Telling an adult at school about bullying: Subsequent victimization and internalizing problems

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Journal of Child and Family Studies




School of Medical and Health Sciences




Shaw, T., Campbell, M. A., Eastham, J., Runions, K. C., Salmivalli, C., & Cross, D. (2019). Telling an adult at school about bullying: subsequent victimization and internalizing problems. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 28(9), 2594-2605. Available here


Objectives: Bullied students are at increased risk of internalizing problems. Many school bullying-prevention programs encourage targets of bullying to seek help from an adult at school. However, few students report victimization to school staff, and reports do not always result in positive outcomes for the victimized student. This study aimed to understand factors associated with students telling an adult at school about experienced victimization, and victimization and internalizing problems a year after taking this action. Methods: Students in Grade 7–9 (mean age 13 years) in 12 schools completed online surveys in 2015 (T1). Data from the victimized students (n = 316) were analyzed to determine factors associated with speaking with school staff about their experience. The Grade 7–8 students were surveyed again in 2016 (T2) and matched data on 101 students victimized at T1 used to compare the longer-term internalizing problems and victimization outcomes for students who spoke with staff. Results: Victimization status and level of internalizing problems at T2 of students bullied at T1 were associated with telling an adult at T1, and these associations were moderated by severity of T1 victimization. For students more severely victimized at T1, speaking with a staff member was associated with increased odds of continued victimization at T2, but fewer internalizing problems when compared to those who did not tell. Conclusions: To prevent persistent victimization, schools and teachers need to be better equipped to respond effectively when a student first becomes a target of bullying, and discourage ongoing perpetrator behavior.



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