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Are some children more likely to be bullied than others?

A number of large studies carried out in Norway and Sweden since the 1970s, have identified certain characteristics of victims which, it is said, make it more likely that they will be bullied. Typically victims suffer from anxiety and low self-esteem. They will also tend to be quiet and sensitive. When aggressively challenged, they will often burst into tears (especially those in the lower grades). They often have few, if any, friends. They usually have a negative view of themselves, feeling they are unattractive and incapable. Boy victims also tend to be physically weaker than their male peers. Interviews with the parents of boy victims revealed that these boys had been sensitive and cautious from an early age. The studies also identified another, less common type of victim. This is one who is both anxious and aggressive, and who may have problems with concentration. Their behaviour may cause tension and hostility in the class. In this article the important point is made that while these characteristics may increase the chances of being bullied and may even be a direct cause, they may also be the result of bullying, which can cause for example, high anxiety levels and low self-esteem.
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Article details

D Olweus (1999) 'Sweden', in P K Smith and others (editors) 'The Nature of School Bullying: a cross-national perspective', London: Routledge. Click the book graphic to buy this book online.
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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.

According to a 1989 Scottish study of bullying, it seemed that children living with their father only or with someone other than their parents, could be more likely to be victims of bullying. Only children were slightly less likely to be bullied and children with two siblings were least likely. Social class did not seem to make a child more or less likely to be bullied, although children of parents with professional and managerial jobs were less likely and those with parents who were skilled manual workers were more likely.
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Comment

The small numbers in this study mean that these findings are very tentative. It may well be that families can have an influence on the likelihood of a child becoming a victim or a bully, but the quality of parenting may be more important than the number of parents or siblings a child has.
(Andrew Mellor)
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Article details

A Mellor (1997) 'Bullying in Scottish Secondary Schools', SCRE Spotlight Number, 23. Available from the Anti-bullying Network and to download online here.
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Author details

Andrew MellorAt the time of the study, Andrew Mellor was a practising teacher who had received funding from the Scottish Education Department to carry out this project. He has been actively involved in anti-bullying work in Scotland for almost 15 years, speaking at conferences, writing for academic and non-academic audiences and running in-service courses for teachers. He is now manager of the Anti-Bullying Network, which is funded by the Scottish Executive and based at The University of Edinburgh.

This Australian study (Slee and Rigby 1993) involved 87 boys from primary school. It found that personality played a big part in being bullied. In particular, a strong link was found between being bullied and being quiet and shy (introverted). It is pointed out here that an introverted child might well feel uncomfortable in a group. As a result he/she might prefer to spend time alone. It is suggested that this 'staying apart' might also increase the chances of being bullied. In addition to the link between being bullied and introversion, this study also found a strong link with low self-esteem. What was surprising, was that the anxiety levels of the victims in this study were not found to be significantly higher than those of the other children (bullies and others).
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Article details

P Slee and K Rigby (1993) 'The Relationship of Eysenck's Personality Factors and Self-esteem to Bully-Victim Behaviour in Australian Schoolboys' in 'Personality and Individual Differences', Volume 14, Number 2, pp 371-373.
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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.

When, in the 1990s, children in 25 secondary schools in England were asked why some children are bullied, various reasons were given. According to their answers, the most common reason was relationship problems (63% felt this led to bullying). Although home and family background did not come out as a main issue, the way children dress was given as a cause for bullying by 17% of older children. Other reasons included failure to conform to peer pressure, race and religion and also gender. The ability (academic and sporting) of a child could also attract negative comment or worse. Simply being different in some way (such as the way you look) was regarded by some as reason enough to bully.
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Article details

D Glover, G Gough, M Johnstone and N Cartwright (2000) 'Bullying in 25 Secondary Schools: incidence, impact and intervention', in 'Educational Research', Volume 42, Number 2, Summer.

An American study suggested that a child's friendships can affect the possibility of being bullied. If a child is already vulnerable (for example cries easily, is anxious, has low self-esteem, or is physically weak) or is both anxious and aggressive and annoys others, it is likely that bullying will occur if she/he only has a few friends, or has friends who are unable to offer protection. Bullying would also be likely if the vulnerable or the anxious/aggressive child was not accepted by his/her peers. However, if the vulnerable child had more friends, had friends who could defend her/him or was better liked by peers, the chances of being bullied would be less.
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Article details

E V E Hodges, M J Malone and D G Perry (1997) 'Individual Risk and Social Risk as Interacting Determinants of Victimization in the Peer Group', in 'Developmental Psychology', Volume 33, Issue 6.
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