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For Better or Worse: Friendship Choices and Peer Victimization Among Ethnically Diverse Youth in the First Year of Middle School

Abstract

As children approach early adolescence, the risk of peer victimization often increases. Many children experience some form of peer victimization during this time, but children who experience chronic victimization may be particularly vulnerable to adjustment difficulties. Thus, identifying risk and protective factors associated with chronic victimization continues to be an important area of research. This study examined the effect of change in the victimization of friends on change in children’s own victimization, taking into account the ethnic group representation of children in their classes. Over 3000 6th grade students (52 % female; M = 11.33 years) were drawn from 19 middle schools varying in ethnic composition. Friendships were distinguished by type—reciprocal, desired, and undesired—and a novel methodology for measuring ethnic group representation at the individual level was employed. Multilevel modeling indicated that change in friends’ victimization from fall to spring of 6th grade had a differential impact on children’s own victimization by friendship type and that the benefits and consequences of change in friends’ victimization were especially pronounced for children in the numerical ethnic majority. The findings underscore the role of friendship choices in peer victimization, even if those choices are not reciprocated, and highlight the unique social risks associated with being in the numerical ethnic majority.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Notes

  1. Differences between slopes across friendship type were not tested.

  2. As is customary when modeling 3-way interactions, ethnic group representation was first included in an interaction term with change in the victimization of friends (as shown in Step 2 of Table 2), even though this relationship was not of primary interest. In the model for reciprocal friends only, this interaction had a small, statistically significant effect on children’s victimization in the spring. However, the effect was not of practical significance (i.e., even with change in the victimization of reciprocal friends at 2 SD above and below the mean—indicating substantial increases or decreases in victimization among friends, respectively—the difference in change in children’s own victimization across the entire range of ethnic group representation—0 to 1—was less than .1.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Science Foundation to the second author.

Author Contributions

LE conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination, collected the data, performed the statistical analysis, participated in the interpretation of the data, and helped draft the manuscript; SG acquired the funding, participated in its design and coordination, participated in the interpretation of the data, and helped draft the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Funding

This study was funded by grants to the second author by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (5R01HD059882) and the National Science Foundation (0921306).

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Correspondence to Leslie Echols.

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All procedures involving human participants in this study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Echols, L., Graham, S. For Better or Worse: Friendship Choices and Peer Victimization Among Ethnically Diverse Youth in the First Year of Middle School. J Youth Adolescence 45, 1862–1876 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-016-0516-0

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Keywords

  • Peer victimization
  • Desired friends
  • Reciprocal friends
  • Undesired friends
  • Ethnic context