Past research had suggested that children’s status as school bullying victims changes over time, and different victimization trajectories may lead to different psychosocial outcomes. Compared to non-victims and short-term victims, chronic victims are expected to have particularly high risk of maladjustment. Most existing studies are cross-sectional in nature, while longitudinal data is needed to clarify this issue. The first aim of the present study is therefore to identify the potentially differential peer victimization trajectories of children in an East Asian context and examine their psychosocial adjustment.
A second aim of this study is to explore the role of adverse childhood experience (ACE) in shaping different peer victimization trajectories. A negative and hostile family environment is hypothesized to increase children’s vulnerability and raise their likelihood of suffering chronic victimization from school peers. By conducting an in-depth examination of the bullying victims’ family context and parent-child interaction, it is hoped to link the two lines of research on child maltreatment and school bullying, which in turn provides a more comprehensive assessment of those vulnerable children and their developmental trajectories.
Data was drawn from a large-scale longitudinal study with a representative sample. 3,745 Taiwanese elementary school students were surveyed in 4th and 6th grade. Based on their self-reported physical and verbal victimization at the two time points, students were classified into four trajectories: chronic victims, late onset victims, desisters, and non-victims. Psychosocial maladjustment outcomes including psychological distress, school alienation, internet addiction, and suicidal ideation in 6th grade were assessed. A series of MANOVA were conducted to evaluate how the four groups of victims differ in their psychosocial outcomes. Multinomial logistic regression models were also constructed to test the effects of the ACEs in 4th grade on children’s peer victimization trajectories.
The results showed significant differences in adjustment among students in the four trajectories. Chronic victims had the highest psychosocial problems on most of the variables (psychological distress, school alienation, internet addiction, and suicidal ideation), followed by late onset victims and desisters, while non-victims had the least maladjustment. At the same time, experiences of parental neglect, harsh punishment, physical abuse, psychological abuse, and exposure to family violence all contributed to children’s risk of suffering chronic peer victimization.
Conclusions and Implications:
The findings of this study highlight the importance of future school bullying intervention to adopt a longitudinal perspective and consider the heterogeneity among victims. School helping professionals need to assess the students’ concurrent level of peer victimization as well as their changes in victim status over time, and special attention should be paid to those who suffer constant bullying and abuse. The significant association between chronic bullying victimization and adverse childhood experience also highlights the necessity of cross-system collaboration between school and family workers to better address the issue of multivictimization among vulnerable children.