Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 14, Issue 5, pp 1529–1541 | Cite as

A Population Study of Victimization, Relationships, and Well-Being in Middle Childhood

  • Martin GuhnEmail author
  • Kim A. Schonert-Reichl
  • Anne M. Gadermann
  • Shelley Hymel
  • Clyde Hertzman
Research Paper


The paper presents a population-based study on the association of victimization and peer and adult relationships with children’s life satisfaction, self-esteem, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. The study extends previous research by examining 2-, 3-, and 4-way higher-order interaction effects (moderation hypotheses) of adults and peer relationships, victimization, and gender on positive and negative aspects of children’s well-being. The study draws from a representative population-level sample of 2,792 4th graders (M age = 9.70 years; 48.2 % girls). Data were obtained via student self-report survey on the Middle Years Development Instrument (MDI). Given the nested data (children within classrooms), we employed multi-level regression analyses. Positive relationships with adults and peers were most strongly associated with life satisfaction and self-esteem, whereas victimization was most strongly associated with depressive symptoms and anxiety. No significant 2- or 3-way interactions were identified. The 4-way interaction of gender, adult connectedness, peer connectedness, and victimization was significant for three outcomes; that is, victimization was particularly strongly associated with low life satisfaction, low self-esteem, and high depressive symptoms for girls with low self-reports of peer and adult connectedness. The findings have implications for promoting children’s well-being in school and community contexts, corroborating interventions that foster relationship-building skills and simultaneously reduce victimization.


Children Life satisfaction Well-being Depressive symptoms Anxiety Social relationships with adults and peers Victimization Population-based study 



Middle Years Development Instrument



The first and third author acknowledge funding from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, British Columbia, Canada. The research was supported by the Edith Lando Charitable Foundation, the SSHRC-funded Canadian Prevention Science Cluster, the United Way of the Lower Mainland, BC, Canada, and the Human Early Learning Partnership, UBC.


