Teenagers Explain Why Bullying Occurs

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If you want to better understand why bullying occurs, ask the ones who are involved—the teenagers themselves. That is exactly what a research team from Linkoping University in Sweden did, when they questioned a group of high school students about bullying.

Who is to blame, the bully or the victim?

When the researchers questioned 176 high school students ages 15 and 16 years about their own experiences with bullying, either as a bystander, a victim, and/or as the bully, 69 percent of the teens said the bully was the cause of bullying. The students felt that bullies have feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem, and that they torment people as a way to keep or boost their power, status, and popularity.

Forty-two percent of the teens blamed the victim for the bullying, saying that because these kids are “different” or “odd” they are the cause of the torment. Among the sexes, girls were more likely than boys to blame the bully rather than the victim.

Only 21 percent of the students said the cause of bullying was associated with a peer group, 7 percent named the school environment as the cause, and fewer blamed human nature or society in general as the culprits.

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A recent study released by the nonprofit Josephson Institute of Ethics, which surveyed more than 40,000 high school students, reveals that half of the students had bullied someone and that nearly half had been the victims of bullying.

In another recent study on cyber bullying among middle school age youth, the researchers found that compared with face-to-face tormenting, bullying via the Internet results in greater depression for its victims. In some cases, this form of bullying results in suicide. An October 2009 report noted that more than 13 percent of adolescents in grades 6 through 10 had been the victim or instigator of cyber bullying at least once within the last two months.

The Swedish researchers, who published their findings in the journal Child & Youth Care Forum, conclude that “Teenagers explain bullying significantly more in individualistic terms, that is, the bully or victim is to blame, than in non-individualistic terms where peers, school or society are to blame.” These findings can serve to help responsible parties design prevention and intervention strategies to reduce bullying.

The authors also noted that “Bullying prevention efforts should investigate and target teengers’ conceptions of the causes of bullying,” insight which this new study provides. Children, teenagers, parents, and other adults who want to learn more about how to prevent and deal with bullying can visit Stop Bullying Now, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, PBS Kids, and the National Crime Prevention Council.

SOURCES:
Thornberg R, Knutsen MA. Child & Youth Care Forum doi: 10.1007/s10566-010-9129-z
Wang J et al. Journal of Adolescent Health 2009 Oct; 45(4): 368-75

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