Positive Youth Development and Being Bullied in Early Adolescence: A Sociocultural Analysis of National Cohort Data

Background

Young people’s chances of being bullied emerge in sociocultural context. Important factors associated with being bullied identified in prior research include social class, gender, family functioning and school experiences. The present longitudinal study takes a positive youth development (PYD) perspective that focuses on how caring, connection, competence, confidence and character – the five tenets of PYD, feature in adolescent development. Moreover, by incorporating sociocultural risk factors and gender in the study, we were able to generate a more holistic and detailed model of PYD and victimization operating as a developmental system in sociocultural context.

Method

Participants were 3,509 males (49%) and 3,656 females (51%) – a total number of 7,165, interviewed at ages nine, thirteen, and seventeen in the Growing Up in Ireland study. The study only involved participants who gave data on the variable about being bullied at Wave 2 to improve the reliability of results. The measures were of: sociocultural context at Waves 1 and 2 (child gender; family trauma and transition; family poverty; school social disadvantage and neighbourhood disorder); connection and caring at Wave 2 (i.e., parental rapport, friendship closeness; teacher acknowledgment and teacher praise); competence, confidence and character at Wave 3 (self-confidence, well balanced person, preparation for adult life, independent thinking).

Results

Being bullied in early adolescence was most strongly predicted by friendships, relationships with parents (caring and connection) and by neighbourhood disorder. School poverty and teacher praise/acknowledgement had no statistical impact on being bullied.

Predictors of caring and connection in early adolescence varied depending on relationship dimension. Childhood trauma and family social disadvantage were important predictors of relationships with parents, and gender was important for relationships with teachers.

Predictors of competence, confidence and character in late adolescence also varied depending on dimension. Relationships with parents and family trauma were the most important predictors for these personal aspects of PYD. Being bullied in early adolescence had limited impact on young adulthood PYD, suggesting recovery / adaptation.

Conclusion

The current study demonstrated the importance of studying positive youth development and being bullied as a developmental system occurring in sociocultural context.

Being bullied is linked to broader relational functioning in early adolescence but has limited impact on personal aspects of PYD in late adolescence compared to the influence of families.

This suggests that young people can thrive in adolescence after being bullied, if their home environments are positive.

Contact: giulio.durso@ucd.ie

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