Research Spotlight: School Social Support Mediates the Consequences of Bullying

By Chaelin Karen Ra, Ph.D. Student at Keck School of Medicine of University of Southern California

Cyberbullies at school

Why is this topic important?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 20% of high school students in the United States report being victims of bullying on school property. On one hand, bullying can negatively impact emotional and physical health and academic performance. On the other hand, social support from others is considered as protective for the negative consequences of bullying.

In short, what is the aim of the study?

Given that bullying can take place on school property, we wanted to assess if:

1) bullying was associated with more psychological distress;

2) school social support from adults was associated with less psychological distress, and

3) among those who were bullied if there were differences in psychological distress by school social support.

What are the key findings from the study?

We used a large public dataset of California adolescents age 12-17 surveyed in 2011-2012. School social support from adults measured whether e.g. a teacher or other adult at the school cares about the students.

We found school social support from adults was helpful for psychological distress; that bullying increased psychological distress; however, school social support from adults doesn’t appear to reduce the consequences of bullying.

How are these findings important in practice?

Peer victimization can have long-term consequences. We found among a representative sample of adolescents, that social support from adults at schools was protective for mental health and that, perhaps not surprising, bullying was harmful. In addition, social support from adults may not prevent psychological distress once bullied. Bullying can take place on and off school property and that has implications for getting students, parents, school administration, and the local community involved in prevention.  There is no consensus yet on the most effective interventions as more program evaluation is needed. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends more supervision of students, policies, and enforcement of policies, and coordination between professionals, schools, and parents. Mental health professionals can be key in these efforts by educating school staff and parents on how to promote mental health; and by informing programs to improve school social support.

What other studies can be recommended to further an understanding/application of the findings?

We recommend future studies to investigate the most effective strategies to implement the school interventions in order to increase school social support from adults related to adolescents’ psychological distress. Furthermore, we also recommend more program evaluations of interventions preventing bullying among adolescents to identify the most effective strategies.

External Links

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Karen’s LinkedIn:

Karen’s CV:

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More on: Anxiety, Child Mental Health Care, Research, Trauma
Latest update: June 21, 2017
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