Bullying: An Age-old Problem That Needs New Solutions (page 2)

By and — Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Feb 11, 2009

How Common is Bullying?

When young people, aged 11, 13 and 15 were asked to report on their experiences with bullying and victimization within the preceding two months, prevalence rates ranged from 1% to 50% across 25 countries in Europe and North America (9). Overall, about 35% of students reported bullying others at least once over the previous two months while about 34% of respondents reported being victimized at least once (21). For 11%, peer victimization occurred 2 or 3 times or more in the preceding two months. The figures vary considerably across countries, ranging from 9 to 73% for bullying others and from 2 to 36% for victimization.

How Stable is Bullying?

Some researchers have found that bullying and victimization are fairly stable characteristics in that the same children tend to bully or be bullied over several years in school (22, 23, 24, 25). However, other research indicates that the majority of children admit to being bullies and victims at least occasionally, and most do not continue in these roles. For example, in a 3-year study of middle school students (26), only 13% of the children remained in their roles of bully, victim or bully-victim across the middle school years; 87% changed their roles during that period. Similarly, over an 8-year period, from elementary to secondary school, other researchers (27) have found that only 16.5% of the children who were bullies at age 8 were still bullies at age 16, and only 9% of children who were victimized continued to be victims. Thus, change is certainly possible, and it is the responsibility of adults to help children learn to use power in appropriate ways. Of particular concern, however, are those youth whose experiences as a bully or victim persist, given the many long-term consequences associated with stable patterns of bullying and victimization (see (13)).

How Complicated Could It Be?

As several articles in this special edition indicate, researchers and educators have come to understand that bullying is not just a problem that is inherent in a troubled child, nor is it just a problem between two people (bully and victim), something that has been called “the dyadic bias”(28). Rather, bullying reflects a problem in interpersonal relationships that also must be considered as a group phenomenon. Indeed, students can be involved in bullying in many different ways: as bullies, as victims and as witnesses. When elementary students were videotaped at school, it was found that peers were present as witnesses to bullying 85% of the time (29), though they seldom intervened on behalf of the victim. Children tend to adopt very different roles in bullying (11, 30). In addition to bully and victim, some children serve as assistants or reinforcers for the bully, others remain outsiders who just walk away or passively watch, and a small but important group of students will act to defend the child being victimized. As demonstrated in the articles included here, it is the complex nature of bullying that has captured the attention of researchers. It is also the complexity of bullying that makes efforts to reduce and eliminate bullying particularly challenging.

Educators need to develop prevention and intervention strategies that address the needs of all children involved (bullies, victims and witnesses) and to coordinate efforts across elementary, middle, and high schools and the community. We know that zero tolerance policies are not effective in stopping aggression in schools (31), and expulsion also appears to be ineffective (32). Although there are many examples of schools that have been successful in drastically reducing levels of school bullying, many such efforts fail (see (33, 34) for reviews). The task ahead is to take what we now know about the complexity of bullying and translate it into effective practice, in homes, schools and communities. This special issue of represents an exciting effort to link established researchers in the area of bullying and peer victimization with educators who are in the trenches working directly with students in schools and with parents who are trying to help their children grow up to be competent and caring adults. We hope that this special issue is useful to teachers, administrators, parents, and students who are dealing directly with bullying so that together we can make all children safe from peer harassment and victimization.


