Interpersonal and Personal Antecedents and Consequences of Peer Victimization Across Middle Childhood in Hong Kong

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Interpersonal and Personal Antecedents and Consequences of Peer Victimization Across Middle Childhood in Hong Kong
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  EMPIRICAL RESEARCH Interpersonal and Personal Antecedents and Consequencesof Peer Victimization Across Middle Childhood in Hong Kong Jennifer M. Wang  • Mylien Duong  • David Schwartz  • Lei Chang  • Tana Luo Received: 9 August 2013/Accepted: 21 October 2013   Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013 Abstract  Although much is known about peer victim-ization, the majority of the longitudinal research in thisarea has been restricted to Western settings. The mainobjective of this study was to examine the interpersonal(rejection) and personal (withdrawal, aggression) anteced-ents and consequences of victimization for Chinese chil-dren living in Hong Kong. A sample of 1,058 children (501boys;  M   age  =  9.5 years) in Hong Kong was followedlongitudinally from the 3rd and 4th grades to the 7th and8th grades. Consistent with a transactional framework,rejection and withdrawal contributed to, as well as resultedfrom, victimization. Although victimization predicted lateraggression, aggression was unrelated to later victimization.These findings closely replicate past research conducted inNorth America and European settings, and suggest con-siderable correspondence in the links between maladaptivechild characteristics and victimization across Western andHong Kong schools. Keywords  Peer victimization    Rejection   Withdrawal    Aggression   Hong Kong   Longitudinal  Path analysis Introduction Research has sought to identify different characteristicsthat might increase children’s risk for peer abuse (Cook et al. 2010; Espelage and De La Rue 2012). Rejection or peer dislike has emerged as a core interpersonal or group-level risk factor for peer maltreatment (Ladd and Troop-Gordon 2003). Aggression and withdrawal have beenfound to be as some of the strongest personal or individualcorrelates of victimization (Reijntjes et al. 2010; Salmivalli2001). While such problematic characteristics may putchildren at risk for victimization, being victimized mayalso influence children’s social status and behavior overtime. Indeed, longitudinal research has demonstrated thatpeer victimization is both a consequence of and an ante-cedent of maladaptive child characteristics like rejectionand withdrawal (e.g., Boivin et al. 2010). Most of thesestudies, however, have been restricted to North Americanand European contexts.Because the pathways to positive social outcomes maybe influenced by values and social conventions inherent ina particular culture (Chen and French 2008), it is not clearif findings from Western settings will replicate in othercontexts. Moreover, as previous researchers have noted, anexclusive concern with Western contexts could obscurecritically important distinctions between culture-specificand culture-general forms of child maladjustment (seeLo´pez and Guarnaccia 2012). Research conducted in othercultural contexts could also help demonstrate the relevanceof existing findings for cultural subgroups within North J. M. Wang ( & )Department of Human Development and QuantitativeMethodology, University of Maryland, 3304 Benjamin Building,College Park, MD 20742, USAe-mail: wangjenn@umd.eduM. DuongDepartment of Pediatrics, University of Washington, Seattle,WA, USAD. Schwartz    T. LuoDepartment of Psychology, University of Southern California,Los Angeles, CA, USAL. ChangDepartment of Educational Psychology, Chinese Universityof Hong Kong, Shatin, NT, Hong Kong  1 3 J Youth AdolescenceDOI 10.1007/s10964-013-0050-2  America and Europe (Chen and French 2008). In line withthese views, we examined the interpersonal (rejection) andpersonal (aggression, withdrawal) correlates of victimiza-tion across middle childhood in Hong Kong.Hong Kong is a unique setting for peer relationsresearch given its complex history. While under British jurisdiction, Hong Kong had extensive contact with otherAsian cultures, as well as Western cultures (Cheung-Blunden and Juang 2008). Despite the population’s expo-sure to outside cultures, traditional Chinese values continueto serve as a predominant socializing factor for many of Hong Kong’s children. Hong Kong’s value systememphasizes the maintenance of group well-being overindividual interests (Yau and Smetana 2003), and childrenare expected to obey adult caregivers and cooperate withothers (Berndt et al. 1993). Indeed, Hong Kong hasappeared as one of the most collectivistic and least indi-vidualistic countries in meta-analytic reviews of individu-alism- collectivism (see Oyserman et al. 2002, for acomprehensive review). By replicating existing reciprocalmodels of maladaptive