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Does age make a difference?

In 1990, over 6,000 school children in Sheffield provided information about their experience of bullying. It was found that the number of children being bullied fell sharply as they grew older. In junior/middle school, the number of children being bullied (whether frequently or less often) dropped sharply. In secondary school the numbers also fell. However, while the rate of being bullied falls with age, the rate of bullying others remains more or less the same, with a dip only in the first two and then the last year of secondary school.
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Article details

I Whitney and P Smith (1993) 'A Survey of the Nature and Extent of Bullying in Junior/Middle and Secondary Schools', in 'Educational Research', Volume 35, Number 1, Spring.
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Author details

Peter SmithProfessor Peter K Smith is Head of the Unit for School and Family Studies, Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths College, London. He has been involved in bullying research for a number of years and has published widely on this topic.

Peter Smith may be contacted by email, and the website of the Unit for School and Family Studies at Goldsmiths College may be found here.

Pupils (aged 8 to 18 years) in South Australian schools were asked about their experiences of bullying. Their answers showed an overall drop in bullying incidents as the children got older. However, the answers also suggested that there is an increase in reports of bullying in the first year of secondary school.
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Article details

K Rigby 'What Children Tell Us About Bullying in Schools.' View here or in the publication 'Children Australia' (1997) 22, 2, pp28-34. See also K Rigby (1997) 'Bullying in Schools: and what to do about it', London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers Limited.
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Author details

Ken RigbyKen Rigby is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Social Psychology and an educational consultant at the University of South Australia. He has been involved in major studies of bullying in Australia and has published widely on this topic. For more information about Dr Rigby and his work see the bullying pages here. Ken may be contacted by e-mail.

A large study of school children in Norway in the1980s found that bullying in school decreases with age. What also came out in the study was that there was less use of physical bullying in later years. Another finding was that a great amount of bullying was carried out by older students rather than pupils in the same year. Being bullied by an older student was particularly common for the youngest victims in the study (8 and 9 years old). More than half of these had been bullied by older children.
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Article details

D Olweus (1999) 'Norway', in P K Smith et al (editor) 'The Nature of School Bullying: a cross-national perspective', London: Routledge.
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Graph details

'Percentage of students in different grades who reported being bullied (being exposed to direct bullying) (n for boys = 42,390; n for girls = 40,940)' from Olweus article above, figure 2.1, page 33.


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Author details

Professor Dan Olweus was the first person to carry out a thorough research project on Professor Dan Olweusbullying. This large, long term study which began in Sweden in 1970, was to provide the inspiration for many who felt that bullying in schools should be challenged rather than accepted. Since the 1970s, his work in this area had continued with force. Indeed, in 1997-99, he led a group in a large project which introduced the widely respected Olweus (anti-bullying) programme to schools in Norway. Professor Olweus is based at the Research Centre for Health Promotion, University of Bergen in Norway and can be contacted by email.

A survey of school children in Strathclyde (in Scotland), showed differences between bullying in primary and secondary school. Twice as many primary as secondary school pupils were affected by bullying. When asked how often bullying occurred, more primary pupils reported that they were bullied often, daily and over years. Anxiety about break time was also higher in primary, with only one in two primary pupils saying they had no concern about breaks. More primary pupils also said that they had been put off their work as a result of bullying. Despite this, more primary than secondary pupils said that they were satisfied with the way their school handled bullying.
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Article details

A McLean (1997) 'Bullyproofing Our School: what do the pupils think?', Topic 2, Issue 17, National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). This article can be viewed here.
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Alan McLeanAuthor details

At the time of this study, Alan McLean was Principal Psychologist based at the Education Department Psychological Service in the former Strathclyde Regional Council. His particular interests in the area of bullying include: links between bullying and motivation; the thinking processes and self-esteem of the bully.

He can be contacted at by email.

A study of over 2,000 school children (aged 10 - 14 years) in England found that the way children react to bullying changes with age. For all of the children who had been bullied, the most common reaction was to attempt to ignore the bully. It was also found that as they grew older, children were less likely to react by crying or running away.
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Article details

P K Smith and Shu Shu (2000), 'What Good Schools Can Do About Bullying: findings from a survey in English schools after a decade of research and action', in 'Childhood', Volume 7 (2).
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Author details

Peter SmithProfessor Peter K Smith is Head of the Unit for School and Family Studies, Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths College, London. He has been involved in bullying research for a number of years and has published widely on this topic.

Peter Smith may be contacted by email, and the website of the Unit for School and Family Studies at Goldsmiths College may be found here.

An English study looked at four possible reasons why bullying seems to decrease with age. Using information from this study and earlier ones, it was suggested that two reasons in particular helped to explain this drop. The first of these two considered whether the fall in reports of bullying might be due to the fact that younger children have more older children around who might bully them. The study found that this did go some way towards explaining the drop, particularly in the primary school. According to the study, the other main reason why bullying levels decrease with age, is that the social skills of possible victims improve as they get older, and this helps them to discourage or to deal with bullying behaviour. The remaining two reasons were found to have their impact mainly at particular ages. One of the explanations was that younger children do not yet understand that bullying is wrong. However many studies found that it was not until after 15 years that reports of bullying others drops. So this explanation has little impact until the later secondary years. The other explanation was that younger children have a much broader definition of bullying, including a much wider range of aggressive behaviour. It was found that this was particularly true of children in the lower primary years.
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Article details

P K Smith, K C Madsen and J C Moody (1999), 'What Causes the Age Decline in Reports of Being Bullied at School? Towards a Developmental Analysis of Risks of Being Bullied', in 'Educational Research', Volume 41, Number 3, Winter.
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Author details

Peter SmithProfessor Peter K Smith is Head of the Unit for School and Family Studies, Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths College, London. He has been involved in bullying research for a number of years and has published widely on this topic.

Peter Smith may be contacted by email, and the website of the Unit for School and Family Studies at Goldsmiths College may be found here.
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