Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 47, Issue 3, pp 601–618 | Cite as

The Co-evolution of Bullying Perpetration, Homophobic Teasing, and a School Friendship Network

  • Gabriel J. MerrinEmail author
  • Kayla de la Haye
  • Dorothy L. Espelage
  • Brett Ewing
  • Joan S. Tucker
  • Matthew Hoover
  • Harold D. GreenJr
Empirical Research


Bullying and homophobic teasing behaviors affect the lives of many school aged children, often co-occur, and tend to peak in middle school. While bullying and homophobic teasing behaviors are known to be peer group phenomena, studies typically examine the associations at the individual or school levels. An examination of these behaviors at the peer group level can aid in our understanding of the formation and maintenance of peer groups that engage in these forms of aggressive behavior (selection), and the extent to which friends and the peer group impact individual rates of these aggressive behaviors (influence). In this longitudinal study, we assess the co-evolution of friendship networks, bullying perpetration, and homophobic teasing among middle school students (n = 190) using a Stochastic Actor-Based Model (SABM) for longitudinal networks. Data were collected from 6–8th-grade students (Baseline age 12–15; 53% Female; 47% Male) across three waves of data. The sample was diverse with 58% African American, 31% White, and 11% Hispanic. Since bullying and homophobic teasing behaviors are related yet distinct forms of peer aggression, to capture the unique and combined effects of these behaviors we ran models separately and then together in a competing model. Results indicated that on average individuals with higher rates of bullying perpetration and homophobic teasing were associated with becoming increasingly popular as a friend. However, the effects were not linear, and individuals with the highest rates of bullying perpetration and homophobic teasing were less likely to receive friendship nominations. There was no evidence that bullying perpetration or homophobic teasing were associated with the number of friendship nominations made. Further, there was a preference for individuals to form or maintain friendships with peers who engaged in similar rates of homophobic name-calling; however, this effect was not found for bullying perpetration. Additionally, changes in individual rates of bullying perpetration were not found to be predicted by the bullying perpetration of their friends; however, changes in adolescent homophobic teasing were predicted by the homophobic teasing behaviors of their friends. In a competing model that combined bullying perpetration and homophobic teasing, we found no evidence that these behaviors were associated with popularity. These findings are likely due to the high association between bullying perpetration and homophobic teasing combined with the small sample size. However, friendship selection was based on homophobic name-calling, such that, there was a preference to befriend individuals with similar rates of homophobic teasing. We also examined several risk factors (dominance, traditional masculinity, impulsivity, femininity, positive attitudes of bullying, and neighborhood violence), although, impulsivity was the only covariate that was associated with higher levels of bullying perpetration and homophobic teasing. More specifically, youth with higher rates of impulsivity engaged in higher rates of bullying perpetration and homophobic teasing over time. The findings suggest bullying perpetration and homophobic teasing have important influences on friendship formation, and close friendships influence youth’s engagement in homophobic teasing. Implications for prevention and intervention efforts are discussed in terms of targeting peer groups and popular peers to help reduce rates of these aggressive behaviors.


Bullying perpetration Homophobic teasing Peer groups Social networks 


Authors' Contributions

G.M. helped conceive the study and participated in the design, drafting, and editing of the manuscript; K.H. helped conceive the study, assisted with data analysis and drafting of the manuscript; D.E. assisted with drafting and editing the manuscript; B.E. assisted with data analysis; J.T. assisted with drafting and editing the manuscript; M.H. assisted with drafting the manuscript; H.G. helped conceive the study and edited the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Data Sharing Declaration

The datasets generated and/or analyzed during the current study are not publicly available but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


This study was funded by NIDA R01DA033280-01 (PI: Harold D. Green), and grant number 2011-90948-IL-IJ from the National Institute of Justice (PI: Dorothy L. Espelage).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical Approval

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

Informed Consent

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


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of VictoriaVictoriaUSA
  2. 2.Department of Preventive MedicineUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  4. 4.RAND CorporationSanta MonicaUSA
  5. 5.Gallup, Inc.Washington D.C.USA

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