child characteristics and peer mal-treatment in this under-investigated context, findings fromthis study will contribute to a richer understanding of themechanisms underlying peer victimization.Research on the antecedents and consequences of peergroup victimization has highlighted a number of specificmechanisms. In terms of interpersonal risk, disliking bypeer is one critical factor to consider. Due to factors such asnegative reputations (Bierman 2004) and a lack of socialresources (e.g., friends; Hodges and Perry 1999), rejectedchildren are often frequent targets of peer abuse (Perry et al.1988). In particular, peers perceive and describe rejectedchildren more negatively than non-rejected children (Waasand Honer 1990). Not only do peers treat rejected childrenmore aversively than they treat their non-rejected peers,they also justify the abuse and mistreatment of theserejected children (Berndt et al. 1993). Because rejectionalso prevents important opportunities to interact with oth-ers, rejected children often lack social skills and socialsupport (Rubin et al. 2009). These factors combine to createthe perfect invitation for peer abuse and victimization.In addition to the broader risks associated with rejectionby peers, more targeted behavioral deficits can increasechildren’s vulnerability to peer victimization. Notably,aggression and withdrawal have emerged as salient per-sonal factors. Aggressive and withdrawn behaviors deviatefrom social norms, and children often find these behaviorsodd and irritating (Bierman 2004). Indeed, aggressivechildren’s disruptive behaviors often provoke anger andabuse from peers (e.g., Salmivalli 2001), while withdrawnchildren’s submissive behaviors likely invite attacks fromthose who view them as ‘‘odd’’ and ‘‘easy’’ targets (e.g.,Olweus 1993).Even though these problematic characteristics can putyouth at risk for victimization, victimization can alsoimpact children’s status and behavior in peer groups. Inparticular, transactional models of development (Caspiet al. 1989) suggest that children actively shape their ownenvironments, which in turn has an impact on theirdevelopment. Consistent with this view, victimizationpredicts increases in rejection and friendlessness acrosschildhood (Hodges and Perry 1999; Salmivalli and Isaacs2005). Victimization also predicts increases in bothaggression (Ladd and Troop-Gordon 2003) and withdrawal(Siegel et al. 2009) over time. From these perspectives,children and their social environments reciprocally influ-ence one another across development.In line with these views, longitudinal research has pro-vided evidence of bidirectional relations between negativechild attributes and peer maltreatment across development.For instance, Hodges and Perry (1999) found that initialvictimization predicted later peer rejection, and that peerrejection also contributed to increased victimization acrossmiddle childhood. Boivin et al. (2010) found that with-drawn behaviors predicted later victimization, and thatvictimization also predicted later withdrawn behaviors inyoung adolescents. Because these studies were conductedonly in North America and Europe, however, it remains tobe investigated whether similar relations are also evident innon-Western settings.Although longitudinal research on peer relationshipshas been mostly limited to Western contexts, a smallnumber of relevant cross-sectional studies have beenconducted with Chinese children in Mainland China andthe Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong (Duonget al. 2009; Eslea et al. 2004; Xu et al. 2003). These findings suggest some degree of consistency in the con-current correlates of peer victimization across Chineseand Western settings. For instance, as in Western settings,Chinese children who emerge as persistent victims of peerabuse are often rejected and disliked (Abouezzeddineet al. 2007; Xu et al. 2003). These children also tend to be highly aggressive and disruptive (Eslea et al. 2004).Though the links between withdrawal and negative peerexperiences in Chinese children have been mixed, withsome researchers finding positive relations (e.g., Hartet al. 2000; Schwartz et al. 2001) and others finding zero associations (Chen et al. 1999), increasing evidence sug-gests that withdrawal is a risk factor for negative peerexperiences among Chinese children (Chang 2003; Chenet al. 1995). Although these studies provide importantfirst-steps toward a cross-cultural understanding of peermaltreatment, they are limited to cross-sectional designs.Because development is a dynamic process between childand environment, research that incorporates longitudinalframeworks is needed to better understand the J Youth Adolescence  1 3  developmental mechanisms underlying children’s negativepeer experiences. Current Study Due to the lack of longitudinal research on peer victim-ization in Chinese settings, this study examined the per-sonal