Empirical Research

Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 38, Issue 1, pp 89-100

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

The Significance of Reciprocal and Unilateral Friendships for Peer Victimization in Adolescence

  • Ron H. J. ScholteAffiliated withBehavioral Science Institute, Radboud University of Nijmegen Email author 
  • , Geertjan OverbeekAffiliated withBehavioral Science Institute, Radboud University of Nijmegen
  • , Giovanni ten BrinkAffiliated withResearch Technical Support Group, Radboud University Nijmegen
  • , Els RommesAffiliated withBehavioral Science Institute, Radboud University of Nijmegen
  • , Raymond A. T. de KempAffiliated withBehavioral Science Institute, Radboud University of Nijmegen
  • , Luc GoossensAffiliated withCenter for Developmental Psychology, Catholic University Leuven
  • , Rutger C. M. E. EngelsAffiliated withBehavioral Science Institute, Radboud University of Nijmegen


The present study examined to what extent the number of friends and their social and personal characteristics were related to peer victimization in adolescence. Participants were 2,180 adolescents (1,143 girls), aged 11–18 (M = 14.2), who were classified as victims, bully-victims, or non-involved (i.e., adolescents who neither bullied others nor were victimized by others). Three types of friends were distinguished: reciprocal friends, desired friends (who were unilaterally nominated by a target adolescent) and choosing friends (who unilaterally nominated a target adolescent). Between-group comparisons of the three types of friends showed that victims had fewer reciprocal and choosing friends than non-involved adolescents. Compared to bully-victims and non-involved adolescents, victims had reciprocal friends who were socially less well adjusted. No differences existed with respect to the characteristics of the desired friends. In general, victims’ choosing friends scored less positive on the personal characteristics than bully-victims’ and non-involved adolescents’ choosing friends. Within-group comparisons revealed that victims’ reciprocal friends showed lower adjustment than victims’ desired friends, but higher adjustment than their choosing friends. For bully-victims and non-involved adolescents, such differences between their three types of friends were largely absent. Our findings seem to suggest that victims’ reciprocal friendships may not be totally default associations and that out of all possible friends, victims might tend to select those who score most positive on personal or social factors.


Victimization Bullying Adolescence Friendships