Bullying among children is on the decline in many countries, according to a review of existing data that had been collected over twelve years.
Lead researcher Michal Molcho of the National University of Ireland Galway, who recently published the findings in the International Journal of Public Health, found the results surprising. “With the media, we normally hear that there are more and more cases of bullying,” she says, but the numbers don’t support that.
To assess bullying trends, the researchers examined data collected in surveys for the Health Behaviour in School-Aged Children (HBSC) study, conducted by dozens of countries under the auspices of the World Health Organization. Survey participants were children aged 11 to 15.
The HBSC project began surveying adolescents in the 1993-1994 school year, and it repeats the survey every four years. The next one will cover the 2009-2010 school year.
Molcho compared data from 27 countries, focusing primarily on two time periods: the first school year a country participated in the HBSC studies—which was 1993-1994 for some and later for others—and the 2005-2006 school year, which was the most current data available at the time the analysis was undertaken. Molcho did not focus on interim years.
The goal of the study was to highlight the regions where the problem of bullying has increased or decreased over time. Countries in Western Europe, and most of those in Eastern Europe, showed consistent decreases. The United States also showed consistent declines.
The steepest decline was in Denmark, which saw a drop of about 73 percent in chronic bullying behavior by boys and a drop of about 83 percent for girls. The lowest decline in chronic bullying by boys and girls occurred in Scotland (6 percent and 11 percent, respectively). Scotland began in 1993-1994 with a low incidence of chronic bullying—6 percent for boys and 3 percent for girls.
England and Greece fared the worst in Molcho’s study. In Greece, chronic bullying from the 1997-1998 school year (the first time that bullying was surveyed) to the 2005-2006 study increased nearly 100 percent for boys and 121 percent for girls. For the same time period in England, chronic bullying rose 71 percent in boys and 52 percent in girls. It should be noted, however, that England began with a low incidence of chronic bullying, which was just 4 percent for boys and 3 percent for girls in the first year for which data were available.
The trends in most countries are similar for boys and girls, Molcho says. For example, in most cases, if the prevalence of boys bullying decreased, girls also decreased, and vice versa.
Molcho also notes that boys tend to be more involved in bullying than girls. Since 1997-1998, however, Ireland showed a 23 percent decrease of chronic bullying by boys and a 9 percent increase in chronic bullying by girls. Molcho says it is difficult to explain the discrepancy, because there’s not enough information on the effectiveness of the existing programs. “Sometimes prevention programs should not be similar for boys and girls,” she adds. “Sometimes they have different needs.”
In addition, the study examined the prevalence of occasional bullying and occasional victimization, which followed the same patterns as trends for chronic victimization.
The current study does not address the issue of causality. Molcho says that the next step of the research will look at what kinds of interventions, if any, were in place in each country that was surveyed and how well those bullying prevention programs were implemented.