The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children
Annual statistical report 2012

7 Children's experiences of unfriendly behaviour

Jodie Lodge and Jennifer Baxter, Australian Institute of Family Studies

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7.1 Introduction

One of the significant ways in which the wellbeing of school-aged children can be eroded is through the effects of being bullied, and as such there is widespread concern over the perceived prevalence of bullying, and the implications this might have for children (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare [AIHW], 2009). This chapter contributes to the current literature on bullying by analysing 10-11 year old children's reports of being picked on through certain unfriendly behaviours that are commonly experienced as bullying behaviours. Specifically, this includes children having been subjected to name-calling, social exclusion, note-writing, and physical violence (i.e., shoving, pushing or hitting). These data were collected from the K cohort of LSAC in 2010 in Wave 4.

While bullying of children may occur across a range of settings, it very often occurs in school or on the way to and from school (e.g., see Cross et al., 2009; Fekkes, Pijpers & Verloove-Vanhorick, 2005). In this context, the National Safe Schools Framework - supported by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) - addresses the rights of students to have a safe and supportive learning environment. The framework "incorporates existing good practice and provides an agreed national approach to help schools and their communities address issues of bullying, harassment, violence, and child abuse and neglect" (Ministerial Council on Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs, 2010, p. 3). A recent examination of changes in bullying prevalence in schools in 26 countries, including Australia, concluded that general levels of bullying have been gradually reducing over the last decade. Arguably, this is as a result of increased attention being directed towards the problem, and the use of effective anti-bullying programs (Rigby & Smith, 2011).

Despite the efforts made by governments and schools, bullying remains a pervasive problem in the school context and continues to be a matter of great concern among parents, teachers and others working with children and young people. Estimates of rates of bullying victimisation range from 15% to 30% in Australia and other parts of the world (Nansel et al., 2001; Rigby, 1996; Wolke, Woods, Stanford, & Schulz, 2001), with differences in measurement, definition and scope contributing to the variability in these rates. For example, in 2007, the Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study (Cross et al., 2009) found that almost half of the students in the study had experienced some type of bullying at least once during the previous term at school. This included any type of bullying behaviour. Approximately 10% reported being bullied most days or every day at school. The study included children from Year 4 through to Year 9 and, across these years, the percentage reporting to have experienced bullying behaviours was greatest for children in Year 5.

While there is currently no nationally agreed definition of the behaviour of bullying in Australia, it has been described as being when one or more students inflict pain on or cause distress to another student on repeated occasions (Zubrick et al., 1997). Many studies distinguish between the different forms that bullying may take. Overt bullying includes physical and verbal attacks or direct aggression (kicking, pushing, name-calling), while covert bullying involves behaviours linked to social, relational and indirect aggression (such as ignoring, gossiping, and sending or posting abusive notes), and are typically either unwitnessed or unaddressed by an adult (Cross et al., 2009). Definitions of bullying typically exclude fighting between equally strong children (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], 2009).

In one study, young people described cyberbullying simply as "bullying via the Internet" or "bullying using technology" (Vandebosch & van Cleemput, 2008). And, while there is a growing recognition of cyberbullying as a separate entity (Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety, 2011), more often than not, victims of cyberbullying are also victims of face-to-face bullying (Lodge & Frydenberg, 2011). Therefore, though this new form of bullying undoubtedly has implications for future research and policy, this chapter addresses more traditional forms of bullying that occur without the use of electronic communication devices.

Cross-national research concludes that bullying is a universal phenomenon with many negative correlates for victims (Eslea et al., 2003). Being bullied can have far-reaching physical, social and mental health consequences. Victims of bullying tend to have low self-esteem, more interpersonal difficulties and are more likely to report higher levels of loneliness (Kochenderfer, & Ladd, 1996; Rigby, 2000; Smith, Talamelli, Cowie, Naylor, & Chauhan, 2004). Being bullied also significantly affects a young person's academic achievement and social development (Forero, McLellan, Rissel, & Bauman, 1999; Olweus, 1993; Slee, 1995). Victims have been reported to dislike school and to have higher levels of school absenteeism (Smith et al., 2004). Furthermore, recent Australian longitudinal data highlight the ongoing consequences of bullying victimisation, with victims in school going on to report higher levels of depression symptoms later in life (Lodge, 2010).

There is an extensive literature on bullying, and this chapter makes a contribution by focusing on children who are at a vulnerable age for being bullied (Cross et al., 2009), using a nationally representative sample and a rich set of child, family and other characteristics that can help inform the factors that are common to children who are picked on through unfriendly behaviours.

The data on children's experiences of being picked on through unfriendly behaviours were collected at Wave 4 from the K cohort of LSAC, when they were aged 10-11 years old. Specifically, the children were aged from exactly 10 years through to 11 years and 8 months at the time of the study. The majority of children at this age were in Year 5 (71%), with a large proportion in Year 6 (23%, including four children in Year 7), and the remainder in lower year levels (6%).

These analyses make use of questions asked of the children in the audio computer-assisted self-interview (ACASI) instrument of the study. Following a series of questions about school, teachers and friendships, children were asked whether or not, in the previous 12 months, another child (or children) had picked on them by: (a) shoving, pushing or hitting them; (b) calling them names or insulting them; (c) writing messages/notes; or (d) leaving them out of games or chats. The few children who did not answer all four of these questions (83 out of 4,169) were excluded from the analysis, leaving 4,086 children in the analytical sample.

Note that in analysing these responses we do not specifically refer to these behaviours as "bullying", but as "unfriendly behaviours", as children were not asked whether they considered that the behaviours constituted bullying. Nor do we have information on whether these behaviours were repeatedly experienced, or whether they were unwanted or unprovoked.

From elsewhere in LSAC, we do have some other relevant information collected from children, parents and teachers, including responses to one question that asked whether the child had been picked on or bullied by other children in the previous 6 months. Parent responses were available for all of the children, and teacher responses were available for 3,346 children (82% of children). Child responses on this item were also available and are analysed in section 7.2. These data were compared to the child reports of experiencing unfriendly behaviours to consider to what extent experiencing these behaviours may be indicative of experiencing bullying.

