The Moderating Role of Peer Norms in the Associations of Social Withdrawal and Aggression With Peer Victimization

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This study examined the moderating role of classroom injunctive norms salience regarding social withdrawal and regarding aggression in the longitudinal association between these behaviors and peer victimization. A total of 1,769 fourth through sixth graders (895 girls, M = 10.25 years, SD = 1.03) from 23 schools (67 classrooms) completed a peer nomination inventory in the fall (T1) and spring (T2) of the same academic year. Participants circled the name of each student who fit the description provided for social withdrawal, aggression, and peer victimization at T1 and T2. The salience of injunctive norms was sex-specific and operationalized by the extent to which children displaying the behavior were socially rewarded or sanctioned by their classmates. Generalized estimation equations (GEE) showed that the association between social withdrawal at T1 and peer victimization at T2 was moderated by injunctive norms. Social withdrawal at T1 was positively associated with peer victimization at T2 in classrooms where injunctive norms for this behavior were salient and unfavorable, as well as in classrooms where injunctive norms for aggression were salient and favorable, albeit for girls only. The association between aggression at T1 and peer victimization at T2 was also moderated by the injunctive norms regarding this behavior. Aggressive children were less likely to be victimized in classrooms where this behavior was rewarded. These results support bullying interventions that target factors related to the larger peer context, including social norms.

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