  1. Barber, B. K., & Olsen, J. A. (2004). Assessing the transitions to middle and high school. Journal of Adolescent Research, 19, 3–30. doi: 10.1177/0743558403258113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Boivin, M., & Hymel, S. (1997). Peer experiences and social perceptions: A sequential model. Developmental Psychology, 33, 135–145. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.33.1.135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bond, L., Carlin, J. B., Thomas, L., Rubin, K., & Patton, G. (2001). Does bullying cause emotional problems? A prospective study of young teenagers. British Medical Journal, 323, 480–484. doi: 10.1136/bmj.323.7311.480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Card, N. A., Stucky, B. D., Sawalani, G. M., & Little, T. D. (2008). Direct and indirect aggression during childhood and adolescence: A meta-analytic review of gender differences, intercorrelations, and relations to maladjustment. Child Development, 79, 1185–1229. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2008.01184.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Constantine, N. A., & Benard, B. (2001). California healthy kids survey resilience assessment model: Technical report. Berkeley, CA: Public Health Institute.Google Scholar
  6. Costello, E. J., Mustillo, S., Erkanli, A., Keeler, G., & Angold, A. (2003). Prevalence and development of psychiatric disorders in childhood and adolescence. Archives of General Psychiatry, 60, 837–844. doi: 10.1001/archpsyc.60.8.837.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Craig, W. (1998). The relationship among bullying, victimization, depression, anxiety, and aggression in elementary school children. Personality and Individual Differences, 24, 123–130. doi: 10.1016/S0191-8869(97)00145-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. DeRosier, M. E., & Marcus, S. R. (2005). Building friendships and combating bullying: Effectiveness of S.S.GRIN at one-year follow-up. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 34, 140–150. doi: 10.1207/s15374424jccp3401_13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Diener, E., Emmons, R. A., Larsen, R. J., & Griffin, S. (1985). The satisfaction with life scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 49, 71–75. doi: 10.1207/s15327752jpa4901_13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dill, E. J., Vernberg, E. M., Fonagy, P., Twemlow, S. W., & Gamm, B. K. (2004). Negative affect in victimized children: the role of social withdrawal, peer rejection, and attitudes toward bullying. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 32, 159–173. doi: 10.1023/B:JACP.0000019768.31348.81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Eccles, J. S. (1999). The development of children ages 6 to 14. Future of Children, 9, 30–44.
  12. Finkelhor, D., Ormrod, R. K., Turner, H. A., & Hamby, S. L. (2005). Measuring poly-victimization using the Juvenile Victimization Questionnaire. Child Abuse and Neglect, 29, 1297–1312. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2005.06.005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gadermann, A. M., Guhn, M., & Zumbo, B. D. (2011). Investigating the substantive aspect of construct validity for the satisfaction with life scale adapted for children: A focus on cognitive processes. Social Indicators Research, 100, 37–60. doi: 10.1007/s11205-010-9603-x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gadermann, A. M., Schonert-Reichl, K. A., & Zumbo, B. D. (2010). Investigating validity evidence of the satisfaction with life scale adapted for children. Social Indicators Research, 96, 229–247. doi: 10.1007/s11205-009-9474-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Guhn, M., Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Gadermann, A. M., Marriott, D., Pedrini, L., Hymel, S., et al. (2012). Well-being in middle childhood: An assets-based population-level research-to-action project. Child Indicators Research, 5, 393–418. doi: 10.1007/s12187-012-9136-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hanish, L. D., & Guerra, N. G. (2002). A longitudinal analysis of patterns of adjustment following peer victimization. Development and Psychopathology, 14, 69–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hanish, L. D., Ryan, P., Lynn Martin, C., & Fabes, R. A. (2005). The social context of young children’s peer victimization. Social Development, 14, 2–19. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9507.2005.00288.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hawker, D. S. J., & Boulton, M. J. (2000). Twenty years’ research on peer victimization and psychosocial maladjustment: A meta-analytic review of cross-sectional studies. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 41, 441–455. doi: 10.1111/1469-7610.00629.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hayden-Thomson, L. K. (1989). Children’s loneliness. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.Google Scholar
  20. Headey, B., Kelley, J., & Wearing, A. (1993). Dimensions of mental health: Life satisfaction, positive affect, anxiety and depression. Social Indicators Research, 29, 63–82. doi: 10.1007/BF01136197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hodges, E. V. E., Boivin, M., Viatro, F., & Bukowski, W. M. (1999). The power of friendship: Protection against an escalating cycle of peer victimization. Developmental Psychology, 35, 94–101. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.35.1.94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hodges, E. V. E., & Perry, D. G. (1999). Personal and interpersonal antecedents and consequences of victimization by peers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 677–685. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.76.4.677.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Holder, M. D. (2012). Why study children’s and adult’s well-being, including their happiness? In Happiness in children: Measurement, correlates, and enhancement of positive subjective well-being. Springer Briefs in Well-being and Quality of Life Research. doi: 10.1007/978-94-007-4414-1_2.
  24. Hymel, S., Rubin, K. H., Rowden, L., & Le Mare, L. (1990). Children’s peer relationships: Longitudinal prediction of internalizing and externalizing problems from middle to late childhood. Child Development, 61, 2004–2021. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.1990.tb03582.x.Google Scholar
