Gender, age divide in new bullying study

Students’ emotional resilience is linked to their chances of being victimised, with less resilient students more likely to suffer from harassment, new research shows.

The research, led SWAPv researchers at Flinders University and the University of Thessaly in Greece, also found that female students display lower emotional resilience, along with older students.

Resilience is thought of as how easily students bounce back from emotional difficulties such as bullying. It is also assumed to provide a buffer from the harmful effects of peer victimisation and harassment and allow for recovery.

Higher levels of resilience and wellbeing tended to go with being bullied less often, being a boy, and being younger.

These results are troubling for female and older students, since existing research suggests that resilient adolescents are less likely to be either victims or bullies, and to suffer less emotional damage from bullying scenarios.

“These results show that bullied adolescents may develop different ways of protecting themselves from bullying, depending on their age and gender,” say researchers  Flinders University’s Dr Grace Skrzypiec and visiting research fellow Dr Eleni Didaskalou.

Lead author, Dr Eleni Andreou, from the University of Thessaly, says the study is part of a transnational research project and involved 558 students from grades 6-10.

The students were given a questionnaire developed by Dr Skrzypiec about their experiences with victimisation and resilience.

Resilience plays a strong role in student wellbeing, which in turn has academic and social outcomes.

Dr Eleni Andreou, from the University of Thessaly, left, and Dr Grace Skrzypiec, Flinders University.

“Research shows that adolescents with an optimal level of wellbeing are more likely to demonstrate appropriate academic skills, have higher levels of school attendance and pro‐social behaviour, and be less likely to bully others,” says Dr Skrzypiec, co-director of the Student Wellbeing and Prevention of Violence (SWAPv) research group at the Flinders College of Education, Psychology and Social Work.

The study also found that gender and year level did not affect how often a student becomes a victim of bullying, and that boys and girls are likely to experience different types of harassment.

“Overt physical and verbal aggression appears to be more common among boys, whereas girls are more likely to experience underhanded bullying like spreading rumours,” the researchers say.

“There is some recent evidence that during adolescence, boys are more vulnerable to victimisation across different contexts, whereas girls’ victimisation may take place partly in their close friendships”

The researchers identify a need for schools and policymakers to address well-being and harassment support to students in a manner informed by their age and gender, noting that a one-size-fits-all approach may not work.

Photo: Getty Images

“Resilience‐based anti‐bullying interventions cannot be developed in the sense of ‘an approach that suits everyone’s needs. Potential resilience‐based anti‐bullying interventions should take into account that adolescents’ adjustment after being victimised may be affected by their age and gender.”

The researchers also call for a shift away from thinking about bullying in terms of the victims’ limits and deficits, and towards their strengths and perceived wellness.

E Andreou, C Roussi-Vergou, E Didaskalou and G Skrzypiec. (2020). ‘School bullying, subjective well-being, and resilience’, has been published in Psychology in the Schools  57(8), 1193-1207. DOI: 10.1002/pits.22409

This article was prepared by MCERA, an independent, not-for-profit organisation which raises public awareness of education research and researchers in the media.

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College of Education, Psychology and Social Work