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Maria Perez, Beth Kotchick, Ph.D., Alison Papadakis, Ph.D., Rachel Grover, Ph.D.

The Moderation Effect of Social Anxiety on the Relation between Relational Victimization and Academic Engagement

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According to the National Education Association, 160,000 children in America miss school each day due to fear of being teased or tormented by classmates. While much research has focused on the negative impact that physical victimization has on children’s development, less is known about the effects of relational victimization, particularly the effects of such victimization on academic functioning.  One aim of the current study was to examine the impact that relational victimization may have on children’s academic engagement (i.e., academic achievement, class participation, and school avoidance).

Children who are socially anxious are at greater risk for being victimized by peers (Juvonen & Graham, 2001), and social anxiety is associated with school avoidance and decreased class participation and academic achievement (Hofmann et al., 1999; Cantwell & Andrews, 2002). A second aim of this study was to examine social anxiety as a moderator of the effect of relational aggression on academic engagement. Finally, we explored whether this moderation effect might differ by gender.

The participants included 126 middle school students (66 boys, 60 girls) from the 6th – 8th grades (Mage = 12.7) that were enrolled in six parochial schools in a mid-sized Mid-Atlantic city and surrounding counties. Participants and their homeroom teachers completed questionnaires using a class administration procedure. Relational victimization was assessed using the Social Experience Questionnaire, both self (Crick & Grotpeter, 1996) and teacher (Cullerton-Sen & Crick, 2005) report versions. The Fear of Negative Evaluation subscale (FNE) from the Social Anxiety Scale for Children –Revised Version (La Greca & Stone, 1993) was used to assess social anxiety. Teachers completed the School Avoidance Subscale of the Teacher Rating Scale of School Adjustment (Birch & Ladd, 1997), a rating of the student’s average academic grade, and a measure of class participation adapted from a self-report scale (Martin, 2009).

Pearson correlations demonstrated that teacher-reported relational victimization was negatively associated with class participation and academic achievement and positively associated with school avoidance, but these associations were not significant for self-report relational victimization. The results further indicated that social anxiety was positively associated with school avoidance.

Multiple regressions analyses were used to test for the hypothesized moderation effect. The results indicated that social anxiety was a marginally significant moderator of the association between relational victimization and class participation in the opposite direction than was hypothesized, such that the negative association between relational victimization and class participation was stronger for students who reported lower levels of social anxiety.  The two-way moderation effect was not significant for academic achievement or school avoidance, and there were no three-way interactions involving gender, social anxiety, and relational victimization in the prediction of academic engagement.

These results further elucidate the negative impact that relational aggression has on children’s academic engagement, perhaps regardless of having high levels of social anxiety. The implications of these findings for intervention programs designed to identify, prevent, and ameliorate the detrimental effects of relational aggression are discussed.

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