  25. Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, K. R., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 593–602.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kilpatrick, M., Demaray, C., & Malecki, K. (2006). A review of the use of social support in anti-bullying programs. Journal of School Violence, 5, 51–70. doi: 10.1300/J202v05n03_05.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kochenderfer, B. J., & Ladd, G. W. (1996). Peer victimization: Cause or consequence of school maladjustment? Child Development, 67, 1305–1317. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.1996.tb01797.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kochenderfer-Ladd, B., & Skinner, K. (2002). Children’s coping strategies: Moderators of the effects of peer victimization. Developmental Psychology, 38, 267–278. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.38.2.267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kusche, C. A., Greenberg, M. T., & Beilke, R. (1988). Seattle Personality Questionnaire for young school-aged children. Unpublished manuscript. University of Washington, Department of Psychology, Seattle.Google Scholar
  30. Ladd, G. W. (1981). Effectiveness of a social learning method for enhancing children’s social interactions and peer acceptance. Child Development, 52, 171–178. doi: 10.2307/1129227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ladd, G. W., Kochenderfer, B. J., & Coleman, C. C. (1996). Friendship quality as a predictor of children’s early school adjustment. Child Development, 67, 1103–1118. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.1996.tb01785.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ladd, G. W., & Troop-Gordon, W. (2003). The role of chronic peer difficulties in the development of children’s psychological adjustment problems. Child Development, 74, 1344–1367. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.00611.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Luthar, S. S. (2005). Resilience in development: A synthesis of research across five decades. In D. Cicchetti & D. J. Cohen (Eds.), Developmental psychopathology: Risk, disorder, and adaptation (pp. 740–795). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  34. Malti, T., Perren, S., & Buchmann, M. (2010). Children’s peer victimization, empathy, and emotional symptoms. Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 41, 98–113. doi: 10.1007/s10578-009-0155-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Marini, Z. A., Dane, A. V., Bosacki, S. L., & YLC-CURA. (2006). Direct and indirect bully-victims: Differential psychosocial risk factors associated with adolescents involved in bullying and victimization. Aggressive Behavior, 32, 551–569. doi: 10.1002/ab.20155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Marsh, H. W. (1988). Self-Description Questionnaire: A theoretical and empirical basis for the measurement of multiple dimensions of preadolescent self-concept. A test manual and a research monograph. San Antonio, Texas: The Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
  37. Murray-Close, D., Ostrov, J. M., & Crick, N. (2007). A short-term longitudinal study of growth of relational aggression during middle childhood: Associations with gender, friendship intimacy, and internalizing problems. Development and Psychopathology, 19, 187–203. doi: 10.1017/S0954579407070101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Nishina, A., Juvonen, J., & Witkow, M. R. (2005). Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will make me feel sick: The psychosocial, somatic, and scholastic consequences of peer harassment. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 34, 37–48. doi: 10.1207/s15374424jccp3401_4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Pedersen, S., Vitaro, F., Barker, E. D., & Borge, A. I. H. (2007). The timing of middle-childhood peer rejection and friendship: Linking early behavior to early-adolescent adjustment. Child Development, 78, 1037–1051. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.01051.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Rains, C. (2003). Seattle Personality Questionnaireoriginal (Fast Track Project Technical Report). Retrieved Scholar
  41. Rigby, K. (2000). Effects of peer victimization in schools and perceived social support on adolescent well-being. Journal of Adolescence, 23, 57–68. doi: 10.1006/jado.1999.0289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Schonert-Reichl, K. A., Guhn, M., Hymel, S., Hertzman, C., Sweiss, L., Gadermann, A. M., et al. (2010). Our children’s voices: The middle years development instrument. Measuring the developmental health and well-being of children in middle childhood. Vancouver, Canada: United Way. Retrieved from
  43. Seals, D., & Young, J. (2003). Bullying and victimization: Prevalence and relationship to gender, grade level, ethnicity, self-esteem, and depression. Adolescence, 38, 735–747.Google Scholar
  44. Slee, P. T. (1995). Peer victimization and its relationship to depression among Australian primary school students. Personality and Individual Differences, 18, 57–62. doi: 10.1016/0191-8869(94)00114-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Trach, J., Hymel, S., Waterhouse, T., & Neale, K. (2010). Bystander responses to school bullying: A cross-sectional investigation of grade and sex differences. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 25, 114–130. doi: 10.1177/0829573509357553.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Troop-Gordon, W., & Ladd, G. W. (2005). Trajectories of peer victimization and perceptions of the self and schoolmates: Precursors to internalizing and externalizing problems. Child Development, 76, 1072–1091. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2005.00898.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Vaillancourt, T., McDougall, P., Hymel, S., Krygsman, A., Miller, J., Stiver, K., et al. (2008). Bullying: Are researchers and children/youth talking about the same thing? International Journal of Behavioral Development, 32, 486–495. doi: 10.1177/0165025408095553.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. WestEd. (2011). California healthy kids survey. Retrieved from
  49. Yeung, R., & Leadbeater, B. (2010). Adults make a difference: The protective effects of parent and teacher emotional support on emotional and behavioral problems of peer-victimized adolescents. Journal of Community Psychology, 38, 80–98. doi: 10.1002/jcop.20353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin Guhn
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kim A. Schonert-Reichl
    • 1
  • Anne M. Gadermann
    • 1
  • Shelley Hymel
    • 1
  • Clyde Hertzman
    • 1
  1. 1.Human Early Learning PartnershipUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

Personalised recommendations