Text: Dian Liu
School bullying has haunted nearly all contexts and gained rising scholarly attention during the past decades. The prevalence of bullying has been examined globally. A recent international study revealed that in all surveyed 40 countries, 10.7% of participating adolescents have acted as bullies, 12.6% as victims, and 3.6% combined bully/victims during a 2 month periode (Craig et al., 2009). In an empirical study conducted in Greece, 26.4% of the 5,614 participating students have experienced bullying at least once every month, and 4.1% involved in weekly bullying (Magklara et al., 2012). A higher prevalence was found in another study, where almost half of the participants were bullying involvers. What’s more, students in secondary schools were more likely to experience bullying than younger students (Psalti, 2012). In North Ireland, according to a 2003 survey involving 7223 teenagers, almost one-fifth of the respondents self-reported being victims, and nearly one tenth acted as bullies on campus. These bullying behaviors most frequently took place during school meals and sporting activities (McGuckin et al., 2009).
Researchers have also examined bullying prevalence among ethnic groups. In Sweden, students of foreign backgrounds were proved to have greater possibility to be bullies or victims or both; 25.2% students reported bullying involvement in the study (Carlerby et al., 2013). Finnish scholars surveyed 364 internationally adopted children, found that 8% of the participants had bullied others while 19.8% were bullied (Raaska et al., 2012). However, a study conducted in Holland suggested that ethnicity did not necessarily link to higher bullying involvement. Even though pupils of Turkish and Moroccan origins bullied more than native Dutch students, the odds of victimization did not correlate to ethnic background (Tolsma et al., 2013).
In America, 50% of the respondents in a 1229-student-survey experienced bullying at least once on campus. Half of the victims would fight back while one fifth would do nothing. A majority of bystanders would try to stop the bullying while 16% would do nothing and another 20% would join in. Even though most students perceived bullying negatively, 42% of them had bullied others at school (Brown et al., 2005). Data from a more recent national survey revealed that 13% of participants were bullies, 15% were victims, and another 13% were bully/victims (Lovegrove et al., 2012). The prevalence among disabled students was even higher, with 24.5% prevalence rate in elementary school and 34.1% in middle school, exceeding those for normal students (Blake et al., 2012).
Based on a nationally representative data involving 25,000 adolescents in 15 Latin American and Caribbean countries, researchers indicated that the victim population took up 17% to 39% of the sampling students. Girls were more likely to involve in appearance-based bullying, while boys were commonly engaged in physical aggression (McClanahan et al., 2015). In Brazil, 7.6% of the 2355 sampling students acted as bullies, 5.7% as victims, and 9.6% as bully/victims. What’s more, nearly one fourth (22.9%) of the sample reported frequent bullying involvement (Isolan et al., 2013).
Chinese researchers, using a 8,342-student survey, showed that more than one fifth (20.83%) of students were involved in bullying, with 8.6% bullies, 18.99% victims, and 6.74% bully/victims (Wang et al., 2012). A recent survey investigation conducted in Taiwan showed that the self-reported prevalence rates of bullies, victims, and bully/victims were 10.9%, 10.7% and 5.5% respectively, while the bystanders took up 29.9% of the participants (Chen & Cheng, 2013).
Different kinds of bullying
Besides investigating the prevalence of bullying, much ink has been spilled over the forms of bullying behaviors among adolescents. Among the traditional bullying forms, researchers found that verbal bullying was the most popular victimization, followed by group rejection (Khamis, 2015). The popularity of verbal bullying was shared by Greek and Spanish secondary school students as well. Examining the bullying involvement among 1500 Spanish students, researchers found that verbal abuse was the most commonly used abusive behavior (Fernández et al., 2013). Additionally, Greek students also frequently experienced social exclusion and sexual harassment on campus (Bibou-Nakou et al., 2014). Among Australian adolescents, the most frequent bullying and victimization forms were verbal, indirect and physical, even though other extreme bullying forms were low in the context (Owens et al., 2014). Notably, boys were found to be more frequently involved in almost all types of bullying than girls (Habashy Hussein, 2013; Robson & Witenberg, 2013; Wang et al., 2012) except for gossiping (Fernández et al., 2013).