The key research questions examined in this chapter are:

  • What types of unfriendly behaviours are experienced by boys and girls aged 10-11 years?
  • What child, family and school factors are related to these children being the victim of unfriendly behaviours?
  • How are boys' and girls' experiences of unfriendly behaviours related to their attachment to and relationship with others (peers, parents and teachers) and to different feelings about school?
  • How are boys' and girls' experiences of unfriendly behaviours related to aspects of their social and emotional wellbeing?
  • How do children's reports of experiencing unfriendly behaviours relate to children's, parents' and teachers' reports of children being bullied?

Findings referred to in this chapter as being statistically significant are those differences, when analysed using appropriate tests, that result in a degree of confidence of more than 95% (a p value of less than .05). The 95% confidence interval of means is shown in figures, where applicable.

7.2 Children's reports of experiencing unfriendly behaviours

Throughout this chapter, we refer to children as having been picked on through unfriendly behaviours if they reported that in the previous 12 months they had experienced any of the behaviours of name-calling or insulting, social exclusion (being left out of games or chats), physical violence (shoving, pushing or hitting), or note-writing. Overall, 59% of children at 10-11 years reported that they had experienced at least one of these in the previous 12 months. This figure was the same for boys and girls.

As Table 7.1 indicates, name-calling was the most common of the unfriendly behaviours experienced by children aged 10-11 years. More boys (47%) than girls (40%) reported being called names or insulted. Being socially excluded was the next most common type of unfriendly behaviour experienced, with girls (41%) reporting being left out of games or chats more often than boys (32%). In contrast, more boys (40%) than girls (27%) reported being subjected to physical violence (i.e., shoving, pushing or hitting). Being picked on through written notes or messages was the least common type of unfriendly behaviour reported by 10-11 year olds, and was more often reported by girls (17%) than by boys (13%). The differences between boys and girls were statistically significant for all of the unfriendly behaviours examined.

Table 7.1: Children's experience of unfriendly behaviours, child reports, boys and girls, K cohort, Wave 4
Type of unfriendly behaviour Boys (%) Girls (%) All (%)
Name-calling or insulting *** 46.5 40.2 43.4
Social exclusion *** 32.3 40.5 36.3
Shoving, pushing or hitting *** 40.4 27.0 33.8
Note-writing ** 12.5 16.8 14.6
Any of the above 59.3 59.0 59.1
No. of observations 2,088 1,998 4,086

Notes: Percentages do not sum to 100% as children could indicate multiple responses. Statistically significant differences between boys and girls are noted: ** p < .01; *** p < .001.

The percentages experiencing different types of unfriendly behaviours are consistent with those previously reported for Australian students of similar ages (Cross et al., 2009). Also, the gender differences found here are in line with other research on the gendered experiences of bullying victimisation, which show that boys and girls are picked on or bullied in different ways (e.g., Olweus, 1993).

Our interest in analysing these data lies in the assumption that being subject to these unfriendly behaviours suggests some degree of bullying victimisation. In Table 7.2, these data are compared to children's reports of whether they had been bullied or picked on by children at school, to give some indication of whether these different child reports of experiencing some level of victimisation are related. Note the two questions have different reference periods: 6 months for the direct question about being bullied and picked on, and 12 months for the specific types of unfriendly behaviours. Table 7.2 shows that there is a definite relationship between the experiences of unfriendly behaviours and reports of being bullied and picked on. In particular, the vast majority of those who reported that they did not experience each unfriendly behaviour also reported that it was not true that they had been bullied or picked on. While a considerable proportion who did experience each of the unfriendly behaviours reported that they had not been bullied or picked on, for each of the behaviours, around 6 in 10 of the children reported that it was somewhat or certainly true that they had been bullied or picked on.

Table 7.2: Children's experience of unfriendly behaviours, by experience of being bullied or picked on, child reports, K cohort, Wave 4
Experience of unfriendly behaviour Experience of bullying
Not true (%) Somewhat true (%) Certainly true (%) Total (%)
Name-calling or insulting ***
Experienced 39.1 38.9 22.0 100.0
Did not experience 88.5 9.4 2.1 100.0
Social exclusion ***
Experienced 42.3 35.9 21.8 100.0
Did not experience 81.2 14.4 4.4 100.0
Shoving, pushing or hitting ***
Experienced 36.7 39.0 24.3 100.0
Did not experience 82.6 13.6 3.8 100.0
Note-writing ***
Experienced 39.2 28.9 31.9 100.0
Did not experience 71.8 21.1 7.1 100.0

Notes: Statistically significant differences are noted: *** p < .001.

Returning to the reports of experiencing unfriendly behaviours, this information can be summarised to produce a count of the number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced. While the types are no doubt important, the number of unfriendly behaviours may also provide some indication of the cumulative effects of being picked on or bullied in a number of ways (e.g., Sharp, Thomson, & Arora, 2000). Overall, 29% of children experienced one of the unfriendly behaviours, 18% two of them, 15% three of them and 7% four of them. These percentages were similar for boys and girls, although girls tended to have been picked on through fewer types of unfriendly behaviours, as shown in Table 7.3.

Table 7.3: Number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced, child reports, boys and girls, K cohort, Wave 4
Number of types of unfriendly behaviour * Boys (%) Girls (%) All (%)
None 40.7 41.0 40.9
One or more types: 59.3 59.0 59.1
One type 17.3 21.4 29.3
Two types 19.1 16.7 17.9
Three types 15.4 14.0 14.7
Four types 7.5 7.0 7.2
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0
No. of observations 2,088 1,988 4,086

Notes: Percentages may not total exactly due to rounding. Statistically significant differences are noted: * p < .05.

Gender differences were apparent in Table 7.1, in the types of unfriendly behaviours experienced. It is relevant to note, then, that when the number of unfriendly behaviours is analysed, for boys and girls this might relate to their having experienced different types of unfriendly behaviours.

