School as a safe space: Understanding socio-emotional development of adolescents in school with experience of family violence through peer dynamics
Autorin: Céline Anne Favre
Gutachtende: Prof. Dr. Wassilis Kassis (PH FHNW), Prof. Dr. Elena Makarova (Universität Basel), Prof. Dr. Roger Keller (PH Zürich)
Projektdauer: HS2020 - FS2024
Adolescence, which is characterized by profound changes, is a crucial period for socio-emotional development. Peer influence increases during this stage and plays a crucial role in shaping social growth (Brown & Larson, 2009). While socio-emotional development takes place both at home and at school, family violence can disrupt this process and lead to a range of negative consequences in adolescents (Evans et al., 2008; Kitzmann et al., 2003). In Switzerland, a significant percentage of adolescents experience physical abuse at home and witness psychological violence in their families (Enzmann et al., 2018; Finkelhor et al., 2015).
This cumulative dissertation examines socio-emotional outcomes of Swiss adolescents confronted with family violence and focuses on the impact of the school environment and peer dynamics. Approximately 20% of Swiss adolescents are affected by severe physical abuse, while 25-60% experience intense psychological violence between parents (Enzmann et al., 2018; Finkelhor et al., 2015). Some adolescents who are described as resilient to violence manage to develop successfully despite these traumatic experiences (Kassis et al., 2022). However, as highlighted by Ungar (2012) and Masten (2014), resilience requires a socio-economic perspective and adaptability across different systems.
The dissertation comprises four papers using person-centered cross-sectional and longitudinal finite mixture models as well as a longitudinal social network analyses. In the first paper, peer status patterns within school classes are examined and linked to internalizing symptoms and social identities. The second and third papers analyze longitudinal patterns and trajectories associated with witnessing interparental psychological violence and identify predictors and protective factors. The fourth article looks at the effects of rejection networks on the development of aggression, particularly in adolescents with a history of family violence.
The results suggest that peer dynamics play a central role in the development of violence-resilience, with peer rejection proving to be a significant indicator in adolescents with a history of family violence. Rejection can contribute to further psychopathological symptoms and hinder normative development. Promoting positive peer interactions and reducing rejection are critical to creating a safe school environment, especially given the prevalence of severe abuse in Swiss schools.
This dissertation highlights the importance of a resilient and adaptive school environment to meet the evolving needs of potentially traumatized students. Interventions at the individual, peer group and organizational levels are essential to transform schools into safe spaces.