Many kindergarten students find themselves verbally and physically abused by their playground peers, but by the time they reach first grade, an increasing amount of the harassment centers on a smaller group of perpetual victims, say James Snyder, Ph.D., of Wichita State University and colleagues. The research appears in the journal Child Development.
"Some children experienced harassment with great regularity. Other children appeared to respond effectively to aggression by peers such that harassment experiences became increasingly intermittent," Snyder said.
More research is needed "to understand how some children learn to effectively cope with or avoid repeated victimization while others do not," he adds.
Boys who experienced growing harassment were more likely to demonstrate antisocial and depressive behaviors, according to their teachers. In turn, boys who were antisocial and depressed seemed to elicit more victimization.
Girls who were victimized in kindergarten were more likely to engage in antisocial behavior at home as they got older, while they acted more and more depressed at school if their victimization increased, the researchers found.
The boys' antisocial behavior seemed to free them from harassment for a little while, but may have increased the likelihood of being victimized by their peers over the long run, according to Snyder. Girls' antisocial behavior, on the other hand, made them more likely targets for victimization in the short and long term.
The researchers watched 266 students from a single elementary school interact on the playground on multiple occasions from the start of kindergarten to the end of first grade, counting the instances of aggression and victimization.
"Substantial rates of victimization were observed. On average, children were targets of peer physical or verbal harassment about once very three to six minutes," Snyder says.
Parents and teachers provided information on the students' antisocial behaviors, like arguing, bullying and tantrums, and how often they seemed sad, lonely or withdrawn.
The study was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health.
BY BECKY HAM, SCIENCE WRITER
HEALTH BEHAVIOR NEWS SERVICE
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