Peer Victimization in the School Context: A Study of School Climate and Social Identity Processes
Schools provide adolescents with opportunities to form healthy relationships and feel a sense of belonging connected to others. Although youth are provided with opportunities to belong at school, some adolescents are victimized by peers within their school communities. Adolescents who are bullied may be at risk for feeling excluded at school. Students’ feelings of not belonging at school may explain the link between peer victimization and adverse mental health and school-related problems. While peer victimization increases the risk of negative outcomes, experiences of victimized youth can differ across schools. School climate assesses characteristics of the school environment, including the quality of relationships, norms, and expectations of the school community. Understanding how school climate may buffer the risks associated with peer victimization can inform efforts to cultivate safe and supportive school environments. The current thesis consists of two studies. These studies examined how school belonging may explain the link between peer victimization and both mental health and school-related outcomes. In both studies, we examined how positive school climates may reduce the risk of negative mental health and academic outcomes associated with peer victimization. Results indicated that school belonging partially explained the relationship between peer victimization and adolescent outcomes. Peer victimization was negatively associated with adolescents’ sense of school belonging, which in turn, was related to negative mental health and school-related outcomes. While positive school climate and high levels of school safety protected victimized boys in higher grades, these school characteristics exacerbated the risks among girls in specific grade-levels. Together, these findings demonstrate the importance of helping adolescents feel that they belong at school. In addition, our findings highlight a need to better understand how to cultivate school environments that foster feelings of belonging among victimized adolescents.