May 27, 2011

Can support from friends and parents really help bullied teens?

Rothon, C., Head, J., Klineberg, E., & Stansfeld, S. (2011). Can social support protect bullied adolescents from adverse outcomes? A prospective study on the effects of bullying on the educational achievement and mental health of adolescents at secondary schools. Journal of Adolescence, 34, 579-588.

These authors aimed to examine whether adolescents could be protected against the negative effects of bullying on both educational attainment and symptoms of depression. In particular, their focus was on whether social support could protect young people, and they were particularly interested in the identity of those providing support (parents or friends).

In the study, data were collected from 2093 young people in East London aged 11-14 years old. Experiences of being bullied and social support recruited at that time were self-reported. Then, two years later, symptoms of depression (again, self-report) and educational attainment were assessed. Educational attainment was categorised as either passing or failing a specific benchmark.

Overall, 9.1% of the sample reported that they had been bullied in the preceding term. Older students were less likely to be bullied than younger. Boys and girls were equally likely to have been bullied.

Bullying and symptoms of depression: being bullied significantly increased boys’ reported symptoms, but did not influence girls’ symptoms. For boys, social support from friends helped to reduce the number of depressive symptoms, though bullied boys still had problems of this nature. Parental support made no difference.

Bullying and academic achievement: being bullied had a strong impact on students’ chances of achieving the benchmark in academic achievement. Those who had low or moderate levels of support from friends were less likely to achieve the benchmark than were those with high levels of support. With regards to family support, only having moderate levels of family support helped students to achieve the benchmark. This last finding seems odd to me, and I’d personally like to see it replicated before placing much weight on it.

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