The prevalence of school bullying

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The prevalence of school bullying

A common practice is to describe the prevalence of bullying as the percentage of children being bullied at school, for example, in Australia a figure often given is about 15%. This is meaningless unless we indicate the time period over which the estimate is made - a day, a week, a month, a year, ever. Before estimates of prevalence can make sense we need more information.

  1. How the information was obtained. The most common - and probably the most reliable method - is the anonymous, self- administered questionnaire (see 1a)
  2. The precise wording of the questions asked and especially the period over which the respondent claims to have been bullied, eg., every day, several times a week, during the current term, etc.
  3. The age of the students answering the questionnaire
  4. The gender of the respondent
  5. The location of the place where the study was conducted
  6. The socio-economic status of the school community where the data was gathered
Before answering any questionnaire about bullying, the respondent should be clear about what constitutes bullying and the many forms it can take. A common practice is to define bullying as repeated aggression directed towards someone, and indicate that it can take different forms. It can be direct, face to face, using physical and/ or verbal means, or indirect, as in excluding people, spreading hurtful rumours or attacking someone through the use of cyber technology. It should be pointed out that it is not the same thing as fighting or quarrelling between people who are about equally powerful.

Some reported finding.
  1. Bullying is more prevalent among younger students and declines in later adolescence. However, it commonly increases when children move from a primary to a secondary school where they encounter new peers.
  2. Little difference has been found in the extent to which boys and girls are bullied at school, although the nature of the bullying tends to differ. Boys are more likely to engage in bullying than girls and to experience more physical bullying.
  3. Quite large differences have been reported between countries; for example the bullying prevalence in Lithuania was reported as 40% and Sweden, 6%. Generally, bullying is somewhat more prevalent in communities of low socioeconomic status (Due et al, 2009)
  4. Finally, although the average level of bullying (around 15% on a weekly basis) is unacceptably high, there is some evidence now that over the last 10 years or so it has been declining in most countries, but only to a small amount. (Rigby & Smith, 2011).
Due, P., Merlo, J, Harel-Fisch, Y., Damsgaard, M.T., Holstein, B. E., Hetland, J., Currie, C, Gabhainn, S. N, de Matos, M. & Gaspar, L. (2009). Socioeconomic inequality in exposure to bullying during adolescence: A comparative, cross-sectional, multilevel study in 35 countries. American Journal of Public Health, 99(5), 907-914.

Rigby, K., & Smith, P.K. (2011). Is school bullying really on the rise? Social Psychology of Education. 14, 4, 441-455