and interpersonal correlates of peer victimizationacross middle childhood in Hong Kong. Specifically, weused autoregressive cross-lagged panel analyses (Bollenand Curran 2006) to examine the potential reciprocalrelations between victimization, rejection, aggression, andwithdrawal over four time periods. In contrast to simplemain effects models, autoregressive cross-lagged analyseshelp control for stability effects and concurrent linksamong study variables (Selig and Little 2012), allowing fora more reliable examination of developmental processes.Based on the view of development as a dynamic processand because available findings suggest some degree of consistency in the correlates of victimization across Chi-nese and Western settings, we hypothesized a bidirectionalrelationship between victimization and problematic childcharacteristics over time. In particular, based on priorresearch with North American and European youth thatdemonstrate reciprocal relations between maladaptive childcharacteristics and peer victimization (e.g., Hodges andPerry 1999; Reijntjes et al. 2010), we posited that inter- personal (rejection) and behavior (withdrawal, aggression)would be reciprocally related to peer group victimization inthe Hong Kong cultural context. That is, we expected thatrejection, aggression, and social withdraw would eachpredict increases in peer victimization over time. In turn,we hypothesized that peer victimization would be predic-tive of later rejection, aggression, and withdrawal. Method ParticipantsParticipants were drawn from a 4-year, four-wave longi-tudinal project that followed Hong Kong children fromprimary to secondary schools. The final sample consistedof 1,058 children (501 boys, 557 girls). The participatingschools served families from Hong Kong’s lower-middlesocioeconomic class. Almost all of the mothers (97.7 %)had a lower secondary school education (the equivalent of a high school degree in the United States) or below. Allfamilies lived in government-subsidized housing, whichrequired that each family’s annual income and fixed assetswere below set ceilings.ProceduresAt Time 1 (T1), all children in 3rd and 4th grade class-rooms at four Hong-Kong schools were invited to partici-pate in the project. Letters explaining the study were senthome along with consent forms. Parents were remindedthat their children’s participation was purely voluntary andthat they could decline involvement in the study withoutpenalty. Children were asked to return the forms to theirclassroom teachers regardless of whether their parentsconsented or denied their participation in the project. Of allthe children who were invited to participate, 95 % returnedpositive parental permission, agreed to participate in theproject, and were present in school during the period of data collection. On the days of data collection, researchstaff provided written and oral descriptions of the studyprocedures and children whose parents had provided con-sent were asked to give their assent.Trained research assistants group-administered ques-tionnaires students’ classes in testing sessions lastingapproximately 45 min. Two researchers were assigned toeach classroom. One researcher read the instructions andquestionnaire items aloud, while the other walked aroundto answer questions and ensure that students’ answers werekept private.The first wave of data collection was conducted in latefall 2005, and children were followed every year for4 years. Data were collected after students had been inschool for at least 2 months, so that participating studentshad time to know each other and could reliably report ontheir classmate’s behavior. At T2, 4th and 5th graders fromtwo additional schools were recruited. Of the 1,058 stu-dents in the final sample, 818 children (77.3 %) partici-pated at T1, 1,018 children (96 %) participated at T2, and713 children (67 %) participated at T3. Because the largerproject included a transition from primary to secondaryschool, only a subset of children (  N   =  459; 43 % of thefinal sample) participated at T4. Children with incompletedata did not differ significantly from those with completedata on any demographic variable or study variable (all  p ’s [ .10). Study variables also did not differ as a function of classrooms or any other school characteristics across alltime points (all  p ’s [ .10).MeasuresA sociometric (i.e., peer nomination) procedure was usedto obtain measures of children’s victimization, and per-sonal and interpersonal characteristics. Peer nominationshave been shown to produce estimates of children’s peerstatus and social behaviors that are valid and highly reliable(Jiang and Cillssen 2005; also see Cillessen 2009, for a J Youth Adolescence  1 3  review). Moreover, at least in Asian studies (e.g., Schwartzet al. 2001, 2002), overlap between peer nominations and estimates obtained via other informants (self-report andteachers) appears quite high. For instance, Schwartz et al.