  • For boys who experienced one type of unfriendly behaviour, the most common types were name-calling (43% of boys reporting one type of unfriendly behaviour), social exclusion (26%), and physical violence (25%). For girls who experienced one type of unfriendly behaviour, the most common types were social exclusion (52% of girls reporting one type of unfriendly behaviour) and name-calling (30%).
  • For boys who experienced two of the unfriendly behaviours, the most common combinations were name-calling and physical violence (60% of boys who reported two types of unfriendly behaviours), and name-calling and social exclusion (23%). For girls who experienced two of the unfriendly behaviours, the most common combinations were name-calling and social exclusion (49% of girls who reported two types of unfriendly behaviours), and name-calling and physical violence (26%).
  • For boys who experienced three of the unfriendly behaviours, the most common combination was name-calling, physical violence and social exclusion (84% of boys who reported three of the unfriendly behaviours). For girls who experienced three of the unfriendly behaviours, the most common combinations were name-calling, social exclusion and physical violence (66% of girls who reported three of the unfriendly behaviours), and name-calling, social exclusion and note-writing (19%).

The number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced is compared to the child reports of having been bullied or picked on in Table 7.4. A strong relationship is apparent here, with a greater number of types of unfriendly behaviours reported by children being associated with a greater likelihood of their reporting that it was somewhat or certainly true that they had been bullied or picked on. For example, of those who had not reported any unfriendly behaviours, 1% said it was certainly true that they had been bullied or picked on. This was slightly higher, at 4%, for those who reported having experienced one type of unfriendly behaviour, but then the percentage increases to 15% for those reporting two types, 22% for three types and 51% for four types.

Table 7.4: Number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced, by experience of being bullied or picked on, child reports, K cohort, Wave 4
Number of types of unfriendly behaviour *** Experience of bullying
Not true (%) Somewhat true (%) Certainly true (%) Total (%)
None 94.6 4.2 1.1 100.0
One or more types: 48.1 34.6 17.3 100.0
One type 73.0 23.2 3.8 100.0
Two types 45.0 40.1 14.8 100.0
Three types 32.6 45.8 21.7 100.0
Four types 20.2 28.7 51.0 100.0
Total 67.1 22.2 10.7 100.0

Notes: Statistically significant differences are noted: *** p < .001.

The results in Table 7.4 suggest that the number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced by children is likely to give useful insights into bullying victimisation experiences of children. Later, we will return to examine relationships between these data and parent and teacher reports of children's bullying victimisation. But first, we focus on children's reports of being picked on through unfriendly behaviours, either differentiating between those who experienced some unfriendly behaviours and those who did not, or differentiating according to the number of types of unfriendly behaviours.

7.3 Child, family and school characteristics associated with experiences of unfriendly behaviours

This section focuses on children's reports of having experienced at least one of the unfriendly behaviours in the previous 12 months, and examines the individual, family and school characteristics associated with the likelihood of having had this experience. The range of child, family and school characteristics selected for analyses were chosen because they have previously been identified as being risk factors for children's experiences of being bullied (see Olweus, 1993).

The overall patterns described in Table 7.5 tended to apply to both boys and girls, thus the data in the table were not disaggregated by children's gender.

Table 7.5: Experience of unfriendly behaviours, by child, family and school characteristics, child reports, K cohort, Wave 4
Did not experience (%) Experienced (%) No. of observations
Child characteristics
School year level **
Up to Year 4 35.9 64.1 228
Year 5 39.3 60.7 2,876
Year 6 46.8 53.2 955
Indigenous status and non-English speaking background ***
Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander 33.4 66.6 115
Non-Indigenous, a parent mainly speaks a language other than English at home 49.9 50.1 598
Non-Indigenous, no parent mainly speaks a language other than English at home 39.0 61.0 3,371
Disability or medical condition *
Disability or medical condition 32.9 67.1 235
No disability or medical condition 41.4 58.6 3,846
Weight status **
Underweight 50.0 50.0 31
Normal weight 42.7 57.3 2,848
Overweight or obese 36.8 63.2 1,207
Family characteristics
Family type a ***
Lone-mother family 31.9 68.1 588
Two-parent family 42.8 57.2 3,445
Family socio-economic position ***
Lowest 25% 37.4 62.6 977
Middle 50% 42.2 57.8 1,952
Highest 25% 47.6 52.4 976
Region of residence **
Metropolitan 42.7 57.3 2,476
Regional 37.9 62.1 1,604
School characteristics b
School type
Government 40.2 59.8 2,596
Catholic 42.7 57.3 895
Independent 42.5 57.5 568
School size (teacher report)
Small (<= 250 students) 38.9 61.1 643
Medium (251-680 students) 42.4 57.6 1,909
Large (> 680 students) 42.7 57.3 634
Changed schools since previous wave ***
Yes 33.1 66.9 698
No 42.8 57.2 3,361
School attendance (teacher report) *
Frequently absent 29.5 70.5 156
Regular attendance 42.4 57.6 3,123
No. of observations 1,671 2,285

Notes: Some sample counts do not add to the total because of missing data on specific characteristics. a Excludes those in other family forms. b Excludes those not in school. Statistically significant differences are noted: * p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001.

Child characteristics

School year level

Children aged 10-11 years in lower year levels (up to Year 4) were more likely to have experienced unfriendly behaviours than were children in higher year levels (5 or 6). Children in Year 6 were the least likely to report having experienced unfriendly behaviours. These differences were statistically significant.

Indigenous status and non-English speaking background

Only a small proportion of children in this sample were identified as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background (4%). Another 19% lived with a parent who mainly speaks a language other than English at home, with the balance being non-Indigenous children living with parents who mainly speak English at home. Table 7.5 shows that the children least likely to report experiencing unfriendly behaviours were non-Indigenous children living with a parent who mainly speaks a language other than English (50%). The children most likely to experience unfriendly behaviours were Indigenous children (67%), with non-Indigenous children with only English-speaking parents falling between these extremes (61%).

Disability or medical condition

Almost 6% of children aged 10-11 years were identified as having a medical condition or disability lasting for 6 months or more. Comparisons of children with a medical condition/disability and those without revealed a somewhat higher incidence of experiencing unfriendly behaviours among the former (67% compared to 59% respectively).

