School peer violence and entering adulthood: reconstructing and evaluating the meaning of bullying in the process of transition

BULTRA (bullying & transitions)

About the project:

Psychologists involved in interventions in the school environments of adolescents (Salmivalli 2010; Wójcik, Hełka 2019) bring attention to  the long-term effects of bullying. This specifically emerges from research with adults who experienced bullying, either as  abusers or witnesses (Tholander 2019). Correspondingly, sociologists point to changing objective (social) and subjective (psychological / individual) determinants of becoming adults in the modern world (cf. Marianowska 2013) and emphasize the significant impact of experiences in early youth (i.e. school period) on the subsequent course of transitions to adulthood (Włodarczyk, Wójcik 2019). The BULTRA project seeks to bring together theses two research streams.  The above is vital also because numerous studies conducted across different countries and in diverse environments, have shown that the mental health of adolescents experiencing bullying is significantly worse than what their non-victims peers report. These consequences were also revealed in longitudinal studies, where experiencing bullying during adolescence affected the respondents’ mental state in adulthood (Vassallo, Sanson, Olsson, 2014). Retrospective interviews with adult victims of serious harassment carried out by Smith (1991) illustrate the devastating effects of trauma on the processes of entering and maintaining intimate relationships.. Existing studies also point to the difficulty of adapting to family and professional roles at subsequent stages of the life cycle (Delaram 2019; Thörnberg 2011; Wolke, Lereya 2015).

Thus far, research in Poland has not directly focused on young adults in connection to reflecting on the importance of peer relationships from the past as regards  current well-being. Studying the long-term impact of peer violence is necessary to understand entering adulthood as a process that is both structural and individual, shaped by socialization (in family, peer group and school; Arnett 1995, Sarnowska 2019), personal dispositions (psychological characteristics) and experiences. This approach makes it possible to take a look at the issue of bullying as a complex phenomenon that requires interdisciplinary approaches.

The project aims to understand the importance of school bullying (participation in it as a victim, perpetrator or witness) on the transitional processes related to entering adulthood. We want to investigate to what extent post-bullying syndrome (DeLara 2012; 2019) and broader bullying experiences affect present biographies of young people in the fields of education, the labor market, personal / family life, and mobility decisions. When examining the process of becoming an adult (Arnett 2000), we will consider both social markers of adulthood, i.e. completing education, starting work, moving out of the family home, getting married or having a child, see Settersen 2011) and their redefinitions in a risk society (Beck 2002; Giddens 2010). This will allow us to capture the impact of the experience of school bullying on a so-called hybrid model of entering adulthood (Wiszejko-Wierzbicka, Kwiatkowska 2018). In other words, we discuss combining the traditional model of adulthood with the young people’s freedom of choosing a life-style against the backdrop of bullying experiences.

The BULTRA project is conducted by the Youth Research Center at the SWPS University in 2020-2021. The project is financed under a programme for interdisciplinary projects of the Vice-Rector for Research at SWPS University with subsidies from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education.


The study relies on an exploratory, qualitative research into the role of school bullying experience in the process of entering adulthood. We will conduct 20 individual in-depth interviews (IDIs) with young adults (aged 19 to 35) who have experienced bullying at school Interviews will focus on a timeline – a lifeline (cf. Thomson, Holland 2002; Guenette, Marshall 2009), where the respondents will sketch events that are important for them in the area of education, work and personal / family life. This type of interviews will allow as to face the difficult topic of school bullying and check to what extent the experience of school bullying can be defined as a biographical turning point, affecting the course of transitions and the shape of trajectories over time.

Research Team:

dr Paula Pustułka
dr Małgorzata Wójcik
Dominika Winogrodzka
Maria Mondry