(2001) found high agreement between peer nominations,teacher-reports, and self-reports of victimization, aggres-sion, and withdrawal in Chinese children.Each participating child in the current study was givenan alphabetized class roster and asked to nominate up tothree peers who fit a series of behavioral descriptors. Stu-dents could nominate peers of either gender, and nominatethe same peer for multiple items. They were told, however,that self-nominations were not allowed. A computer algo-rithm was used to remove any self-nominations beforeanalysis. Because each item is completed by a largenumber of reporters (all participating students in theclassroom), peer nomination procedures yield highly reli-able and valid indices of peer reputations and socialbehavior even when a small number of assessment itemsare used (Coie and Dodge 1983). All items described belowwere derived from past research conducted in the Chinesecultural context (e.g., Schwartz et al. 2001). All measureswere translated into Chinese.  Aggression To assess aggression, students were given a class roster andasked to nominate three peers in their class who ‘‘fight withothers,’’ ‘‘push or hit others,’’ ‘‘gossip or say mean thingsabout other kids,’’ and ‘‘try to leave other kids out of playto hurt their feelings.’’ As in past research (e.g., Duonget al. 2009), we included items that tap both relational andovert aggression ( a  =  .95). The number of nominations achild received for each item was summed and standardizedwithin class to account for varying numbers of nominators(as per Coie et al. 1982). The mean of these standardizedscores constituted each child’s aggression level, withhigher scores reflecting more aggression. Withdrawal Withdrawal was also measured with four items on the peernomination inventory. Students were asked to nominate thename of three peers who ‘‘are always alone,’’ ‘‘are quiet,’’‘‘are shy,’’ and ‘‘like to be alone’’ ( a  =  .85). Similar to theprocedure for calculating an aggression score, describedabove, we calculated a child’s withdrawal score by sum-ming the number of nominations he or she received foreach item, standardizing this within class, and calculating amean across the standardized scores. Research in Westernsettings has raised questions about the utility of peernomination indices for identifying socially withdrawnyouth. However, it should be noted that the evidence withregard to the validity of these assessment approaches in theChinese cultural context has been stronger (Chang et al.2005; Schwartz et al. 2001). For example, Schwartz et al. (2001) found that peer nominations for social withdrawalcorrelated with teacher reports and predicted rejection andpeer group victimization.  Rejection Children were asked to nominate three peers in their classwhom they ‘‘like least.’’ The number of nominations achild received for this item was standardized within classand constituted the child’s rejection score. Victimization Five items on the peer nomination inventory assessedvictimization by peers: ‘‘gets pushed around,’’ ‘‘gets pickedon or bullied,’’ ‘‘gets bullied and can’t protect themselves,’’‘‘has mean things said about them by other kids,’’ and ‘‘getsexcluded from play when other kids are trying to hurt theirfeelings.’’ As in past research (e.g., Duong et al. 2009), weincluded items that tap both relational and overt victim-ization ( a  =  .90). Again, the number of nominations achild received for each item was summed and standardizedwithin class, and then a mean standardized score across allfour items was used as the child’s victimization score.Plan of AnalysisWe constructed several autoregressive cross-lagged pathmodels (Bollen and Curran 2006) within Mplus 7 (Muthe´nand Muthe´n 1998–2012) to examine the longitudinalbivariate relations between victimization, rejection, with-drawal, and aggression from T1 to T4. In this framework,each study variable is regressed on all of the variables thatprecede it in time, allowing for the bivariate effectsbetween different constructs to be examined while con-trolling for the temporal stability of these constructs overtime. Comparative fit index (CFI), root-mean-square errorof approximation (RMSEA), and standardized-root-mean-square (SRMR) were used for all model-fit assessments.WeconductedLittle’sMCARtest(LittleandRubin1987)to assess whether data were missing completely at random(MCAR; Rubin and Coplan 2010). Results revealed that alldata were missing completely at random ( v 2 =  95.72, df  =  122,  p  =  .96). Full information maximum likelihood(FIML)wasusedtoaddressdatamissingness,asthisapproachiseffective athandlingdatathatare missingatrandom(Little2013).MLis superiorto traditionaltechniquesforaddressingmissing data because it maximizes statistical power by bor-rowing information from the observed data (Enders 2010).More specifically, ML