Public Release: 

Nearly half of middle schoolers report daily incidents of harassment

Society for Research in Child Development

In the first study ever to examine daily incidents of peer harassment in middle school, and students' emotional responses to both experiencing and witnessing incidents, researchers from the University of California- Los Angeles report that almost half of sixth-grade urban middle school students said they'd been harassed by their peers at least once during a two-week period. The study, published in the March/April 2005 issue of the journal Child Development, found that the most common types of harassment were public insults (e.g., name calling) and physical aggression (e.g., kicking, shoving).

"These findings are important because they show that many more kids are affected by bullying both through their own personal experiences and by what they see happening to their classmates than previously estimated," said lead author Adrienne Nishina, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in UCLA's Department of Education. "Students were bothered by all types of harassment incidents they personally experienced --for example, being the target of insults, physical aggression, or rumors--but they were more concerned about and felt sorrier for peers who encountered verbal rather than physical forms of hostility." Additionally, she noted, peer victimization is related to negative attitudes toward school, lack of engagement in class, and fewer positive experiences in school.

Dr. Nishina and her co-author, Jaana Juvonen, PhD, professor of developmental psychology at UCLA, chose four and five school days at random during a two-week period to ask two separate samples of 95 to 97 sixth graders to rate their current mood and describe their encounters with daily peer harassment.

In addition to the frequent harassment, the researchers found that students who reported getting picked on also reported increased humiliation and anger, while students who saw a classmate getting picked on reported increased anxiety and disliked school more. However, when students both experienced and witnessed peer harassment, witnessing others being harassed shielded the youth from feeling humiliated or angry.

"It appears that a shared 'it also happens to others' rather than the unique' it only happens to me' plight can alleviate certain types of emotional distress, while it can also increase others, such as anxiety," said Dr. Nishina.

"The findings suggest that educators and other professionals should target violence intervention efforts to all students, not just those who are most victimized by their schoolmates," said Dr. Nishina, "and all forms of bullying, not just physical aggression and certain forms of verbal harassment."


Summarized from Child Development, Vol. 6, Issue 2, Daily Reports of Witnessing and Experiencing Peer Harassment in Middle School by Nishina A and Juvonen J (University of California-Los Angeles). Copyright 2005 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved.

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