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«ABSTRACT The main aim of this study was to describe adolescents' perceptions and experiences of bullying: their thoughts about why children and ...»

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Ann Frisen, Anna-karin Jonsson, and Camilla Persson


The main aim of this study was to describe adolescents' perceptions and

experiences of bullying: their thoughts about why children and adolescents are bullied, their ideas about why some bully others, and what they believe is important in order to stop buUjn^ng. The adolescents were asked about experi- ences throughout their school years. The study group was comprised of 119 high school students, with a mean age of 17.1 iSD = 1.2). Of the adolescents who reported, 39% indicated that they had been bullied at some time during their school years and 28% said that they had bullied others; 13% reported being both victims and bullies. The ages during which most students had been bullied at school were between 7 and 9 years. Bullies reported that most of the bullying took place when they were 10 to 12 years old. The most common reason as to why individuals are bullied was that they have a different appear- ance. The participants believe that those who bully suffer from low self-esteem.

The most common response to the question "What do you think makes buUjdng stop?" was that the bully matures. The next most frequent response was that the victim stood up for himself/'herself Those who were not involved in bullying during their school years had a much stronger belief that victims can stand up for themselves than did the victims themselves.

One of the most distressing experiences for a child or adolescent is heing bullied, especially when it occurs over a prolonged period of time (Whitney, Nahuzoka, & Smith, 1992). Bullying, however, is a relatively common prohlem among children and adolescents. Approximately 15% of Swedish schoolchildren are involved either as victims or hullies (01- weus 1993), and even a greater numher are involved if assistants to the hully or defenders of the victim are included (Salmivalli, 1999).

Several researchers have found that hoys are more often involved in huUjdng than girls, hoth as hullies and victims (Farrington, 1993;

Olweus, 1994). However, although hoys engage in more physical ag- Anna-karin Johnson and Camilla Persson, Department of Psychology, Go- teborg University, Sweden.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Ann Frisen, Department of Psychol- ogy, Goteborg University, Box 500, SE-405 30 Goteborg, Sweden.

ADOLESCENCE, Vol. 42, No. 168, Winter 2007 Libra Publishers, Inc., 3089C Clairemont Dr., PMB 383, San Diego, CA 92117 gression and hullying, the sex difference is less pronounced for verhal hullying and is sometimes the reverse for indirect hullying (Smith, 2004).

School-hased surveys of reports of heing hullied reveal a fairly steady downward trend through ages 8 to 16 (Smith, Madsen, & Moody, 1999).

One reason may he that older students of high school age often hully the younger students (Smith, 2004). Accordingly, Olweus (1994) found that more than 50% of hullied children in the lowest grades (8- and 9year-olds) reported that older students hullied them.

Although hullying has heen widely investigated, it appears that adults are aware of only a small amount of the hullying hehavior found in schools. Several studies have further indicated that many students do not agree with the view of adults and researchers as the specific types of hehavior that should be regarded as hullying (Boulton, Bucci, & Hawker, 1999). Thus, there is a need for studies of students' views ahout the mechanisms involved in hullying. Such information may provide for better ways to prevent bullying and how to intervene when it occurs.

In a previous study involving 960 10-year-olds their thoughts ahout who gets bullied were discussed (Erling & Hwang, 2004). The most common characteristic noted was that children who are hullied have a different appearance. Others have also found the same pattern. When Boulton and Underwood (1992) interviewed 75 children about why they thought that other children get bullied, they found that the most common response was that victims were small, weak, and soft. In a study by Bjorkqvist, Ekman, and Lagerspetz (1982) bullied victims of hoth sexes considered themselves to be less attractive than others. In another Finnish study the hullied children had lower teacher ratings for physical strength and were also more often regarded as fat (Lagerspetz, Bjorkqvist, Berts, & King, 1982). Perry, Hodges, and Egan (2001) state accordingly that it may be premature to rule out a role of physical deviations in chronic victimization. In the present study our aim is to learn more ahout adolescents' views of who gets hullied.

There is agreement that hullying children and adolescents share many of the characteristics of generally more aggressive children and adolescents, including hot temperament, a less fortunate family background, and a view of relationships that values aggression and hullying as a means of achieving power and influence in a tough peer environment (Olweus, 1999). However, an area of dispute is whether hullies have low self-esteem. Some writers note evidence that they do (O'Moore, 2000), others indicate that they do not (Olweus, 1997), and still others that there is no difference between bullies, victims, and 750 those who are hoth bullies and victims (bully-victims) (Seals & Young, 2003). Others have found bully-victims to he those with the lowest selfesteem (O'Moore & Kirkham, 2001). Boulton and Underwood (1992) asked the children in their interview study: "What makes hullies pick on other children?" They found that the most common response hy bullies was that the victim provoked them. Most victims indicated that it was hecause they were smaller or weaker than the bully or did not fight hack. Thus, a second aim of the present study was to descrihe how adolescents perceive hullies.

A third aim was to descrihe what adolescents helieve to he important in order to stop hullying. Several anti-bullying interventions have heen developed and all schools in Sweden are required hy law to have an anti-bullying plan. What do the adolescents helieve has in fact heen effective? To our knowledge, no previous study has directly asked adolescents this question. Special areas of focus are: Who gets bullied?

Who bullies others? What is important in order to stop buUjdng? A further aim was to determine whether there are differences in the perceptions of victims, bullies, bully-victims, and uninvolved adolescents.


Participants The study group was comprised of 119 adolescents, 48 hoys and 71 girls from six classes at two high schools in Gotehorg, the second largest city in Sweden. Participants were 15 to 20 years old (M = 17.1, S = 1.2).

