We prospectively tested the extent to which witnessing school violence predicts psychosocial and school adjustment in students while accounting for their prior psychosocial characteristics and peer victimization. We also explored the role of feelings of insecurity in explaining this relationship.
Questionnaires were administered to 1104 students (52% boys) from five high schools from the Montreal area (Quebec, Canada) at the beginning, middle, and end of seventh grade. Self report measures included sociodemographic characteristics, victimization, witnessing violence, feelings of insecurity, internalizing and externalizing behavior problems, and measures of engagement, achievement, and truancy as indicators of school adjustment.
Witnessing school violence was a comparatively better predictor of subsequent externalizing problems and school adjustment than actual victimization. Conversely, relative to having experienced violence as a witness, actual victimization more reliably estimated later internalizing problems. Feelings of insecurity partially explained the development of school engagement and truancy.
Our findings underscore the implications of school violence as a public health and safety issue, the consideration of witnessing as important in estimating its impact, and a comprehensive approach when developing and implementing strategies that aim to prevent this form of community violence.