The rising use of mobile phones and internet has provided avenues of new bullying forms. Two online survey data showed that the prevalence rate of being bullied in person among 2400 6-17-year-old was 25%, while 10% of them were bullied online, 7% through landline, and another 8% via texting (Ybarra et al., 2012). Researchers compared the differences between the two bullying forms, getting that the roles of students in traditional bullying predict their roles in electronic bullying (Raskauskas & Stoltz, 2007). Technology accessing could be protective to victims under certain circumstances. For example, non heterosexual university students were at higher risk of being bullied in traditional bullying, however they experienced similar bullying levels as their heterosexual counterparts (Wensley & Campbell, 2012).
Cyberbullying as a new bullying form has been widely studied in recent years. Taiwan researchers analyzed the relationship between school bullying and cyberbullying, getting that those cyberbullying involvers were more likely to be bullies or victims in school bullying as well. And the odds of cyberbullying involvement would increase with students’ internet risk behaviors (Chang et al., 2013). American researchers also illustrated that cyber bullies could be categorized to the aggressive adolescent group, who are prone to bully others in various forms (Wang et al., 2012). In the Jerusalem Hebrew and Arab educational system, researchers found that the prevalence rate of traditionally bullying was much higher than that of cyberbyllying (28% versus 8.9% as bullies, and 44.9% versus 14.4% as victims) (Gofin & Avitzour, 2012). What’s more, both cyberbullying and school bullying associated with mental depression. Victims of both forms held negative view towards school, and suffered severe psychic problems. More specifically, traditional victims reported helplessness and internet victims reported loneliness (Gofin & Avitzour, 2012). Researchers also indicated that cyber victims were at highest risk of depression than other cyber bullying involvers (Wang et al., 2011).
The understanding of bullying as a phenomenon
Much attention has been paid to examine the social-emotional characters of bullying involvers. Researchers found that in Greece, bullying and victimization in both genders associated with lack of faith in human nature, manipulation, dishonesty and distrust, Machiavellianism and self-efficacy measures (Andreou, 2004). Swiss researchers claimed that bully/victims appeared to be less cooperative and sociable; they were also more likely to have fewer playmates than their classmates (Perren & Alsaker, 2006).
A list of bullying predictors has been demonstrated. Hong Kong researchers indicated that gains of security, power, material benefits, fun and emotional release all contributed to the initiation of the bullies (Lam & Liu, 2007). Japanese scholars suggested that the irregular sleep pattern and nocturnal cell phone use added to the odds of bullying involvement of adolescents (Tochigi et al., 2012). Macanese students’ registration in boarding schools, as well as their living arrangement, was found to be significantly associated with their risky behaviors (Chui & Chan, 2014). In Turkey, the likelihood of being bullies increased with higher locus of control, less supervision, growing age, and the male gender, while being a victim was influenced by loneliness and lower acceptance (Atik & Güneri, 2013). In North America, bullying increased with perceived discrimination (Melander et al., 2013). A comparative study conducted in the US and Australia displayed the correlation of campus violence with early alcohol use and antisocial peer involvement (Herrenkohl et al., 2012). South Korean scholars stressed the influence of individual traits in school bullying and revealed that parental involvement would affect students’ bullying through influencing school climate (Lee & Song, 2012). A review on parenting behavior and bullying involvement also disclosed the association between negative parenting style and the likelihood of being victims and bully/victims (Lereya et al., 2013). Surveying 187 adolescents in Portugal, researchers found that student endorsements of personal just world predicted the non-engagement in bullying (Correia & Dalbert, 2008). Scottish scholars found that quality of school life and school stress were most significant variables predicting bullying involvement (Karatzias et al., 2002). Similar findings were obtained in Malta as well, where school bullying involvement not only correlated to students’ mental health, but also school environments (Askell-Williams et al., 2013).
Bullying for sure brings considerable negative outcomes for the involvers. Data collected from 7 countries in an international study indicated that bullying brought severe social and emotional consequences to victims (Eslea et al., 2003).Northern England students with multiple roles (victim, bully and bystander) suffered most heavily psychological distress and were inclined to commit suicide (Rivers & Noret, 2010). Researchers further indicated in a more recent study that both adolescent bullies and victims appeared to have subsequent suicidal thoughts (Heikkilä et al., 2013). They also were at high risk of depression (Liu et al., 2011). Greek scholars found that psychiatric morbidity correlated to all bullying behaviors (Magklara, et al., 2012). Turkish researchers found that involvers had more negative perceptions towards schools, teachers, and their peers both on campus and cyberspace (Bayar & Uçanok, 2012),and it is not surprising that victims were proved to have lower academic motivation as well as educational performance (Young-Jones et al., 2014).