Psychological assessment. Since we were interested in the participants' experience of hullying during all their years at school, we asked questions about each specific age period according to the Swedish school system, which is divided into four periods: 7 to 9 years, 10 to 12 years, 13 to 15 years, and 16 to 18 years. We asked if they had been a victim of bullying or had hullied others in each age period. A definition of hulljdng was given at the heginning of the questionnaire (Olweus 1999) Three open-ended questions were posed: "According to you, why do you think individuals are hullied?" "According to you, why do some children and adolescents hully others?" and "What do you think makes bullying stop?"

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Thirty-nine percent of the students reported that they had heen hullied at some time during their school years (see Tahle 1), 20% stated that they had huUied others, and of these 13% reported heing hoth huUies and victims (bully-victims). There were no significant differences in the proportion of hoys and girls who were victims or huUies.

The age period during which most students had heen huUied was hetween 7 and 9 years (see Table 2). Few students reported heing bullied during high school (16 to 18 years). Eight of the bulUed students reported that they had been bullied during more than one school period. Three of these reported heing buUied during both the period of 7 to 9 years and the period of 10 to 12 years. Two had heen bullied during 10 to 12 and 13 to 15 years of age, and three during periods 7 to 9, 10 to 12, and 13 to 15.

Table 1 Percentage of adolescents that reported being victims of bullying, bullies or both bullies and victims (bully-victim) during their school years.

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The bullies reported that most of the bullying took place when they were 10 to 12 years old (see Table 3). Almost half of the bullies reported that they bullied others during more than one time period: six in the 7 to 9 and 10 to 12 periods, four in both the 10 to 12 and 13 to 15 periods, three during 7 to 9, 10 to 12, and 13 to 15 periods, and one during all periods.

Of the 15 students who were bully-victims, 10 had been bullied during an earlier time period than the time they bullied others, 4 were bullies and victims during the same period, and only one bullied others before being a victim of bulljdng.

Who gets bullied? Tbe adolescents' answers to the question "Why do you think children and adolescents are bullied?" were coded into five categories. Each student could include several statements in bis or her definition. The categories were: (1) Victim's appearance, example: thin, fat, ugly; (2) victim's behavior, example: behaves strangely, talks witb

different dialect, shy, insecure; (3) Characteristics of bullies, example:

bullies think they are cool, bullies want to feel superior, bullies want to show tbat they have power; (4) Social background, example: different culture, religion, economic situation. (5) Other, example: bad luck, tbe victim has no friends, tbe victim bullies otbers.

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As sbown in Table 4, tbe most common response of tbe adolescents as to wby individuals are bullied was tbat tbey bave a different appearance; tbis was irrespective of wbetber tbe individuals were victims of bullying, bullied otbers, were bully-victims or were uninvolved in bullying. Tbe next most frequent response by tbe total group was related to tbe bullied individuals' bebavior. Tbe third most frequent response by tbe total group was cbaracteristics of bullies; 12% of tbe victims' answers were in tbis category but none of tbe bullies gave tbis answer to tbe question.

Why do some children and adoleseents bully others? Tbe adoleslcents' answers to tbe question "Wby do some cbildren and adolescents bully otbers?" were coded into nine categories. Eacb student could include several statements in bis or ber definition. Tbe categories were: (1) The bully bas problems, example: tbe bully bas psychological problems, tbe bully bas family problems; (2) Tbe bully bas low self-esteem, example: tbe bully is mean to otbers in order to feel better; (3) Tbe bully feels cool, example: tbe bully tbinks be or sbe is better tban otbers, tbe bully wants to impress otbers; (4) Tbe bully is jealous of tbe victim, example: tbe bully envies tbe victim in some way; (5) Lack of respect, example: tbe bully lacks respect for otber people; (6) Tbe bully is annoyed witb tbe victim, example: tbe bully is annoyed witb tbe victim's 754 Table 4.

Percentage of adolescents who used the different categories in their answers to the question: "Why do you think children are bullied?". Each adolescent could include several statements in his or her definition.

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appearance or behavior; (7) The bully is also a victim, example: the bully is a victim of bullying and wants to give back; (8) Peer pressure, example: if someone dislikes a person, perbaps be or sbe can make otbers dislike that person as well; (9) Otber, example: tbe bully is afraid tbat be/sbe would be bullied, there is no reason.

As sbown in Table 5, a recurrent answer as to wby some adolescents bully otbers was tbat tbe bully suffers from low self-esteem. Tbe next most frequent response was related to tbe bully feeling cool. Tbe category "Tbe bully bas problems" was coded for 15% of tbe statements in tbe total group. However, as many as 23% of tbe victims and only 4% of tbe bullies gave answers tbat were coded into tbis category: x^d) = 4.32, p.05.

What makes bullying stop'? Tbe adolescents' answers to tbe question "What do you tbink makes bullying stop?" were coded into nine catego

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Percentage of adolescents who used the different categories in their answers to the question: "Why do some children and adolescents bully others?". Each adolescent could include several statements in his or her definition.

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Ties. Each student could include several statements in his or her definition. The categories were: (1) The victim changes class or school, example: the victim moves; (2) The victim stands up for himself/herself, example: the victim becomes psychologically stronger, is fed up and dares to stand up for himself/herself; (3) The victim stops being different from otbers, example: tbe victim gets tbe rigbt clotbes, tbe victim loses weigbt; (4) Tbe bully matures, example: tbe bully gets older; (5) Tbe bully becomes tired of bullying, example: tbe bully finds otber victims: (6) Tbe bully feels a sense of guilt, example: tbe bully realizes tbat it is wrong to bully otbers and feels badly; (7) Adults intervene, example: tbe scbool, teacbers or otbers intervene; (8) Tbe victim gets revenge; (9) Otber, example: tbe victim does not care anymore, tbe victim makes new friends.

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