Weight status

There was a significant difference in patterns of victimisation across children's weight categories. The victimisation rates were higher among children who were classified as overweight or obese (63%) compared to children of normal weight (57%). While sample sizes are small for underweight children, their victimisation rates were lower than for other children (50%).

Family characteristics

Family type

Children from lone-mother and two-parent households were compared on their experience of unfriendly behaviours. As shown in Table 7.5, 68% of children living in lone-mother families reported being subjected to unfriendly behaviours, compared with 57% of children living in two-parent families, and this difference was statistically significant. Children living in other family forms were excluded from these analyses, given the small number and diversity of these families.

Family socio-economic position

A clear trend emerged in the experience of unfriendly behaviours by children according to the three socio-economic position groups. While children experienced victimisation across all three groups, a greater proportion of children in families of the lowest socio-economic position (63%) reported experiencing unfriendly behaviours, compared to children from families of high socio-economic position (52%). The difference in the experience of these behaviours for levels of family socio-economic position was statistically significant at the 99% level of confidence.

Region of residence

Comparisons of children living in metropolitan and regional areas revealed that there were somewhat higher rates of having experienced unfriendly behaviours in regional areas (62%) compared to metropolitan areas (57%).

School characteristics

School type and size

Most children at age 10-11 years attended a government school (64%), with the balance attending a Catholic school (22%) or an independent or private school (14%). A small number of children were not enrolled in any school (n = 25) and were excluded from these analyses. Children's experience of unfriendly behaviours did not vary according to school type; that is, for each school type, a similar proportion of children aged 10-11 years reported experiencing unfriendly behaviours.

Similarly, the size of the school (measured by the number of students attending) did not seem to influence children's experience of unfriendly behaviours, with rates being similar across small, medium and large schools.

Changing schools and school attendance

In total, 18% of children aged 10-11 years had changed schools in the two years prior to the survey period. Of the children who had changed schools, almost 8% had attended three or more schools in that time. Parents reported a variety of reasons for their children changing schools in the last two years (e.g., residential move, convenience, child concerns).1 A greater proportion of children who had changed schools were victims of unfriendly behaviour when compared to those who had not changed schools (67% compared to 57% respectively), and this difference was statistically significant. Note that we do not know if the actions reported by the children occurred prior to or after their change in schools.

Fewer than 6% of children aged 10-11 years old were reported by teachers to have had frequent absences from school. Of those children frequently absent, 71% reported having experienced unfriendly behaviours, compared to 58% of children with more regular patterns of attendance, and this difference was statistically significant.

7.4 Children's relationships with peers, teachers and parents and their feelings about school

In each of the following subsections, aspects of children's relationships and feelings about school are related to their experiences of unfriendly behaviours (the number of types). As these associations are measured at one point in time, and do not take account of other child or family characteristics, they tell us only that associations do or do not exist. While this does not allow us to speculate on the effects or causes of being subject to unfriendly behaviours, it is nevertheless useful to know the extent to which victimised children's relationships with others are potentially supporting or not.

Children's relationships with peers and liking of school

We begin by looking at children's relationships with their peers. As children who are subject to bullying victimisation are most likely to be bullied by children in their peer group (Cross et al., 2009), we expect that there will be an association between the number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced and a measure of peer relations, inasmuch as unfriendly behaviours are indicative of bullying experiences. Further, this association would also be expected given that bullying victimisation is thought to be a manifestation of problematic peer relations. This association between peer relations and being picked on or bullied is important, because there is evidence that children who experience difficulty making friends and getting along with their peers are at increased risk of a wide range of poorer psychosocial outcomes (Woodward & Fergusson, 2000).

The measure of peer relations comes from child reports on the Self-Description Questionnaire I (Marsh, 1990). The Self-Description Questionnaire is a well-validated and widely used Australian measure of multidimensional self-concept in pre-adolescent children. The peer relations score is based on items such as "I have many friends" and "I get along with kids easily". The scale is derived from the mean of eight underlying items, with a range of 1 to 5. Higher scores indicate better peer relations. The overall mean for LSAC children on this measure was 3.89, with a standard deviation of 0.83. We use another aspect ("general self-concept") of this scale in the next section of this chapter.

These measures were compared according to the number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced (see Figure 7.1). The slope of the lines, for boys and for girls, indicates that the more types of unfriendly behaviours experienced by children, the poorer their peer relations. Overall, children who were picked on at all had poorer peer relations than those who were not. While the overlapping confidence intervals indicate that there are not significant differences associated with an increase by one in the number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced, the differences between the experience of one type to three or four types, and between two types and four types are statistically significant.

Figure 7.1: Mean peer relations scores, by number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced, child reports, boys and girls, K cohort, Wave 4

Mean peer relations scores, by number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced, child reports, boys and girls, K cohort, Wave 4 - as described in accompanying text.

Notes: Confidence intervals are shown by the "I" bars at each data point. Where confidence intervals for the groups being compared do not overlap, this indicates that the values are significantly different at p < .05.

The patterns are generally similar for boys and girls. The mean peer relations score was the same for boys and girls who had not been picked on through unfriendly behaviours, and were the same for those who experienced one type of unfriendly behaviour. While gender differences were not statistically significant for the experience of higher numbers of types of unfriendly behaviours, there was a tendency for boys who were subject to more types, to have poorer peer relations than girls who experienced the corresponding number of types.

If being picked on through unfriendly behaviours takes place in the school setting (as suggested by previous research on bullying; e.g., Cross et al., 2009; Fekkes et al., 2005), then children who are victims of a greater number of unfriendly behaviours may feel less positively about school. Here we explore this by examining to what extent children's experiences of unfriendly behaviours are associated with different feelings about their school. Specifically, children's levels of feeling safe and secure and of feeling happy at school are compared according to the number of types of unfriendly behaviours they experienced. This refers to information collected from children on whether they strongly disagreed, disagreed, agreed or strongly agreed with the statements "My school is a place where I feel safe and secure" and "My school is a place where I feel happy". Figure 7.2 shows the percentage agreeing or strongly agreeing with these statements.