Among those involved in bullying, the bully-victims constitute the most distinct group. Using the survey covering 24,345 students from 105 schools of various levels and types in America, it is found that bully-victims tended to display internalizing symptoms, encounter peer problems, and hold negative perceptions of school climate (O'Brennan et al., 2009). They were also most likely to feel unsafe and be disconnected from school (Bradshaw et al., 2008). Israeli researchers revealed that bully-victims felt lowest security and teacher support (Berkowitz & Benbenishty, 2012). Using meta-analysis covering 1,622 studies since 1970, American researchers summarized that bully victims were those who have comorbid externalizing and internalizing problems, viewing their surroundings and themselves negatively, and performing poorly in social life as well as in the academic sphere. They were also isolated and negatively influenced by peers (Cook et al., 2010).
Anti-bullying work in different nations
Given the negative outcomes for those involved in bullying, bullying intervention and prevention has become an urgent concern in current bullying research. It has been agreed that counter-bullying is a multiple-stage and multiple-involver collaborative work. Cyprus researchers suggested the significance of constructing excellent classroom learning environment and positive school evaluation to reduce bullying (Kyriakides & Creemers, 2012). Therapeutic treatment was also proposed to be included in an effective anti-bullying project together with family involvement and school intervention (Hilton et al., 2010). Parental participation has been further stressed because parents’ historical bullying involvement was found to influence their concern, views, and also strategies during bullying encountering and addressing (Cooper & Nickerson, 2013). In terms of time of intervention, researchers suggested that it is critical to intervene at an early stage, before the end of primary school, based on the longitudinal investigation on bully-victim pathways of the pupils in Australia (Lester et al., 2012).
Teachers’ perceptions towards bullying have been analyzed as well. Teachers reflected that having serious conversation with bullies was most commonly used as an intervention strategy (Duy, 2013). Another work, however, suggested the most helpful addressing strategies would be inviting parental involvement, and notifying students on the bullying consequences (Stauffer et al., 2012). American scholars investigated teachers’ expectations and self-efficacy for working with bullying, finding that the perceived principal support significantly affected teachers’ beliefs in their work (Skinner et al., 2014). Additionally, the school commitment to bullying prevention was found to associate with less bullying, suggesting increased administrative assistance in bullying addressing (Espelage, Polanin, & Low, 2014).
Numerous anti-bullying programs have emerged. In America, the Bullying and Harassment Prevention in Positive Behavior Support: Expect Respect intervention program was implemented in middle schools to prepare students with a 31-hour lesson over 6 months to stop bullying and ask for social support when encountering or witnessing bullying. Consequently, verbal and physical aggression in canteens were observed to decrease in all surveyed schools (Nese et al., 2014). A similar program entitled Student Success through Prevention Middle School Program was also found to have substantial intervention effect (Espelage et al., 2013). The KiVa program in Finland has been found to reduce bullying and victimization, as well as the accompanied anxiety and depression among students (Salmivalli et al., 2013). The PATHS Program (Positive Adolescent Training through Holistic Social Programs) in Hong Kong was designed to strengthen the intra-psychic qualities of students, so that they could act as constructive bystanders during bullying (Tsang et al., 2011). However the effect of the intervention has yet to be agreed.
American researchers argued that the zero-tolerance policies following the punitive approach have been harmful and stigmatizing, being ineffective in reducing bullying despite the increase of anti-bullying legislation (Borgwald & Theixos, 2013). Meta analysis conclusions revealed the limited success of the whole-school intervention (Richard et al., 2012). It is found that even though victims frequently seek social support and externalizing, these strategies failed to solve their problems during bullying (Tenenbaum et al., 2011).
Additionally, the characters and consequences of bullying has not yet been fully recognized and understood, bringing substantial inefficiency in practical bullying intervention and prevention. For example, educators in South Africa regarded bullying as an individual problem and sought for resolution merely between bullies and victims (de Wet & Jacobs, 2013). Principals in American elementary schools, although they noticed the prevalence of bullying among students especially those with disabilities, turned to see bullying as just a minor problem on campus (Flynt & Morton, 2008). More and worse, in Italy, the perceived teacher unfairness was found to be associated with students’ bullying involvement (Santinello et al., 2011). These inefficiencies call for deeper exploration in bullying investigation and closer alignment and communication between bullying researchers and school-administrators/teachers/counselors.
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