Being the victim of aggression confers risk for myriad health and adjustment problems for the child, but may also cause emotional distress for that child?s parents. The current study seeks to expand the understanding of peer victimization by considering the role of parents. This R15 application requests funding to examine factors that may attenuate the negative effects of peer victimization on child health and adjustment with a specific focus on how parents influence these factors. The first specific aim of this investigation is to explore how children?s experiences of peer victimization affect parental health and adjustment as well as potential moderators of this relationship (e.g., parental recollections of peer experiences). The second specific aim of is to identify processes within the parent-child relationship (e.g., co-rumination, parental criticism) that may exacerbate the effects of peer victimization on child and parental health and adjustment. One innovative feature of this study is the application of observational methodology to examine parent- child communication regarding difficult peer experiences allowing assessment of parental coaching. This investigation is one of the first to conduct an in-depth analysis targeting how parents help to guide early adolescents through difficult peer experiences. Children will be asked to discuss with their parent both a recent, difficult peer experience and hypothetical vignettes featuring different forms of victimization. Parental framing, coaching, and co-rumination will be assessed from these interactions. Undergraduate research assistants will help conduct the research visits as well as assist with coding of parent-child interactions. In a second innovative feature of this study, as part of the observational assessment, parents and children will be observed playing a game of Cyberball, a virtual ball toss game that simulates social exclusion by peers, with their parents providing coaching and guidance during the game. These Cyberball sessions and a subsequent conversation about the game will be recorded to examine parental guidance during and following the game. This study is the first known investigation to apply the Cyberball paradigm to parent-child dyads and can provide meaningful insight into how parents respond when their child is experiencing social exclusion, a common form of social victimization. This plan of research will be helpful in developing models for understanding peer victimization and health by considering the crucial role of the parent. Identifying factors that buffer against the negative effects of victimization on child and parental health will also be useful in creating and implementing interventions. Likewise, these findings may inform practice by suggesting how parents can optimally guide their children through experiences of peer victimization.

Public Health Relevance

This research will guide prevention and intervention efforts by identifying factors that buffer against the negative effects of bullying and other forms of peer maltreatment on child and parental health and adjustment. In addition, this research will explore processes that occur within the parent-child relationship in response to peer difficulties, such as frequent co-rumination and parental criticism, which may lead to increases in child and parental health and adjustment problems. This observational study is one of the first to examine how parents and children communicate about difficult peer situations during the transition from elementary to middle school, and these results are intended to inform practice by suggesting how parents could optimally guide their children to respond to and cope with peer victimization with the goal of improved child and parental health.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Academic Research Enhancement Awards (AREA) (R15)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Esposito, Layla E
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Texas Woman's University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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