Peer Group Influences and Victimisation
There is a huge volume of research documenting the importance of the peer group for young people's identity, attitudes and risk behaviours. Studies within the Youth and Health Programme confirmed its importance in a number of ways, including the demonstration of a persisting association between own and friends' smoking beyond adolescence. However, a major focus of work in this area involved analyses of victimisation and its consequences using data from the 11 to 16/16+ study.
It found that among 11 year-olds, the experience of being bullied did not differ according to race, physical maturity or height, but was more likely among children who were less physically attractive, overweight, had a disability such as a sight, hearing or speech problem, and performed poorly at school. These factors were important for both sexes and for children from different social classes. Further analysis, designed to tease out the direction of causality between victimization and mental health, found a complex pattern of relationships which varied by age. While at age 13, there was more evidence that victimization caused depression than vice versa, at age 15 among males the relationship was reversed. This may mean that, by mid-adolescence, depression in males has become a marker of difference or susceptibility to potentially aggressive peers. It is also in line with another finding: that at age 15, gender-atypical behaviour (i.e. feminine males or masculine females) was a risk factor for victimisation among males but not females.
All of these findings point to the fact that more vulnerable children, whether in terms of appearance, disability, ability, psychological wellbeing or behaviour, are more likely to be the targets of victimisation.
Sweeting H, Young R, West P, Der G. Peer victimization and depression in early-mid adolescence: A longitudinal study. British Journal of Educational Psychology 2006;76:577-594pubmed
Young R, Sweeting H. Adolescent bullying, relationships, psychological well-being, and gender-atypical behavior: a gender diagnosticity approach. Sex Roles 2004;50:525-537open access
Sweeting H, West P. Being different: correlates of the experience of teasing and bullying at age 11. Research Papers in Education 2001;16:225-46open access