Figure 7.2: Agreement with feeling safe and happy at school, by number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced, child reports, boys and girls, K cohort, Wave 4

Agreement with feeling safe and happy at school, by number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced, child reports, boys and girls, K cohort, Wave 4 - as described in accompanying text.

Notes: Confidence intervals are shown by the "I" bars at each data point. Where confidence intervals for the groups being compared do not overlap, this indicates that the values are significantly different at p < .05.

Most boys and girls at 10-11 years reported that they felt happy and safe in their schools. However, children who experienced victimisation were less likely to report feeling happy and safe at school. There are quite wide confidence intervals on the estimates, such that statistically significant differences are generally not observed when comparing children who differ by one in the number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced. However, the overall trend indicates that the more types of unfriendly behaviour children had experienced, the less likely they were to say that they felt safe and secure at school. This was apparent for those who experienced more than one type of unfriendly behaviour and seemed to have a stronger association for boys than for girls.

Similarly, Figure 7.2 also shows associations between the number of types of unfriendly behaviour and reports of feeling happy at school. For both boys and girls, there was a tendency for children to less often report being happy at school when they experienced more types of unfriendly behaviour, although the differences were not as marked as they were for feeling safe and secure at school, especially for girls. The associations were more apparent for those who experienced more than one type of unfriendly behaviour.

Children's attachment to teachers

Children's feelings about their teachers may also be related to children's experiences of unfriendly behaviours. Secure attachment or connectedness is crucial for young people, and contributes to their sense of self, psychological wellbeing, academic performance and social competence (Buhrmester, 1990; Hartup, 1996; Nickerson & Nagle, 2004).

A warm, affective teacher-student relationship has been associated with positive student attitudes towards school and engagement in the school environment (Lodge, Frydenberg, Freeman, & Care, 2007). Teachers who show students that they care about them tend to create classroom environments that meet students' developmental, emotional and academic needs. Positive teacher-student relationships have been found to also promote peer relationships (Hughes & Kwok, 2007). In the context of school bullying, the role of teachers and other school staff appears to be critical. Teacher responsiveness is fundamental, with research showing that an important component in successful interventions is related to the degree of commitment and training on the part of teachers (Pepler, Smith, & Rigby, 2004).

This subsection first examines the attachment of 10-11 year old children to teachers, using the child reports on the People in My Life (PIML) measure (see Murray & Greenberg, 2000). The child's Teacher Attachment subscale assesses teacher affiliation and dissatisfaction (the Parent Attachment subscale is described in the next subsection). Children responded with their level of agreement with eight items assessing teacher affiliation and dissatisfaction. Examples of items include: "I get along well with my teachers", "My teachers understand me", and "I trust my teachers". Children rated their agreement with the items using a four-point scale of 1 = "almost never or never true", 2 = "sometimes true", 3 = "often true" and 4 = "almost always or always true". Items are combined into a summative attachment score with a range of 1 to 4. Higher scores indicate greater levels of attachment. The overall mean score for this sample was 3.17 (SD = 0.68). Girls' and boys' mean scores on these measures, according to the number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced, are displayed in Figure 7.3.

Figure 7.3: Mean teacher attachment scores, by number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced, child reports, boys and girls, K cohort, Wave 4

Mean teacher attachment scores, by number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced, child reports, boys and girls, K cohort, Wave 4 - as described in accompanying text.

Notes: Confidence intervals are shown by the "I" bars at each data point. Where confidence intervals for the groups being compared do not overlap, this indicates that the values are significantly different at p < .05.

Overall, teacher attachment was higher for girls than for boys, and higher for children who were not picked on through unfriendly behaviours than for those who were. Among those who were picked on through unfriendly behaviours, teacher attachment was not necessarily significantly different when adding one more type of unfriendly behaviour; however, the slope of the line for boys and girls indicates that teacher attachment was lower when more types of unfriendly behaviours were experienced, up until three types. Teacher attachment was no lower for four compared to three types, and for boys there was little difference between those picked on through two compared to four types of unfriendly behaviour.

Children's attachment to parents

Research generally concurs that the quality of family relationships plays an important role in bullying behaviour (Lodge, 2008). More broadly, research regarding attachment in middle childhood highlights the significance of the emotional bonds between parents and children and the development of successful interpersonal skills and relationships (Madden-Derdich, Estrada, Sales, Leonard, & Updegraff, 2002). This emotional bond with parents can be understood in light of the specific dimensions of trust and communication, with higher levels of parental communication being more strongly associated with lower delinquency and depression in children (Ridenour, Greenberg, & Cook, 2006).

We now examine the attachment of 10-11 year old children to parents, again using child reports on the PIML measure, but using the Parent Attachment subscale. The Parent Attachment subscale measures trust and communication. Examples of items assessing parental trust and communication include: "My parents understand me", "I can count on my parents to help me when I have a problem", and "I share my thoughts and feelings with my parents". Children rated their agreement on eight items using a four-point scale: 1 = "almost never or never true", 2 = "sometimes true", 3 = "often true", and 4 = "almost always or always true". Responses on each item are combined into a summative score with a range of 1 to 4, with a higher score indicating a greater level of attachment. The overall mean score for the LSAC sample was 3.52 (SD = 0.53). Girls' and boys' mean scores on these measures according to the number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced are displayed in Figure 7.4.

Figure 7.4: Mean parental attachment scores, by number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced, child reports, boys and girls, K cohort, Wave 4

Mean parental attachment scores, by number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced, child reports, boys and girls, K cohort, Wave 4 - as described in accompanying text.

Notes: Confidence intervals are shown by the "I" bars at each data point. Where confidence intervals for the groups being compared do not overlap, this indicates that the values are significantly different at p < .05.

Levels of parental attachment differed significantly for boys and girls according to whether they were picked on through unfriendly behaviours. In total, children who were picked on through at least one unfriendly behaviour reported statistically significantly lower levels of parental attachment (trust and communication) than those who were not picked on at all. As with other measures examined in this chapter, the slope of the lines indicates that parental attachment was lower among children who experienced more types of unfriendly behaviours, although this is not apparent when comparing three types to four types of unfriendly behaviours for girls, and for boys, parental attachment was the same for those who experienced two, three or four types of unfriendly behaviours.

