Adolescents who feel personally empowered are less likely to bully, harass or commit acts of sexual violence, according to a study. The research, published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, also found that teens who think their friends support violence prevention and healthy relationships are less likely to mistreat their peers.
"Coping mechanisms that help adolescents thrive and do well, even in the face of stress and adversity, are important to preventing interpersonal violence," said study lead author Victoria Banyard, a professor at Rutgers University in the US. "This is an important finding, as studies of bullying typically examine risk factors rather than protective factors," Banyard said.
The findings suggest that bullying, harassment and sexual violence can be reduced when adolescents learn to cope with stress. Such behaviour can also be reduced when they build community connections, engage with individuals from diverse backgrounds and feel empowered and able to build a positive future, the researchers said.
Adults can help young people develop these strengths, said Banyard. "Positive conversations with teens about healthy relationships support the positive social norms we know are important," he said.
Adolescence is a high-risk age for perpetration of different forms of peer-based violence including in-person and online bullying, harassment, racial bullying, and unwanted sexual contact, the researchers explained. The team surveyed 2,232 middle and high school students online during the school year by seeking their level of agreement or disagreement with different statements.
They were asked about bullying and harassment, alcohol use, positive social norms related to violence prevention, and a combination of interpersonal strengths. The teens were surveyed again six months later.