I. problem around the world, with more than

I.
Specific Aims

            Bullying, or repeated exposure to
negative actions by one or more others (Olweus, 2013), is a pervasive and
deleterious problem around the world, with more than one in five students being
bullied in the US (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2015). It is
widely known that bullying results in negative consequences for children’s
mental health, many times leading to self-harm and suicide (Holt,
Vivolo-Kantor, Polanin, Holland, DeGue, Matjasko, Wolfe et al., 2015). Previous
research has found that there is a significant negative link between peer
victimization and academic achievement (Espelage, Hong, Rao & Low, 2013;
Nakotomo & Shwartz, 2010). However, the relationships between peer
victimization, mental health, and academic performance are inconsistent and
unclear (Nakomoto & Schwartz, 2010). Less is also known about gender, age
and how different types of victimization may influence the relationship between
peer victimization and academic performance (Mundy, Canterford, Kosola,
Degenhardt & Patton, 2017; Nakomoto & Schwartz, 2010).

The goal
of the proposed research is to examine whether mental health (e.g., emotional
problems), relationship problems and prosocial behaviors, mediates the
relationship between peer victimization and academic performance in elementary
and middle school students. In addition, the proposed research will examine how
different types of peer victimization (e.g., physical, verbal, relational,
cyber) will influence the mediation. Physical victimization refers to physical
attacks (e.g., hitting, pushing), while verbal refers to verbal attacks (e.g.,
teasing, taunting). Relational victimization includes damage to friendships
(e.g., rumor spreading) and cyber victimization occurs online or through mobile
technologies. This study will also examine the moderating roles of gender and
age.

Figure
1 below shows the conceptual model that guides the study, which has three
specific aims:

A. Aim 1: Examine the relationship between
peer victimization and academic performance in elementary and middle school
students and test whether mental health mediates this relationship.

a.
Research Question 1: Does
mental health mediate the relationship between peer victimization and academic
performance? Does
peer victimization predict deficits in mental health and academic performance? DW1 

B. Aim 2: Examine the differences between
types of victimization (e.g., relational, verbal, physical, cyberDW2 ) and how this might influence the
relationship between victimization, mental health, and academic performance.

a.
Research Question 2:
How do different types of peer victimization play a role in the relationship
between mental health and academic achievement? Is one more harmful than the
others? Does exposure to multiple types of victimization lead to a more
negative impact on mental health?

C. Aim
3: Examine the
moderating effect of age/grade and gender on the relations between peer
victimization, mental health, and academic performance.

a.
Research Question 3:
Do age and gender moderate the relations between peer victimization, mental
health, and academic performance? If so, how?

 

Through
the lens of the self-determination theory, in order to be engaged at school
academically, students must be in a state of emotional well-being or feel like
they relate to others (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Some children who are victimized
by peers do not experience this emotional well-being state, which then puts
them at heightened risk for poor academic performance (Thijs & Verkuyten,
2008). Therefore, it is hypothesized that peer victimization will lead to
deficits in emotional well-being and a decreased relatedness to others. In
turn, the victimized students will not perform as well academically. There will
also be differences based on type of peer victimization experienced (e.g.,
verbal, relational, physical and cyber). To the author’s knowledge, there is no
theory that explains why different types of victimization would lead to
different outcomes, but some have suggested that relational victimization would
be more harmful to academic achievement, because it may be more likely to
minimize children’s ability to engage with and learn from peers at school
(Buhs, Ladd, & Harold, 2006; Morrow et al., 2014). Additionally, it is
hypothesized that a student exposed to multiple types of victimization will
result in lower academic achievement (with reductions in mental health). This is
consistent with the self-determination theory because victimized youth
experience a deficit in emotional well-being or relatedness to others. Gender
differences have rarely been examined and have shown inconsistencies (Mundy et
al., 2017; Morrow et al., 2014). Furthermore, less research has focused on age,
particularly among 5th and 6th grade students, and what
the transition to middle school may look like in this relationship.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure
1. Model of the link
between peer victimization, mental health and academic performance, with age
and gender as moderating variables.

