Monday, 3 August 2015

International trends in bullying

The English HBSC team collaborated on an international paper exploring the temporal trends of bullying victimization across Europe and North America. The paper entitled “Cross-national time trends in bullying victimization in 33 countries among children aged 11, 13 and 15 from 2002 – 2010” was published earlier this year as part of a supplement in the European Journal of Public Health1. The supplement focuses on international trends in young people’s health and their social determinants.

Bullying describes intentional harmful behaviours, which are carried out repeatedly against a weaker individual2. Bullying can take many forms including physical, verbal, relational and cyber (for more information on cyberbullying click here for our previous blog post).

Bullying is recognised as a health problem across Europe and North America. Studies have demonstrated that being a victim of bullying is associated with serious health consequences. Cross-national data from the HBSC study conducted in 1998 identified young people who were bullied were more likely to experience both physical (e.g. headaches and stomach aches) and psychological (e.g. feeling low and loneliness) symptoms, with a higher risk of symptoms as the frequency of bullying increased3. Moreover the consequences of bullying have been shown to persist into later life; longitudinal research has established victims of bullying were more likely to experience adverse health outcomes in adult life4. It is not just the victims of bullying who experience poor health outcomes, the bullies themselves fare worse than their peers not involved in bullying. A Finnish study found symptoms of anxiety and depression were equally as common among bullies and victims5, and bullies were most likely to engage in health risk behaviours such as excessive alcohol consumption and taking drugs6.

As bullying is a proven determinant of young people’s health and wellbeing it is important to monitor trends in bullying victimisation, and drawing on cross national comparisons allows lessons to be shared across countries.

The paper highlights that bullying is still a fairly common occurrence in the 33 countries which took part in the study. Since 2002 a third of countries have demonstrated significant downward trends in bullying for both boys and girls. Only one country (French Belgium) reported significant increasing trends in both occasional and chronic bullying. Gender differences in time trends were evident, with some countries presenting a decline in bullying for only one gender.

The paper raises important questions regarding the need for gender specific programmes to address bullying among both boys and girls, and the necessity for sustained effort in order to ensure the decline in bullying is continued across time.

For a more thorough discussion of the study’s findings read the full paper by clicking here.

  1. Chester, K. L., Callaghan, M., Cosma, A., Donnelly, P., Craige, W., Walsh, S. & Michal, M. (2015). Cross-national time trends in bullying victimization in 33 countries among children aged 11, 13 and 15 from 2002 – 2010Eur J Public Health, 25 (Suppl 2), 61-64.
  2. Olweus, D. (1993). Bullying at School: What We Know and What Can We Do. Oxford, England: Blackwell Publishers.
  3. Due, P., Holstein, B. E., Lynch, J., et al. (2005). Bullying and symptoms among school-aged children: international comparative cross sectional study in 28 countriesEur J Public Health15, 128–132.
  4. Wolke, D., Copeland, W. E., Angold, A. & Costello, E. J. (2013). Impact of bullying in childhood on adult health, wealth, crime, and social outcomesPsychological science, 24(10), 1958-1970.
  5. Kaltiala-Heino, R., Rimpela, M., Rantanen, P. & Rimpela, A. (2000). Bullying at school – an indicator of adolescents at risk for mental disordersJournal of Adolescence, 23 (6)661-674.
  6. Alikasifoglu, M., Erginoz, E., Ercan, O., Uysal, O. & Albayrak-Kaymak, D. (2007). Bullying behaviours and psychosocial health: results from a cross-sectional survey among high school students in Istanbul, TurkeyEur J Pediatr, 166, 1253-1260.