7.5 How do experiences of unfriendly behaviours relate to aspects of social-emotional wellbeing?

Being a victim of school bullying is considered a risk factor for poor psychological health, with the risk being greater for children who suffer severe and prolonged victimisation and who lack adequate social support (Rigby, 2003). To explore this, the following subsections present associations between children's experiences of being picked on through unfriendly behaviours and indicators of social and emotional wellbeing.

As with the previously presented analyses, it is important to note that the following analyses do not take account of other underlying characteristics (such as the socio-economic position of the family) that might be related to differences in children's experiences of unfriendly behaviours and may also influence children's outcomes. Further, as the analyses are based on data collected at one point in time, they do not identify causal relationships. This means that we are unable to say whether being picked on results in children having poorer social-emotional outcomes, follows from children having lower social-emotional wellbeing, or perhaps is related to other factors (such as the characteristics analysed in the preceding subsection). Extending this research to address these questions will be an important direction for future research with these data, but is beyond the scope of this chapter.

The value of the analyses presented here is to demonstrate how experiences of being picked on through unfriendly behaviours co-occurs with various aspects of wellbeing. To the extent that being picked on in this way is indicative of being bullied, this draws attention to the various supports or programs that may be beneficial to children who are victims of bullying.

The measures examined here are derived from children's own responses to items from the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (measures of conduct problems, emotional difficulties and hyperactivity/inattention) and the Self-Description Questionnaire I (a measure of general self-concept). These measures are described further below.

Children's self-concept

First, we explore children's general self-concept, which is linked to students' level of confidence, social skills and self-worth (Hattie, 1992). Previous research has shown that children who are bullied more extensively have, for example, lower levels of self-esteem (Rigby, 2002), and so we have strong expectations that self-concept will be lower among children who are picked on through more types of unfriendly behaviours.

Child reports of self-concept are measured using the Self-Description Questionnaire I (described earlier in the discussion of the peer relations measure). In this questionnaire, general self-concept refers to eight items, including "I do lots of important things" and "I can do things as well as most other people". The scale is derived from the mean of these items, with a range of 1 to 5. A higher value indicates a more positive self-concept. The LSAC sample had an overall mean self-concept score of 4.16 with a standard deviation of 0.67.

These measures are presented in Figure 7.5 for boys and girls, by number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced. Boys and girls who were not picked on through unfriendly behaviours reported greater levels of general self-concept than those who were. As with the other measures we have seen, children's self-concept declined as the number of types of unfriendly behaviours increased, although wide confidence intervals mean that differences were not necessarily significantly different when comparing children's outcomes where the number of types of unfriendly behaviours varied by just one.

Figure 7.5: Mean self-concept scores, by number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced, child reports, boys and girls, K cohort, Wave 4

Mean self-concept scores, by number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced, child reports, boys and girls, K cohort, Wave 4 - as described in accompanying text.

Notes: Confidence intervals are shown by the "I" bars at each data point. Where confidence intervals for the groups being compared do not overlap, this indicates that the values are significantly different at p < .05.

Social-emotional problems

This subsection examines the social and emotional problems of 10-11 year old children using child reports on the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (Goodman, 2001). This instrument is a brief screening questionnaire that includes scales assessing conduct problems, emotional symptoms, hyperactivity or inattention, and peer relationship problems. Since one component of the peer relations scale specifically relates to children being bullied or picked on, instead of using the overall scale in which all these subscales are aggregated, we explore associations with the subscales of conduct problems (e.g., often fights with other children or bullies them), emotional symptoms (e.g., nervous or clingy in new situations, easily loses confidence), and hyperactivity/inattention (e.g., constantly fidgeting or squirming). Findings for conduct problems are of particular interest, as they may provide evidence of children being both victims and perpetrators of bullying. Each subscale has a possible range of 0 to 10, with higher scores indicating higher levels of social-emotional problems. The overall means of these measures in this sample were: conduct problems 2.01 (SD = 1.79), emotional symptoms 2.97 (SD = 2.25), and hyperactivity/inattention 3.61 (SD = 2.22).

Children experiencing different numbers of types of unfriendly behaviours were compared on each of these subscales (Figure 7.6). There were significant group differences in mean scores on each of the subscales, with children who had been picked on showing significantly higher levels of social-emotional problems. Further, associations with increasing numbers of types of unfriendly behaviours were apparent, especially for conduct problems and for emotional difficulties. On these scales, the difference between those who were picked on through all four types of unfriendly behaviour and those not picked on at all was more than one standard deviation. For hyperactivity/inattention, the mean score for girls was the same for those who experienced three or four types of unfriendly behaviours, and the mean scores for boys were the same for those experiencing two, three or four types of unfriendly behaviours.

Figure 7.6: Mean scores for social-emotional problems, by number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced, child reports, boys and girls, K cohort, Wave 4

Mean scores for social-emotional problems, by number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced, child reports, boys and girls, K cohort, Wave 4 - as described in accompanying text.

Notes: Confidence intervals are shown by the "I" bars at each data point. Where confidence intervals for the groups being compared do not overlap, this indicates that the values are significantly different at p < .05.

Note that these analyses use children's own reports on questions relating to their social-emotional wellbeing. If, instead, parents' or teachers' reports are used, there are similar associations apparent between children's experiences of unfriendly behaviours and their social-emotional wellbeing, as measured on these different subscales (results not shown).

7.6 Parent, teacher and child reports on children's experiences of bullying victimisation

One feature of bullying is that it often occurs during times when children are not being closely supervised by adults (Craig & Pepler, 1997). As such, parents and teachers may not always be aware that a child has been a victim of bullying behaviours. We explore this here with the LSAC data, by relating children's experiences of having been picked on through unfriendly behaviours to parent and teacher reports of children having been bullied.

In LSAC, parents and teachers are asked about whether children have been bullied or picked on in the previous 6 months. These parent- and teacher-reported data are the same as those analysed for children's reports in section 7.2. As noted in the introduction, parent reports were available for all of the children, and here we focus on reports by Parent 1 (usually mothers). Teacher reports were available for 82% of the children.

