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Determining causes of long-term effects of harassment


The long-term effects of teasing or harassment by their peers on pre-adolescent children – specifically, depression and anxiety – are related, in part, to the level of victimization at the end of fourth grade, as well as to how much that harassment increased or decreased between fourth and sixth grade, according to a study published in the September/October issue of the journal Child Development.

The study, by researchers from North Dakota State University and Arizona State University, also found that victimized children become emotionally distressed because they develop more negative self-perceptions and beliefs about their classmates. Additionally, the more negative their beliefs about their schoolmates, the more aggressive and delinquent behavior they exhibit during preadolescence.

The researchers knew that children who are frequently teased or harassed by classmates often show signs of emotional distress, notably depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Moreover, some victimized children begin to act out and become aggressive toward peers. To explore the extent to which victimized children’s emotional problems continue after their harassment ends, the researchers followed 381 children from the spring of their fourth-grade year to the spring of their sixth-grade year.

On average, they found that victimization during preadolescence decreased, although there were substantial differences in whether children became more or less victimized over time.

Additionally, they found that although victimized children’s self-perceptions tended to become more positive during preadolescence, their beliefs about their peers became more negative.

"These findings suggest that increases in emotional and behavioral problems may be due to both earlier histories of relationship problems and more recent changes in the quality of children’s social interactions with peers," said study author Wendy Troop-Gordon, Ph.D., assistant professor at North Dakota State University in Fargo. "Moreover, peer victimization may lead to psychological problems because children who are harassed begin to view themselves and their schoolmates more negatively."

To counteract the development of emotional maladjustment among victimized children, she suggested, school programs should consider combining efforts to reduce peer harassment with efforts to teach victimized children how to focus on positive encounters with peers, and how to attribute their successful peer interactions to their own social competence and to their peers’ positive dispositions.

Andrea Browning | EurekAlert!
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