 

 

II.
Research Strategy

A.  
Significance

a.     Importance of
Problem and Barriers

Bullying
is a pervasive problem around the world, with more than one out of every five
(20.8%) students reporting being bullied in the United States (National Center
for Educational Statistics, 2015). Moreover, about 64% of children who were
bullied did not report it and therefore this issue largely remains unaddressed
(Petrosina, Guckenburg, DeVoe & Hanson, 2010). Students who experience
bullying are at an increased risk for poor school adjustment, sleep difficulties,
anxiety, depression and other psychosocial difficulties (Center for Disease
Control, 2015). Furthermore, a meta-analysis revealed that students who were
victimized by their peers are 2.2 times more likely to have suicidal ideation
and 2.6 times more likely to attempt suicide than students who not victimized
by their peers (Gini & Espelage, 2014).

 

Research has documented that there is a negative link
between peer victimization and academic achievement (Espelage et al., 2013). However,
there is a lack of overall research on mediators and moderators of this
relationship (Nakomoto & Schwartz, 2010). Moreover, the relations between
peer victimization, mental health, and academic performance is inconsistent and
unclear (Nakomoto & Schwartz, 2010). Studies that have examined variables
as mediators of the relationship between peer victimization and academic performance
focused more so on psychological adjustment factors, such as depression,
loneliness, and self-esteem (Schwart et al., 2005; Juvonen et al., 2000; Thijs
& Verkuyten, 2008). However, there is a deficit of research on more
intricate indicators and aspects of mental health, especially in terms of
anxiety, fears, peer relationship problems, attention, conduct problems in
addition to more positive aspects, like prosocial behaviors. As such, there is
a paucity of research using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ)
in this relationship, especially when looking at emotional symptoms (which
encompasses depression, anxiety, fears), peer relationship problems in addition
to prosocial behaviors.

 

Early adolescence, the ages from roughly 10 to 14 years
old, can be a very difficult time for youth. Biological (i.e., puberty) and
contextual factors (i.e., school transition, relationships, etc.) play a large
role in the psychosocial development of boys and girls in the transition to
early adolescence (Ryan, Shim & Makara, 2013). Physical changes in addition
to making and maintaining friendships all the while juggling school performance
and family functioning can be overwhelming. The transition to middle school is
a particularly challenging and stressful time for these youth as it is marked
by even greater demands and change. Research has also found difficulties in
academic adjustment, and especially achievement, in this transition (Rudolph,
Lambert, Clark & Kurlakowsky, 2001; Ryan et al., 2013).

 

As such, age has been less researched as a moderator in
the relationship between peer victimization and academic performance, especially
when looking at the differences between 5th and 6th grade
students (elementary school and middle school). Because the transition to
middle school is a difficult time for students, it would be interesting to see
how mental health plays a role in this relationship. To the authors knowledge,
no studies have evaluated the difference between elementary school and middle
school students in this relationship. There have also been inconsistencies in
the role gender plays in this process (Mundy et al., 2017). The proposed study
will take gender and age into account as moderating factors in the relations
between peer victimization, mental health, and academic performance.

 

Multiple
types of victimization have rarely been examined, especially in terms of the
differences between verbal, physical, relational, and cyber victimization. This
study attempts to fill this gap in the research. It is expected that relational
and cyber victimization may be the most harmful to students and their mental
health as outlined below. To the author’s knowledge, there is no theory that explains
why different types of victimization would lead to different outcomes. However,
some have suggested that relational victimization may have more of an impact on
academic performance due to social victimization minimizing children’s ability
and willingness to learn from and engage with peers (Buhs, Ladd & Harold,
2006; Morrow et a., 2014). Additionally, it is hypothesized that a student
exposed to multiple types of victimization will experience lower academic achievement
(with reductions in mental health) than students exposed to only one (or fewer)
types of victimization. This is consistent with the self-determination theory because
victimized youth experience a deficit in emotional well-being or relatedness to
others.