For the 10-11 year old children, 69% of Parent 1 respondents said the child had not been bullied or picked on (67% for boys and 71% for girls), 25% said it was somewhat true that the child had been bullied or picked on (25% for boys and 24% for girls), and 7% said this was certainly true (8% for boys and 6% for girls). Looking at teacher reports, 85% said the child had not been bullied (82% for boys and 88% for girls), 12% said it was somewhat true that the child had been bullied (14% for boys and 9% for girls) and 3% said it was certainly true (4% for boys and 2% for girls).

These same questions were asked at each of the earlier waves of LSAC, and so it is possible to see to what extent reporting of children being bullied at age 10-11 years follows a pattern of being bullied at earlier ages. Here we use just the Parent 1 reports, for simplicity. The overall trend was for parents to be slightly more likely to report that their child had been bullied once children were school-aged; that is, from 6-7 years through to 10-11 years. Across these ages, there was very little difference in the percentages reporting that their child had been bullied. The percentage reporting that their child had been bullied or picked on (certainly or somewhat) was 21% at 4-5 years, 29% at 6-7 years, 30% at 8-9 years, then 31% at 10-11 years. (Note that these figures are based on the sample of children who responded at Wave 4.)

Children who were reported by parents to have been bullied or picked on at a younger age, were more often reported by parents to have been bullied or picked on at older ages. For example, of the children who were said to have not been bullied at age 4-5 years, 27% were said to have been bullied at age 10-11 years, which compares to a considerably higher percentage of 47% for 10-11 year old children who, according to parents, had somewhat or certainly been bullied at age 4-5 years.

These four waves of longitudinal data allow us to measure whether, according to parents, children were persistently bullied or picked on from age 4-5 years through to age 10-11 years. Overall, among the 10-11 year old children, 43% had not been bullied or picked on, according to parents, in the 6 months prior to each of the four waves. At the other extreme, 4% had been bullied or picked on in the 6 months prior to each of the waves, according to parents. In between, 27% had been bullied prior to only one of the waves (at age 10-11 years being the most common), 17% prior to two waves (at ages 8-9 and 10-11 years being the most common) and 10% prior to three waves (at ages 6-7, 8-9 and 10-11 years being the most common).

These longitudinal patterns suggest that, to some extent, bullying victimisation experiences that are apparent at young ages may be a precursor to such experiences as children grow. This may reflect the underlying characteristics of children that may place them at greater risk of being bullied, regardless of their age.

An important question to ask is to what extent parents are aware of bullying. To examine this, parent reports on their child's experience of victimisation behaviours in the preceding 6 months were compared with the self-reports of 10-11 year olds on experiences of unfriendly behaviours. Child reports refer to the experiences of specific unfriendly behaviours and, as we saw in section 7.2, there is a strong association between these reports and children's reports of having been bullied or picked on. However, this is not a perfect relationship, and the extent to which some children who experienced unfriendly behaviours reported that they had not been bullied or picked on suggests that some children do not equate these unfriendly behaviours with being bullied.

Just as was the case with child reports of having been bullied or picked on, parents (and also teachers) were not prompted to think about specific bullying behaviours, and so may not bring to mind all those behaviours that children are asked about when queried about unfriendly behaviours (or indeed, if parents are aware of children experiencing these behaviours). Also, the parent (and teacher) reports about children being bullied or picked on refer to the preceding 6 months, while children's reports of specific unfriendly behaviours refer to the preceding 12 months.

Table 7.6 shows that of children who said they had been picked on in some way, 55% of parents said it was not true that their child had been picked on, another 34% said it was somewhat true, and 11% said it was certainly true. That is, for a significant number of children who reported experiencing unfriendly behaviours, their parents may either not be aware that they had experienced these behaviours, or if they were aware, may not have considered those actions to be bullying behaviours. For children who reported that they had not been picked on, 87% of their parents also reported that the child had not been picked on or bullied.

Table 7.6: Comparison of parent, teacher and child reports of victimisation at 10-11 years old, K cohort, Wave 4
Not true (%) Somewhat (%) Certainly (%) Total (%)
Parent reports of whether child picked on or bullied ***
No types of unfriendly behaviours 86.7 11.3 2.0 100.0
One or more types of unfriendly behaviours: 55.2 34.3 10.6 100.0
One type 71.5 24.2 4.4 100.0
Two types 55.7 34.4 10.0 100.0
Three types 45.3 42.0 12.7 100.0
Four types 30.7 45.1 24.2 100.0
Teacher reports of whether child picked on or bullied ***
No types of unfriendly behaviours 92.6 5.5 2.0 100.0
One or more types of unfriendly behaviours: 79.2 16.4 4.4 100.0
One type 88.4 9.5 2.2 100.0
Two types 80.1 16.5 3.4 100.0
Three types 72.8 19.1 8.1 100.0
Four types 65.5 28.8 5.7 100.0

Notes: Parent reports: no. of observations = 4,044. Teacher reports: no. of observations = 3,301. Statistically significant differences are noted: *** p < .001.

There was some variation in parents' reports of bullying according to the number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced by children. The more types of unfriendly behaviours children experienced, the more likely were parents to report that their child was certainly bullied, and the less likely they were to report that their child was not bullied. This may indicate that when children are bullied in multiple ways, the outcomes are more apparent to parents, perhaps because children are more likely to talk to their parents about these experiences. Nevertheless, even for children who reported three or four types of unfriendly behaviours, a significant proportion of parents reported that their child had not been bullied (45% and 31% respectively).

