Adolescents' Perception of Bullying: Who Is the Victim? Who Is the Bully? What Can Be Done to Stop Bullying?

By Frisen, Ann; Jonsson, Anna-karin et al. | Adolescence, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Adolescents' Perception of Bullying: Who Is the Victim? Who Is the Bully? What Can Be Done to Stop Bullying?


Frisen, Ann, Jonsson, Anna-karin, Persson, Camilla, Adolescence


One of the most distressing experiences for a child or adolescent is being bullied, especially when it occurs over a prolonged period of time (Whitney, Nabuzoka, & Smith, 1992). Bullying, however, is a relatively common problem among children and adolescents. Approximately 15% of Swedish schoolchildren are involved either as victims or bullies (Olweus 1993), and even a greater number are involved if assistants to the bully or defenders of the victim are included (Salmivalli, 1999).

Several researchers have found that boys are more often involved in bullying than girls, both as bullies and victims (Farrington, 1993; Olweus, 1994). However, although boys engage in more physical aggression and bullying, the sex difference is less pronounced for verbal bullying and is sometimes the reverse for indirect bullying (Smith, 2004).

School-based surveys of reports of being bullied reveal a fairly steady downward trend through ages 8 to 16 (Smith, Madsen, & Moody, 1999). One reason may be that older students of high school age often bully the younger students (Smith, 2004). Accordingly, Olweus (1994) found that more than 50% of bullied children in the lowest grades (8- and 9-year-olds) reported that older students bullied them.

Although bullying has been widely investigated, it appears that adults are aware of only a small amount of the bullying behavior 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 behavior that should be regarded as bullying (Boulton, Bucci, & Hawker, 1999). Thus, there is a need for studies of students' views about the mechanisms involved in bullying. 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 about who gets bullied were discussed (Erling & Hwang, 2004). The most common characteristic noted was that children who are bullied 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 both sexes considered themselves to be less attractive than others. In another Finnish study the bullied 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 about adolescents' views of who gets bullied.

There is agreement that bullying 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 bullying as a means of achieving power and influence in a tough peer environment (Olweus, 1999). However, an area of dispute is whether bullies 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 those who are both bullies and victims (bully-victims) (Seals & Young, 2003). Others have found bully-victims to be those with the lowest self-esteem (O'Moore & Kirkham, 2001). Boulton and Underwood (1992) asked the children in their interview study: "What makes bullies pick on other children?" They found that the most common response by bullies was that the victim provoked them. Most victims indicated that it was because they were smaller or weaker than the bully or did not fight back.

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