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Exploring the experiences and impact of middle school and high school bullying: A qualitative analysis of interviews with college women


This qualitative study sought to provide a deeper understanding of the experiences of college women who had been bullied while in middle school and/or high school. In-depth interviews were conducted with 12 college women between the ages of 18–23 who were asked to describe the bullying behaviors they experienced, the impact it had on them at the time, and the ongoing impact it has had on their college experience. All the women shared stories of being bullied by other girls. The bullying behaviors experienced were divided into four categories: verbal, physical, exclusion, and cyberbullying. When describing the impact, the most common themes were negative emotional responses (including experiencing anxiety, feeling very alone, having a very low sense of self, and fears of making friends or trusting new people), as well as avoidance (avoiding extracurricular events, certain classes, cafeteria). Most stated that, particularly in their first year of college, they felt the ongoing negative emotional impact of being bullied, in terms of social anxiety and a lack of self-confidence, however they also talked about the positive gains and growth they had made by overcoming being bullied. Recommendations for what middle school and high schools, as well as parents, can do to work to reduce bullying behaviors are discussed.

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Authors and Affiliations



Both authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation, data collection and analysis were performed by Katelyn F. Smith as part of her research, with the support of her advisor: Sandra L Caron. The first draft of the manuscript was written by Katelyn with the assistance of her advisor Dr. Caron. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Sandra L. Caron.

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On behalf of both authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

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

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Smith, K.F., Caron, S.L. Exploring the experiences and impact of middle school and high school bullying: A qualitative analysis of interviews with college women. Curr Psychol (2022).

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  • Bullying
  • Adolescent girls
  • College women
  • Qualitative study