Bystander Behavior and Victim Coping Strategies: A Mixed Methods Study of Rural Bullying Public Deposited

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  • March 19, 2019
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  • Evans, Caroline
    • Affiliation: School of Social Work
Abstract
  • Bullying is one of the most pervasive issues affecting American youth and schools. Youth can be actively involved in bullying as a victim, bully, or bully/victim (i.e., alternates between being a bully and a victim), or less involved as a bystander (i.e., an individual who witnesses bullying, but is not directly involved as the bully or victim) who offers varying degrees of support to the bully or victim. There is expansive research on bullying perpetration and victimization; however, bystander research is in its infancy. This volume contributes to addressing this gap in our knowledge. Bystanders are individuals who witness a bullying event, but are not directly involved as a bully or victim. Bystanders play a vital role in the bullying dynamic because their behavior often dictates whether or not an episode of bullying continues or ends, and thus bystander behavior impacts classroom rates of bullying. Prosocial bystanders defend victims which often puts an end to the bullying and negative bystanders support the bully which often perpetuates the bullying. Current research on bystander behavior is limited to relatively small samples of urban and suburban youth outside of the United States and neglects to examine how both individual- and school-level factors representing social capital deprivation, anti-social capital, and positive social capital are associated with bystander behavior. Another gap in bullying research is the lack of qualitative studies examining coping strategies that victims use to deal with bullying victimization. The current dissertation aims to fill these gaps in the bullying research. The first two papers examine how the absence and presence of social capital is associated with negative and prosocial bystander behavior. The first paper examines how social capital deprivation (e.g., negative social relationships such as friend rejection and parent-adolescent conflict) and anti-social capital (e.g., anti-social relationships that provide social capital such as delinquent friends) at the individual- and school-levels are associated with the likelihood of engaging in negative bystander behavior (e.g., assisting the bully) in a large sample (N=5,752) of racially/ethnically diverse rural youth. It was hypothesized that social capital deprivation and anti-social capital would be associated with an increased likelihood of engaging in negative bystander behavior. Following multiple imputation, a binary logistic regression with robust standard errors was run. In partial support of the hypothesis, results indicated that social capital deprivation in the form of peer pressure and verbal victimization and anti-social capital in the form of delinquent friends, bullying perpetration, verbal perpetration, and physical perpetration were significantly associated with an increased likelihood of engaging in negative bystander behavior. Findings highlight the necessity of establishing and maintaining sources of positive social support for disenfranchised youth. The second paper investigates how positive social capital at the individual- and school-levels is associated with the likelihood of engaging in prosocial bystander behavior. Prosocial bystanders are individuals who actively intervene in the bullying dynamic to support the victim; this positive behavior often ends the bullying. The current study fills a gap in bystander research by assessing how social capital in the form of social support, community engagement, mental health functioning, and positive school experiences and characteristics are associated with the likelihood of prosocial bystander behavior in a large sample (N=5,752) of racially/ethnically diverse rural youth. It was hypothesized that the presence of social capital would be significantly associated with an increased likelihood of engaging in prosocial bystander behavior. Following multiple imputation, an ordered logistic regression with robust standard errors was run. In partial support of the hypothesis, social capital in the form of friend and teacher support, ethnic identity, religion orientation, and future optimism were significantly associated with an increased likelihood of engaging in prosocial bystander behavior. Findings highlight the importance of establishing and maintaining positive social relationships and community engagement in order to decrease school bullying. The third paper uses qualitative methodology to examine the coping strategies of 22 rural middle- and high-school victims of bullying. A combination of the Transactional Model of Coping and the Approach-Avoidant Model of Coping serves as a guiding frameworks for this study. A descriptive/thematic approach with grounded theory overtones was used to analyze the data. Findings indicate that youth use a variety of emotion- and problem-focused coping strategies such as internalizing, help seeking, physical and verbal aggression, standing up for themselves, and prosocial bystander behavior to cope with the stress of being bullied. In line with past research, problem-focused coping strategies predominated and some of these strategies changed slightly between middle- and high-school. Findings indicate that although victimized youth report negative internalizing symptoms as a result of being bullied, these youth are often resilient and rely on a number of innovative coping strategies. Overall, findings suggest that social capital deprivation (i.e., peer pressure and verbal victimization) and anti-social capital (i.e., delinquent friends, bullying perpetration, verbal perpetration, and physical perpetration) are detrimental to positive social functioning as these factors were associated with significant increases in the likelihood of engaging in negative bystander behavior. Increasing youth's social capital is one possible way of combatting the negative effects of social capital deprivation and anti-social capital. Social capital in the form of positive social relationships (i.e., friend and teacher support), community engagement (i.e., ethnic identity and religious orientation), and positive mental health functioning (i.e., future optimism) are associated with an increased likelihood of engaging in prosocial bystander behavior. Based on these findings, youth with one or many sources of social support are potential prosocial bystanders who have the ability to interrupt the bullying dynamic. In contrast, youth with many negative social connections are at risk of perpetuating bullying by offering support to the bullies. This finding highlights the importance of offering these at risk youth social support as a means of increasing their social capital. In addition, although victimized youth are a vulnerable group, they often display great resilience and employ many problem-focused coping strategies following victimization. One such strategy is engaging in prosocial bystander behavior, which suggests that victims of bullying could be mobilized to increase classroom rates of prosocial bystander behavior. Finally, areas for future research are highlighted in each of the papers.
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  • In Copyright
Advisor
  • Limber, Susan
  • Smokowski, Paul
  • Guo, Shenyang
  • Fraser, Mark W.
  • Asher, Steven
Degree
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2015
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  • Chapel Hill, NC
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