Peer Victimization Experiences in High School

Ron Berntson’s Peer Victimization Experiences in High Schools takes its cue from recent popular concerns about apparent rising school violence, notably bullying.Berntson states that many explanations are not rooted in either theoretical understandings of youth aggression or objective data, but rather find their basis in sensationalized media portrayals of “out of control” teenagers. Berntson seeks to redress such exaggerations and generalizations by exploring the experiences and perceptions of Saskatoon youths.

Berntson’s study is based on questionnaires given to students at two Saskatoon high schools. Students answered questions that discussed various forms of abuse: physical, verbal, relational (that is, affecting their relationship with others), and property. These results were then statistically analyzed to create a snapshot of peer victimization at these two schools.

Some of  Berntson’s findings are as  follows. The amount of victimization that students experience is actually low. On average, he writes, students at both schools experienced victimization only once in the previous year. Berntson also discovered that there is a notable gender difference in the amount and type of victimization experienced. Boys are more likely to experience more overt forms of victimization, verbal and physical, which are the types we most associate with bullying. Girls, however, tend to experience relational forms, such as spreading gossip or lies to friends and peers. Berntson’s findings further suggest that a school’s particular student culture influences both the type of victimization and its effects. For example, victimization forms in both boys and girls were tied to feelings of insecurity at school and depression. At one school, however, verbal and relational experiences tended to be associated with feelings of alienation; at the other, depressive experiences were most associated with relational and physical victimization.

While Berntson’s study neither proves nor disproves popular representations of increasingly violent and out of control teenagers, he has provided a thoughtprovoking  piece of research that suggests that the issue is more complex than usually reported, and provides a valuable foundation for further study.

Berntson, Ron. (2003). Peer Victimization Experiences in High School. Saskatoon: Community-University Institute for Social Research.