 

Research has also shown that cyberbullying victimization
has been linked to mental health problems and even suicide. Furthermore, early
onset mental health problems may be a risk for later psychiatric problems
(Bannink, Broeren, van de Looij-Jansen, de Waart & Raatet, 2016). Cyber
victimization may be more harmful to mental health, and in turn hinder academic
performance, because it can be pervasive, anonymous, and repetitive.
Pervasiveness can take the form of being victimized anywhere and anytime due to
easy access to mobile technologies. This platform also makes it easier for
perpetrators to be anonymous, which may make them more likely to victimize
others. In addition, students can be victimized over and over again through
mobile technologies, such as social media sites, which may repeatedly inflict
harm on the victim.  

 

b.    Changes to
Field: Scientific Knowledge, Clinical Practice, Interventions

There is a deficit of research on the role mental health
plays and how it has been measured in the link between peer victimization and
academic performance. The proposed study will use the Strengths and
Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) to measure mental health, especially when
looking at emotional symptoms (which encompasses depression, anxiety, fears).
The SDQ will also be used to examine peer relationship problems in addition to
prosocial behaviors.

 

The proposed study will also use a different measure of
academic performance than most other studies have used (i.e., GPA). The
proposed study will examine academic performance by looking at scores on state
exams in math and reading. This adds to the literature, because to the author’s
knowledge, no or few studies have examined academic performance with this measure.
It may be a more objective and standardized way to examine academic
performance, as it is consistent with every school in the state. On the other
hand, GPA may be more likely to vary across schools in how students are graded
and what achievement may look like.DW3 

 

The study will add to the literature by examining
different types of victimization. Peer victimization takes many forms and the
literature has barely scratched the surface in terms of the effects of multiple
types of peer victimization, let alone in the relationship between mental
health and academic performance. Research has shown that reports of being socially
manipulated was negatively related to academic achievement (Morrow et al.,
2017). However, the authors only examined victimization in terms of physical,
verbal, social manipulation, and property attacks. The present study will add
to the literature by expanding victimization experiences to include physical,
verbal, relational and cyber domains.

 

This
study will also add to the literature in how to best treat these youth in
school settings and beyond. Professionals working with children in any capacity,
especially mental health professionals and teachers, will have a better
understanding of the processes involved in victimized youth. In addition,
parents will gain knowledge in how to support and work with their children.

 

The
results of the proposed research will add to the field by better understanding
the processes and experiences of victimized youth as well as how and why these
processes may occur.  In addition, by
understanding which types of peer victimization experiences may be more or less
harmful, interventions can be more tailored to target one or a few types over
the others. Examining gender in this relationship may be helpful in terms of
who may be especially important to target for prevention and intervention
efforts.

 

In
turn, the research will help to inform interventions targeting these vulnerable
and victimized youth in schools, especially when they are getting ready for the
transition to middle school, which can be a tumultuous time with respect to
making and maintaining friends. Furthermore, students who bully experience a
multitude of emotional, behavioral, and social repercussions. Notably, there is
a decrease is cognitive empathy as bullying behavior increases during this
time-period (Williford, Boulton, Forrest-Bank, Bender, Dieterich, & Jenson,
2016). Therefore, preventive interventions are needed for this time-period in
regards to bullying and victimization experiences (for the perpetrator and
victim) in order to help make a more successful transition (Williford et al.,
2016).

 

 

B.   
Approach

a.     Strategy,
Methodology and Analyses

Data
will be collected from 5th grade elementary school students and 6th
middle school students from several schools (at least 2 elementary, 2 middle)
in Florida. At least 500 total participants are expected, taking into account opt out ratesDW4 . To increase participation from schools,
incentives will be offered, including payment DW5 in addition to data reports given back
to schools. Data reports will be helpful for schools to better understand what
types of victimization occur in addition to any mental health concerns that may
have been missed. Resources and potential intervention strategies will also be
offered.

