Frequent peer problems in Australian children and adolescents

Published date11 July 2016
Date11 July 2016
AuthorRenee Denham,Tara Renae McGee,Li Eriksson,John McGrath,Rosana Norman,Michael Sawyer,James Scott
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Aggression, conflict & peace
Frequent peer problems in Australian
children and adolescents
Renee Denham, Tara Renae McGee, Li Eriksson, John McGrath, Rosana Norman,
Michael Sawyer and James Scott
The authors affiliations can be
found at the end of this article.
Purpose Whilst overt bullying has received considerable attention for its negative impact on the emotional
well-being of children and adolescents, peer problems such as excessive teasing and social exclusion have
received less consideration. The purpose of this paper is to examine the prevalence, demographic, and
clinical correlates of frequent peer problems in children and adolescents who participated in the Australian
National Survey of Mental Health and Well-Being.
Design/methodology/approach Participants were a nationally representative sample of 2,107 children
(aged 6-12 years), and 1,490 adolescents (aged 13-17 years). Frequent peer problems (excessive teasing or
social exclusion) were measured by parental report for children, and self and parental report for adolescents.
Associations with a number of mental health problems were examined, including being in the clinical range for
internalising and externalising symptoms, having major depressive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder or conduct disorder, low self-esteem, experiencing suicidal ideation and behaviour, or using
marijuana and alcohol.
Findings One in 30 children and one in 20 adolescents experienced frequent peer problems. Parents less
commonly identified frequent peer problems than were self-reported by their adolescent children. Frequent
peer problems were strongly associated with all mental health problems except alcohol and marijuana use.
Originality/value Frequent peer problems are associated with a greatly increased risk of mental health
problems. Identifying those children and adolescents with frequent peer problems provides opportunity for
assessment and intervention of emotional and behavioural problems.
Keywords Children, Adolescents, Bullying, Social exclusion, Frequent peer problems, Teasing
Paper type Research paper
Positive peer interactions enable children and adolescents to learn, and to develop the resilience
and skills necessary for adult life (Ostrov and Weinberg, 2005). However, it is increasingly evident
that those who experience peer difficulties are at risk of significant social and emotional difficulties
that may persist into adulthood (Arseneault et al., 2010; Boulton and Hawker, 1997).
The bullying literature provides a framework for understanding risk factors and outcomes
associated with peer difficulties. Children and adolescents exposed to bullying may be at
increased risk of adverse health, behavioural, and social outcomes including mental health
problems, self-harm, suicidal ideation, obesity, aggression, attention problems, educational and
vocational disadvantage, and substance use (Arseneault et al., 2010; Callaghan and Joseph,
1995; Holt et al., 2015; Janssen et al., 2004; Luk et al., 2010; McGee et al., 2011; Moore et al.,
2014, 2015). Exposure to bullying is particularly prevalent among younger age groups, although
limited research has found differences across gender (Olweus, 2010). Other factors that may
Received 6 November 2015
Revised 14 February 2016
Accepted 15 March 2016
The Child and Adolescent
Component of the National Survey
of Mental Health and Well-Being
was funded by the Commonwealth
Department of Health and Aged
Care. JJM is supported by grant
APP1056929 from the John Cade
Fellowship from the National
Health and Medical Research
Council. JGS is supported by a
Clinical Practitioner Fellowship
(grant no. 1105807) from the
National Health and Medical
Research Council.
VOL. 8 NO. 3 2016, pp.162-173, © Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 1759-6599 DOI 10.1108/JACPR-11-2015-0196

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