This study examined the degree to which peers can serve as a protective factor to mitigate the negative effects of exposure to violence (i.e., victimization, witnessing violence) on adolescents' physical aggression.
Four dimensions of peer influence were examined — friends' support for nonviolence, friends' support for fighting, peer pressure for fighting, and friends’ delinquent behavior. Analyses were conducted on four waves of data collected every 3 months (i.e., fall, winter, spring, summer) from a predominantly African-American (78 percent) sample of 2,575 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders attending three public middle schools in the United States. The sample was 52 percent female, with a mean age of 12.3 years (SD = 1.00). Findings for relations with victimization differed by sex. For boys, low levels of friends' delinquent behavior attenuated the relation between victimization and changes in physical aggression across all three waves. The protective effect of low levels of peer pressure for fighting was only evident in the winter for boys; whereas, the protective effect of friends' support for nonviolence was only evident in the summer. For girls, high levels of friends’ support for nonviolence attenuated the relation between victimization in the winter and changes in physical aggression in the spring. In contrast, none of the peer factors moderated the relation between witnessing violence and physical aggression. These findings suggest that prevention and interventions that increase positive peer influences and decrease negative peer influences may benefit adolescents by reducing risks associated with victimization. (publisher abstract modified)