integrates over all possible values of  J Youth Adolescence  1 3  missing data and gives more weight to values that are morelikely (Allison 2002; Little and Rubin 1989). Because ML does not require complete data for each participant, it is idealforaddressingmissingnessinlongitudinaldataasparticipantscanbemeasuredatdifferenttimepoints.Indeed,researchhasshown that ML is a robust and accurate estimator of resultseven among data with large proportions of missingness(Enders 2010; Hancock and Mueller 2006; Little 2013; Schafer and Graham 2002). Results DescriptivesDescriptive statistics are presented in Table 1. Consistentwith past research, peer victimization was significantlycorrelated with withdrawal, aggression, and rejection.Toassesswhethertherewerepotentialgenderdifferencesin the relations between aggression, withdrawal, rejection,and victimization, we constructed several multi-group pathanalyses and compared freely estimated and constrainedmodelswiththeChisquaredifferencecriterion(seeHancock and Mueller 2006). Results did not differ as a function of gender. Thus, gender was omitted from the final model tokeepthemodelsparsimonious(HancockandMueller2006).There were no statistically significant grade differences invariance among constructs across all time points.Reciprocal Longitudinal Relations Between Rejectionand VictimizationTo assess the reciprocal relations between rejection andvictimization, we constructed an autoregressive cross-lag-ged model with paths between all measures of rejection andvictimization from T1 to T4. Results demonstrated excel-lent model-fit ( v 2 =  107.44,  df   =  12, CFI  =  0.98,RMSEA  =  .06 (90 CIs .06–.09), SRMR  =  .05).Path coefficients indicated stability for both rejectionand victimization over time (Fig. 1). As evident in Fig. 1, the relations between rejection and victimization weregenerally reciprocal over time. T1, T2, and T3 victimiza-tion predicted T2, T3, and T4 rejection after controlling forprior rejection, and T1 and T2 rejection predicted T2 andT3 victimization after accounting for prior victimization.These findings suggest reciprocal paths between rejectionand victimization among children in Hong Kong.Reciprocal Longitudinal Relations BetweenWithdrawal and VictimizationTo assess the reciprocal relations between withdrawal andvictimization, we constructed an autoregressive cross-laggedmodelwithpathsbetweenallmeasuresofwithdrawaland victimization from T1 to T4. Results demonstratedexcellent model-fit ( v 2 =  177.71,  df   =  12, CFI  =  0.96,RMSEA  =  .06 (90 CIs .06–.09), SRMR  =  .05).Path coefficients indicated stability for both withdrawaland victimization over time (Fig. 2). As evident in Fig. 2, the relations between withdrawal and victimization weregenerally reciprocal over time. T1, T2, and T3 victimiza-tion predicted T2, T3, and T4 withdrawal after controllingfor prior withdrawal, and T1 and T2 withdrawal predictedT2 and T3 victimization after accounting for prior vic-timization. These findings suggest reciprocal paths betweenwithdrawal and victimization among children in HongKong.Reciprocal Longitudinal Relations Between Aggressionand VictimizationFinally, to examine the reciprocal relations betweenaggression and victimization, we constructed an autore-gressive cross-lagged model with paths between all mea-sures of aggression and victimization from T1 to T4.Results demonstrated excellent model-fit ( v 2 =  150.53, df   =  12, CFI  =  .97, RMSEA  =  .07 (90 CIs .06–.09),SRMR  =  .05).Pathcoefficientsindicatedstabilityforbothaggressionandvictimization over time (Fig. 3). As evident in Fig. 3, the relations between aggression and victimization were notreciprocal over time. Whereas T2 and T3 victimization pre-dicted T3 and T4 aggression after accounting for prioraggression, aggression did not predict later victimization atany of the time periods after controlling for prior victimiza-tion. These findings suggest unidirectional paths from vic-timization to later aggression among children in Hong Kong. Discussion Research conducted in Western settings has shown thatproblematic child characteristics and peer maltreatment arereciprocally linked across development—rejection, with-drawal, and aggression predict later victimization, andvictimization also predicts increases in these problematiccharacteristics over time (Boivin et al. 2010; Hodges andPerry 1999). By examining the interpersonal (rejection)and personal (withdrawal, aggression) antecedents andconsequences of victimization across middle childhood inHong Kong, findings from this study help extend the extantpeer relationships research and contribute to a more com-prehensive understanding of children’s negative peerexperiences in Eastern cultures.Our results mostly replicate existing peer relationshipsresearch in Western contexts. As in previous research J Youth Adolescence  1 3
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