic experiences and reduce subsequent psychological distress outcomes. This knowledge can be used by social work practitioners in developing and implementing effective bullying prevention and educational training programs to inform students, parents, and school administrators and teachers regarding the prominence of early bullying experiences and their psychological consequences. Additionally, specific intervention programs for emerging adults should be considered to improve their well-being.