Studies on Children and Adolescents' Perspectives on Bullying

In collaboration with researchers at Georgia State University, a set of studies were carried out in this project. Is there any difference between Swedish and US students' views on why bullying occurs and what affects their bystander behaviour? Researchers also focused on studying school children's explanations of why bullying occurs.

A cross-cultural qualitative study on Swedish and US students’ views on factors affecting their bystander acts in bullying situations

 

The aim of the present study was to focus on how students articulate and discuss what factors they address for defending or not defending when witnessing bullying. In this unique qualitative collaborative study, where two research teams individually collected interviews from two cultural contexts, eighty-nine students with an age-range from 9 to 14 years old participated. Participants included 43 Swedish students and 46 US students (50 girls, 39 boys). The interviews were cross-conceptually compared through a collaborative qualitative analysis. The results revealed five broad considerations among the students when they reasoned about how to act as a bystander in bullying situations: (a) informed awareness, (b) bystander expectancy, (c) personal feelings, (d) situational seriousness, and (e) sense of responsibility. These considerations highlighted that each layer of bystander considerations could make the students more or less likely to defend as well as to defend in a certain way. According to these five broad considerations, students seemed to adjust their bystander acts, which suggest that students’ bystander acts are situational. Involved in the study are Camilla Forsberg, Laura Wood, Jennifer Smith, Kristen Varjas, Joel Meyers, Tomas Jungert, and Robert Thornberg, in collaboration between Linköping University and Georgia State University. The study has not been published yet. A survey study on teenagers’ explanations of bullying The aim of the present study was to investigate to what degree teenagers agree with bullying explanation statements that could be categorised as the odd victim explanation, bully’s social positioning explanation, or the distressed bully explanation. A second aim was to investigate how these types of bullying explanations might be associated with gender and self-reported prior bullying roles. Three hundred and fifty teenagers, attending three upper secondary schools in a medium-sized Swedish town, completed a questionnaire. Although the teenagers were prone to agree with all three types of bullying explanations, they were more inclined to think that bullying occurs because the bully wants power or status. Girls were more inclined than boys to think that bullying takes place because the bullies have their own problems. The more the teenagers thought that bullying occurs because the victims are odd, different or deviant, the more they have been involved in bullying situations as bullies or reinforcers. The more the teenagers thought that bullying occurs because the bully has psychosocial problems, the more they have been involved as defenders and the less as bullies or reinforcers in bullying situations. For further reading, see: 

Thornberg, R. (2015). Distressed bullies, social positioning, and odd victims: Young people's explanations of bullying. Children & Society, 29, 15-25. 

A qualitative interview study on US students’ bystander motivation in bullying

 

This research sought to extend knowledge about bystanders in bullying situations with a focus on the motivations that lead them to different responses. The 2 primary goals of this study were to investigate the reasons for children’s decisions to help or not to help a victim when witnessing bullying, and to generate a grounded theory (or conceptual framework) of bystander motivation in bullying situations. Thirty students ranging in age from 9 to 15 years (M¼11.9; SD¼1.7) from an elementary and middle school in the southeastern United States participated in this study. Open- ended, semi-structured interviews were used, and sessions ranged from 30 to 45 minutes. We conducted qualitative methodology and analyses to gain an in-depth understanding of children’s perspectives and concerns when witnessing bullying. A key finding was a conceptual framework of bystander motivation to intervene in bullying situations suggesting that deciding whether to help or not help the victim in a bullying situation depends on how bystanders define and evaluate the situation, the social context, and their own agency. Qualitative analysis revealed 5 themes related to bystander motives and included: interpretation of harm in the bullying situation, emotional reactions, social evaluating, moral evaluating, and intervention self-efficacy. Given the themes that emerged surrounding bystanders’ motives to intervene or abstain from intervening, respondents reported 3 key elements that need to be confirmed in future research and that may have implications for future work on bullying prevention. These included: first, the potential importance of clear communication to children that adults expect bystanders to intervene when witnessing bullying; second, the potential of direct education about how bystanders can intervene to increase children’s self-efficacy as defenders of those who are victims of bullying; and third, the assumption that it may be effective to encourage children’s belief that bullying is morally wrong. For further reading, see:

Thornberg, R., Tenenbaum, L., Varjas, K., Meyers, J., Jungert, T., & Vanegas, G. (2012). Bystander motivation in bullying incidents: To intervene or not to intervene? Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, 13, 247-252. 

