New research published in Research in Child and Adolescent Psychopathology explores what may influence the consequences of peer victimization for adolescents in the United States. The study findings reveal that when teenagers discuss their problems with a friend who also has social difficulties, their symptoms of depression tend to increase. When friends who talk about problems don’t have social problems, depressive symptoms tend to remain stable.
For adolescents, peer victimization can take many forms, including physical assault, verbal harassment, social exclusion, and cyberbullying. The negative effects of peer victimization on mental health outcomes such as depression are well documented in the scientific literature.
However, not all adolescents who experience peer victimization develop depressive symptoms. One possible explanation is that some adolescents have problematic relationships with peers who provide social support and mitigate the negative effects of peer victimization on mental health. Problem talk partnerships are friendships that involve frequent discussions of issues and personal struggles.
In their new study, David Schwartz and colleagues used a cross-sectional design to examine the relationship between self-perceived victimization by peers, problematic talk partnerships with socially maladjusted peers, and depressive symptoms in a sample of 267 adolescents (mean age 14.5 years). ; 56% female) from a single school in the United States. Participants completed self-report measurements of the factors in question.
Results showed that self-reported victimization predicted depressive symptoms only for adolescents who reported problematic relationships with friends who were also experiencing social difficulties such as rejection or unpopularity.
In contrast, self-perceived victimization was not positively associated with depressive symptoms when partners with problematic speech did not have social difficulties. These findings suggest that having friends who also experience social difficulties may exacerbate negative mental health outcomes in adolescents who experience peer victimization.
The study has several implications for interventions aimed at reducing depressive symptoms in adolescents experiencing peer victimization. Clinicians and educators working with these young people should consider the role of please finish problem discussion collaborations in their mental health outcomes.
In particular, interventions should focus on helping adolescents develop positive partnerships with peers who do not experience social difficulties. This may involve teaching adolescents social skills such as active listening, empathy, and effective communication.
A limitation of this study is its cross-sectional design, which precludes causal inference. Future studies could use longitudinal designs to examine the relationships between these variables. Second, this study relies on self-report measures of perceived victimization, partnerships with problematic speech, and depressive symptoms. Self-report measures are subject to response biases such as social desirability bias and memory bias.
The findings suggest that having friends who are also experiencing social difficulties may exacerbate negative mental health outcomes in adolescents who experience peer victimization. Interventions aimed at reducing depressive symptoms in these youth should consider the role of problematic speech partnerships in their mental health outcomes. Future research could investigate the mechanisms underlying these associations using longitudinal designs and multiple informants.
“The picture that emerges regarding the role of friendships in the lives of victimized youth is complex,” concluded the researchers. “Close friends can help protect vulnerable youth from the stressful nature of peer abuse while perpetuating communication and socialization processes that are less adaptive. As researchers seek to unpack the developmental implications of these multifaceted dyadic relationships, the social experiences of close and intimate friends may be especially important to consider.
“In the present study, the links between perceived victimization and depressive systems were particularly strong for those adolescents who tended to share personal problems with rejected, victimized, and unpopular friends. Much remains to be learned about the mechanisms underlying observed statistical interactions, but continued attention to the attributes of problem-talking partners seems warranted.”
The study, Social Adjustment of Problem Partners Moderates Associations Between Self-Perceived Victimization and Depressive Symptoms, was written by David Schwartz, Yana Ryjova, Tana Luo, Sarah T. Malamut, Minci Zhang, Leslie M. Taylor, and Adam Omary.
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