  1. Dickens, C. (1839). Oliver Twist. London, UK: R. Bentley.
  2. Dickens, C. (1838). The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. London, UK: Chapman & Hall.
  3. Estes, E. (1944). The Hundred Dresses. New York: Harcourt Brace & Co.
  4. Hornby, N. (2002), About a Boy. New York: Penguin.
  5. Olweus, D. (1978). Aggression in the schools: Bullies and whipping boys. Washington D.C.:Hemisphere Press/Wiley
  6. Pepler, D. & Craig, W. (2008). Understanding and Addressing Bullying: An International Perspective. Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse.
  7. Smith, P.K., Pepler, D. & Rigby, K. (2004). Bullying in Schools: How Successful Can Interventions Be? UK: Cambridge University Press.
  8. Marr, N. & Fields, T. (2000).  Bullycide: Death at Playtime. United Kingdom: Success Unlimited Publishers.
  9. World Health Organization (2004) Fact Sheet: Young people’s health in context: Selected findings from the Health Behavior in School-Age Children Study, EURO/04/04 Copenhagen, Edinburgh (
  10. Olweus, D. (1991).  Bully/victim problems among school children: Basic facts and effects of a school based intervention program.  In D. J. Pepler, & K. H. Rubin, (Eds.), The Development and Treatment of Childhood Aggression (pp. 411-447).  Hillsdale, New Jersey: Erlbaum.
  11. Olweus, D. (1993). Bullying at school: What we know and what we can do. Oxford, England: Blackwell Publishers.
  12. Vaillancourt, T., Hymel, S., & McDougall, P. (2003). Bullying is power: Implications for school-based intervention strategies. Special issue: Journal of Applied School Psychology, 19, 157-175.
  13. McDougall, Vaillancourt & Hymel. Reference not found. 
  14. Pepler, D., Craig, W., Connolly, J., & Henderson, K. (2001). Bullying, sexual harassment, dating violence, and substance use among adolescents. In C. Wekerle & A. M. Wall (Eds.), The violence and addiction equation:Theoretical and clinical issues in substance abuse and relationship violence. pp 153-168. Philadelphia: Brunner/Mazel.
  15. Olweus (1986).
  16. Bjokvist, K. , Osterman, K., & Kaukiainen, A. (2000). Social intelligence – empathy = aggression?  Aggression and Violent Behavior, 5 (2), 191-200.
    Kaukiainen, A., Bjokvist, K., Lagerspetz, K., Osterman, K.,  Salmivalli, C., Rothberg, S., & Ahlbom, A.  (1999). The rela-tionships between social intelligence, empathy, and three types of aggression, Aggressive Behavior, 25, 81-89.
  17. Sutton, J., Smith, P.K.,  & Swettenham, J. (1999a). Bullying and “theory of mind”” A critique of the “social skills deficit view of anti-social behavior.  Social Development, 8 (1), 117-134.
  18. Sutton, J., Smith, P.K.,  & Swettenham, J. (1999b).  Social cognition and bullying: Social inadequacy or skilled manipulation? British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 17, 435-450.
  19. Rocke Henderson, N., Hymel, S., Bonanno, R.A. & Davidson, K. (2002). “Bullying is a normal part of school life”: Early Adolescents’ Perspectives on Bullying and Peer Harassment. Poster presented at the third annual Safe School Safe Communities Conference, Vancouver, BC, February, 2002.
  20. Craig, W. & Harel, Y. (2004). Bullying, physical fighting and victimization.  In C. Cuirrie, C. Roberts, A. Morgan, R. Smith, W. Settertobulte, O. Samdal & V.B. Rasmussen (Eds.), Young People’s Health in Context: Health Behavior in School-aged children; International Report from the 2001/2002 Survey (pp. 133-144);. Health Policy For Children & Adolescents, No. 4: World Health Organization.
  21. Bond, L., Carlin, J.B., Thomas, L., Rubin, K., & Patton, G. (2001). Does bullying cause emotional problems? A prospective study of young teenagers. British Medical Journal, 323, 480-484.
  22. Boulton, M.J., & Smith, P.K. (1994). Bully/victim problems in middle-school children: Stability, self-perceived competence, peer perceptions and peer acceptance. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 12, 315-329.
  23. Paul, J.J., & Cillessen, A.H.N. (2003). Dynamics of peer victimization in early adolescence: Results from a four-year longitudinal study. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 19, 25-43.
  24. Salmivalli, C., Lappalainen, M., & Lagerspetz, K. (1998). Stability and change of behavior in connection with bullying in schools: A two-year follow-up. Aggressive Behavior, 24, 205-218.
  25. Swearer, S.M., Cary, P.T., & Frazier-Koontz, M. (2001). Attitudes toward bullying in middle school youth: A developmental examination across the bully/victim continuum. Paper presented at the 109th annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, San Francisco, CA.
  26. Sourander, A., Helstela, L., Helenius, H., & Piha, J. (2000). Persistence of bullying from childhood to adolescence: A longitudinal 8-year follow-up study. Child Abuse and Neglect, 24, 873-881.
  27. Espelage, D. L., & Swearer, S. M. (2003).  Research on bullying and victimization:  What have we learned and where do we go from here?  In S. M. Swearer & D. L. Espelage (Eds.), Bullying prevention and intervention: Integrating research and evaluation findings [Special issue].  School Psychology Review, 32 (3), 365 -383.
  28. Craig, W. M., & Pepler, D. J. (1997). Observations of bullying and victimization in the school yard. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 13(2), 41-59.
    Salmivalli, C., Lagerspetz, K., Bjokqvist, K., Osterman, K. & Kaukiainen, A. (1996). Bullying as a group process: Participant roles and their relations to social status within the group. Aggressive Behaviour, 22, 1-15.
  29. Casella, R. (2003). Zero tolerance policy in schools: Rationale, consequences, and alternatives. Teachers College Record, 105, 872–892.
    Morrison, G. M., Redding, M., Fisher, E., & Peterson, R. (2006). Assessing school discipline. In S. R. Jimerson & M. Furlong (Eds.), Handbook of school violence and school safety: From research to practice (pp. 211–220). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
  30. Smith, J.D., Schneider, B., Smith, P.K., & Ananiadou, K. (2004). The effectiveness of whole-school antibulying programs: A synthesis of evaluation research. School Psychology Review, 33, 548-561.
  31. Vreeman, R.C., & Carroll, A.E. (2007). A systematic review of school-based interventions to prevent bullying. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 161, 78-88.
  32. Atwood, M. (1998). Cat’s Eye. Minneapolis, MN: Sagebrush Educational Resources.
  33. Olweus, D. (1999). Sweden. In Smith, P.K., Morita, Y., Junger-Tas, Olweus, D., Catalano, R. & Slee, P. (1999). The nature of school bullying: A cross-national perspective (7-27). London & New York: Routledge.
  34. Eron, L. D., Huesmann, L. R., Dubow, E., Romanoff, R., & Yarnel, P. W. (1987). Aggression and its correlates over 22 years. In D. H. Crowell & I. M. Evans (Eds.), Childhood aggression and violence: Sources of influence, prevention, and control (pp. 249-262). New York: Plenum Press.
View Full Article
Add your own comment
DIY Worksheets
Make puzzles and printables that are educational, personal, and fun!
Matching Lists
Quickly create fun match-up worksheets using your own words.
Word Searches
Use your own word lists to create and print custom word searches.
Crossword Puzzles
Make custom crossword puzzles using your own words and clues.