A qualitative interview study on Swedish students’ bystander motivation in bullying 

The aim with the present study was to investigate bystander actions in bullying situations as well as reasons behind these actions as they are articulated by Swedish students from fourth to seventh grade. Forty-three semi-structured individual interviews were conducted with students. Qualitative analysis of data was performed by methods from grounded theory. The analysis of the student voices of being a bystander in bullying reveals a complexity in which different definition-of-situation processes are evoked (a) relations (friends and social hierarchy), (b) defining seriousness, (c) victim’s contribution to the situation, (d) social roles and intervention responsibilities, and (e) distressing emotions. There are often conflicted motives in how to act as a bystander, which could evoke moral distress among the students. Our analysis is unique in that it introduces the concept of moral distress as a process that has to be considered in order to better understand bystander actions among children The findings also indicate bystander reactions that could be associated with moral disengagement, such as not perceiving a moral obligation to intervene if the victim is defined as a non-friend (‘none of my business’), protecting the friendship with the bully, and blaming the victim. For further reading, see:

Forsberg, C., Thornberg, R., & Samuelsson, M. (2014). Bystanders to bullying: Fourth- to seventh-grade students' perspectives on their reactions. Research Papers in Education, 29, 557-576. 

Two mixed-methods studies on teenagers’ explanations of bullying 

The aim of the present study was to explore how teenagers explain why bullying takes place at school, and whether there were any differences in explaining bullying due to gender and prior bullying experiences. One hundred and seventy-six Swedish students in Grade 9 responded to a questionnaire. Mixed methods (qualitative and quantitative methods) were used to analyze data. The grounded theory analysis generated five main categories and 26 sub categories regarding accounts of bullying causes. Results indicated that youth tended to explain bullying in terms of individualistic reasons (bully attributing and victim attributing) than in terms of peer group, school setting, or human nature/society reasons. Girls were more likely to attribute bullying causes to the bully and much less to the victim, compared to boys. Moreover, youth classified as bullies were more likely to attribute the reason for bullying to the victim and much less to the bully, compared to victims, bystanders, and victims/bullies. For further reading, see:  

Thornberg, R., & Knutsen, S. (2011). Teenagers’ explanations of bullying. Child & Youth Care Forum, 40, 177-192.

In accordance with the social information processing model, how adolescents attribute cause to a particular social situation (e.g., bullying) they witness or participate in, influences their online social information processing, and hence, how they will act in the situation. The aim of the present study was to explore how older teenagers explain why bullying takes place at school, and whether there were any differences in explaining bullying due to gender. Two hundred and fifteen Swedish students in upper secondary school responded to a questionnaire. Mixed methods (qualitative and quantitative methods) were used to analyze data. The qualitative analysis resulted in three main categories and nine subcategories regarding accounts of bullying causes. According to the findings, the youth explained bullying much more often with individualistic explanations (bully attributing and victim attributing) than non-individualistic explanations (social context attributing). Furthermore, girls tended to provide a greater number of bullying explanations and were more likely to attribute bullying causes to the bully and the victim, as compared to boys. The findings provide insights into older teenagers’ understanding of why bullying occurs in school. The study also identified some gender differences but also some mixed findings regarding gender differences in comparison with previous research with younger participants. For further reading, see: 

Thornberg, R., Rosenqvist, R., & Johansson, P. (2012). Older teenagers' explanations of bullying. Child & Youth Care Forum, 41, 327-342. 

A qualitative interview study on school children’s perspectives on why bullying occurs. 

The aim of this study was to investigate schoolchildren’s social representations on the causes of bullying. Individual qualitative interviews were conducted with 56 schoolchildren recruited from five elementary schools in Sweden. Mixed methods (grounded theory as well as descriptive statistic methods) were used to analyze data. According to the findings, the most prevalent social representation on bullying causes among the children is to view bullying as a reaction to deviance. The second most frequently used explanation type is to view bullying as social positioning. Other social representations on bullying causes are to explain bullying as the work of a disturbed bully, a revengeful action, an amusing game, social contamination, and a thoughtless happening. Social representations of bullying causes appear to be linked to the more general process of social categorization and seem in many bullying cases to promote moral disengagement among the children. For further reading, see:   

Thornberg, R. (2010). Schoolchildren’s social representations on bullying causes. Psychology in the Schools, 47, 311-327.