 

Passive
parental consent will be administered to all students at the participating
schools. Letters will be sent to parents of students indicating the occurrence
of the study with instructions to send the form back if they do not want their
child to participate in the study. Administration of the survey to the students
will occur in classrooms during a non-academic course period and will take
about 30 to 45 minutes to complete. The principal investigator or trained
research assistants will attend all administrations of the surveys.

 

Students
will complete self-report measures of mental health and peer victimization. Demographic
data will also be included in the surveys (i.e., age, grade, gender,
race/ethnicity). Academic performance scores will be collected from the
schools, which
will include state standardized exams from reading and math assessmentsDW6 .

 

Social Experiences Questionnaire, Self-Report: Students will complete the Social
Experiences Questionnaire (SEQ), which consists of 15 items, asking students
about their overt and relational victimization experiences, in addition to
being the recipient of prosocial behaviors. An example item includes, “how often
does another kid say they won’t like you unless you do what they want you to do?”
Questions are rated on a 5 point Likert-type scale ranging from 1- “never” to 5
– “all the time.” This measure was used in a study by Crick & Grotpeter
(1996) and showed acceptable reliability and factor loadings for the three
subscales.

Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire,
Self-Report: Students
will complete the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), self-report
version, which is a 25-item behavioral screening questionnaire designed to
measure emotional symptoms, conduct problems, hyperactivity/inattention, peer
relationship problems, and prosocial behaviors. A total difficulties score is
measured by totaling scores on all scales, except prosocial behaviors. Example
items include “many fears, easily scared” and “would rather be alone
than with other youth.” Questions are rated as not true, somewhat true and
certainly true. A pilot study revealed acceptable psychometrics for the use as
a self-report measure among 3-16 year-old students (Goodman, Meltzer &
Bailey, 1998).

Cyber/Relational Victimization Self-Report Scale: The Cyber Relational and Verbal
Victimization Self-Report Scale is an 18-item instrument developed by Wright
and Li (2013) to assess how often students are victimized by cyber relational
and verbal aggression. An example item includes “how often does another peer
harass you online or through text messages?” Questions are rated on a 5
point Likert-type scale ranging from 1- “never” to 5- “all the time.” This
measure was adapted from the relational and verbal aggression and victimization
items from Crick and Grotpeter (1995). Wright and Li (2013) report high
internal reliability and confirmatory factor analysis showed significance at
all time points.

 

A
series of simultaneous and sequential multiple regression analyses will be
conducted to examine these relationships.  (Aims 1 and 3) as well as structural equation modeling and multilevel modelingDW7 
(Aim 2) will be conducted to examine these relationships.

 

b.    Potential
Problems and Alternative Strategies

There
is a possibility that problems will arise when conducting this research. For
example, there may be some difficulty in recruiting schools to participate. Therefore,
as stated above, data reports will be offered to schools in addition to
resources and potential intervention strategies to help combat some of the
issues that are occurring at the school. A passive consent procedure will be
utilized to increase the participation rate because active consent may result
in less participation. Parents may also not want their children to participate
in the data collection. Therefore, we will emphasize the confidentiality and
sensitivity measures and supports taken in order to ensure privacy of all
students.

 

c.     Sensitivity
and Feasibility Aspects

The
proposed study includes collection of sensitive data around victimization
experiences and mental health. Confidentiality will be protected and ensured by
using project code numbers. Researchers will work with school officials to
create code numbers and the list linking the code numbers to names will be held
only by the school official. Researchers will therefore only have access to the
code numbers so that no identifying information regarding the students’ names
will be collected. Data that is collected will be stored in locked file
cabinets and all data will be destroyed after the last publication.

 

Confidentiality
will also be emphasized throughout the data collection process by researchers
assuring students that their names will not be collected. In addition, during
administration of the surveys, dividers will be set up between each student in
order to protect the student’s privacy. During and after data collection, the
students will be reminded to keep their answers private. A fun activity will
also be distributed after the surveys are administered in order to minimize any
potential for rumination on answers.