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What do pupils do when they are bullied?

A Scottish study involving over 16,000 pupils found that a number of different ways were used by children to try to stop being bullied. According to the study the most successful way was to make up with the bullies (if they had fallen out), followed closely by making friends with them. When children were asked what they thought had helped most to stop the bullying, the top three ways (in order) were: standing up to the bully, ignoring them and showing that the bullying was not having any effect. Boys were far more likely than girls to think that hitting the bully back was the most successful approach, (in fact this was the most common answer of boys), while far more girls than boys thought that answering back worked.
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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 obtained from NFER at a cost of £3.
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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 large Scottish study looked at the health behaviour of school children. It found that when boys and girls were bullied they were most likely to try to get away, or shout to others or to wait for the bully to calm down. Boys were far more likely than girls to react by fighting, while girls were far more likely than boys to tell their parents. It was not common for children to react by telling a teacher. Sadly, over a quarter of the children did nothing about it.
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Article details

C Currie, J Todd and K Wijckmans (1993) 'Health Behaviours of Scottish School Children: report 2, family, peer, school and socio-economic influences', University of Edinburgh, Research Unit in Health and Behavioural Change.
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Author details

Candace CurrieDr Candace Currie is Director of the Child and Adolescent Health Research Unit at The University of Edinburgh. Since the mid 1980s, she has led research projects on the health of young people in Scotland. Since the late 1980s, she has been the Principal Investigator for Scotland in a major international study of the Health Behaviour of School-Aged Children (HBSC). Other research activities include her role as international co-ordinator of a cross-national study of adolescent smoking control. Dr Currie may be contacted by email.

An English study in the 1990s which looked at bullying in 25 secondary schools found that when bullied, the most common reaction of children (over 50%) was to stand up to (but not fight) the bully. The next most common reaction (37%) was to tell someone. It was found that boys were more likely than girls to fight in response to bullying, whereas girls were more likely than boys to tell a member of staff. According to their answers, children are less likely to tell as they become older and are more likely to attempt to deal with it themselves. Indeed it was found that they were twice as likely to fight in year 11 as in year 7. Almost a quarter said that they would deal with bullying by trying to avoid the place where it had occurred, while sadly, 16% said they would remain silent and do nothing.
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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.

Over 127 schools in the United States took part in a study of bullying in 1999. In answer to a question about their reaction to bullying, nearly all the children said they did something about it. Most of the children (approximately 44%) said they told an adult, approximately 34% told the bully to stop and 32% tried to get away from the bully. Others responded by telling a friend, but some reacted by staying at home and some admitted to hurting others. It was far more common for boys than girls to react by hurting others.
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Article details

D L Silvernail, A M Thompson, Z Yang and H J P Kopp (2000) 'A Survey of Bullying Behavior Among Maine Third Graders', Technical Report, Center for Educational Policy, Applied Research and Evaluation, University of Maine. Available to download here.

In 1997 over 2,000 pupils in England answered questions about bullying. It was found that in a bullying situation the most common reaction was to ignore the bullies (66%), the next most common response was to tell them to stop (26%). Other strategies which were used less frequently included asking an adult to help and fighting back (both 23%), then crying, followed by asking friends for help. The least common reaction was to run away. It was found that girls were more likely than boys to cry or ask friends for help. Boys were more likely than girls to fight back. It was also found that the reactions changed with age. As they grew older, children were less likely to react by crying and running away and were even more likely to ignore the bullies. It's pointed out that reacting by ignoring the bullies might well be more useful with some types of bullying rather than others, for example it would probably be more useful if a child was being called horrible names rather than being hit.
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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, Issue 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.
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