Because much of the bullying of school-age children occurs in school, it is also valuable to consider whether teachers are aware of children's bullying experiences. Just as with parent and child reports, Table 7.6 shows that there were discrepancies between teacher reports of bullying and child reports of unfriendly behaviours. For those children who reported that they had been victims of unfriendly behaviours, 21% of teachers said the child was somewhat or certainly bullied, leaving 79% saying that the child had not been bullied or picked on. As with parent reports, teachers were less likely to say that the child had not been bullied if the child reported experiencing more types of unfriendly behaviours. Most of the accompanying increase was in the percentage reporting that the child had been somewhat bullied. For children who reported experiencing three or four types of unfriendly behaviours, a majority of teachers reported that these children had not been picked on or bullied (73% or 66%, respectively). There is some evidence to suggest that teachers are less likely to observe certain bullying behaviours, such as acts of social exclusion (Craig & Pepler, 1997). Problems with interpreting what is and is not "bullying'' may also result from the subjective elements involved in defining a bullying episode.

To fully understand these relationships and apparent under-reporting of bullying by parents and teachers, more detailed information is needed on the types of bullying that parents and teachers observed. A more detailed examination of these data, along with the data on whether children considered that they had been bullied and their reports on unfriendly behaviours, could provide some insights on which specific behaviours are more closely aligned with parent or teacher reports of children's bullying experiences. Nevertheless, these data suggest a significant under-reporting of bullying by both parents and teachers, which is consistent with the research (e.g., Craig & Pepler, 1997).

7.7 Summary and discussion

The analyses presented in this chapter provide information about 10-11 year olds' experiences of being picked on through unfriendly behaviours, to provide some indication of experiences of bullying victimisation among this age group, using data from the nationally representative LSAC survey. The findings highlight that a significant proportion of children may experience some bullying victimisation. Almost 3 in 5 children aged 10-11 years reported that they had been picked on through some form of unfriendly behaviour in the previous 12 months. Seven per cent of children at 10-11 years had experienced all four types of unfriendly behaviour examined here (pushing, shoving, hitting; name-calling or insulting; social exclusion; and note-writing). The greater the number of types of unfriendly behaviour experienced, the more likely were children to report that they had been bullied or picked on in the previous 6 months.

While boys and girls aged 10-11 years reported similar rates of overall victimisation, boys were more likely than girls to report overt unfriendly behaviours (pushing, shoving, hitting, and name-calling or insulting) and girls were more likely than boys to report the covert types (social exclusion, note-writing). This supports the view that there is a need to distinguish between various forms of bullying by boys and girls to enable appropriate interventions to be devised and applied.

Some factors emerged in describing differences in the prevalence of being picked on through unfriendly behaviours. In particular, victimisation was more apparent among children from families with lower access to social and economic resources, and among children living in lone-mother rather than two-parent families. Also, Indigenous children more often experienced unfriendly behaviours compared to non-Indigenous children, while children of non-English speaking parents were less likely to experience unfriendly behaviours than other children. Children with a disability or long-term health condition also were more likely than other children to have been picked on through unfriendly behaviours, as were the 10-11 year olds in the lower grades, rather than the higher grades. Being picked on was also more common among overweight or obese children, compared to children of normal weight. Among children whom teachers identified as being absent from school more frequently, there was a higher percentage of children who reported experiencing unfriendly behaviours, compared to those with more regular school attendance. Additionally, children who had changed schools in the previous two years were more likely to report victimisation, although it is not clear whether this occurred before or after the change in schools. School type or size did not appear to be related to children's reports of experiences of unfriendly behaviours.

We explored here various aspects of boys' and girls' relationships with peers, teachers and parents, and how the quality of these relationships varied by the number of types of unfriendly behaviours the children had experienced. These relationships are important in this context. Peer relations are likely to be central to children's experiences of being bullied or picked on, since their peers are often the perpetrators of bullying. Here, it was clear that poorer peer relations were experienced by boys and girls who were subject to more types of unfriendly behaviours. It was not surprising to see, then, that a higher number of types of unfriendly behaviours experienced was associated with children feeling less safe and less happy in school.

The quality of children's attachments to teachers and parents is likely to be an important factor in a child's willingness to disclose peer victimisation to these adults. This research showed that children who had been picked on reported lower levels of parental and teacher attachment than those who had not. This was true for boys and for girls.

It is well established that children who are bullied tend to experience difficulties with self-esteem, and these analyses were consistent with this, showing that children who experienced more peer victimisation, on average, reported poorer general self-concept or self-worth. Children experiencing more peer victimisation also showed significantly higher levels of conduct problems, emotional difficulties, and hyperactivity or inattention. It is important for future research to examine the relationship between experiences of unfriendly behaviours and social-emotional problems, in order to establish to what extent this reflects children being both victims and perpetrators of bullying.

Teachers and parents may need help in ensuring bullying interventions are effectively targeted toward the children at greatest risk of bullying victimisation. The findings suggest that parents and teachers may have difficulty in detecting all forms of bullying behaviour, although different reporting periods and different methods of collecting information on bullying experiences may contribute to differences in child, parent and teacher reports of children's bullying victimisation. In future research it will be valuable to explore these data further, to ascertain whether the factors that explain children's reports of experiences of unfriendly behaviours are the same as those that predict such reports by parents or teachers; or whether there are certain groups of children who self-report experiencing victimisation that does not come to the attention of parents or teachers. Previous research has highlighted the importance of providing teacher training aimed at raising teachers' awareness of bullying behaviours, as teacher responsiveness is considered fundamental in efforts to reduce school bullying (Pepler, Smith, & Rigby, 2004). Also important is helping parents by providing them with information on how to recognise that their child might be being bullied and helping them to help their child deal with these situations. Whole-school anti-bullying intervention programs that are targeted at students, teachers and parents have been shown to have some positive outcomes, including that these programs result in children becoming much more likely to tell someone if they have been bullied (Carney & Merrell, 2001; Soutter & McKenzie, 2000).

It will be important for later research with LSAC data to explore to what extent the associations presented in this chapter can be linked specifically to experiences of being bullied or picked on, rather than any underlying characteristics of those children who are victims of bullying. The longitudinal data will be especially valuable in helping to understand the factors that may lead to children being more likely to be victims of bullying. In the future, bullying victimisation will be able to be studied in more detail, and focus more directly on experiences of bullying rather than unfriendly behaviours. This will be possible in later waves of LSAC, in which more detailed information on bullying is being collected, including information on cyber-bullying. Importantly, further waves of these data will also be able to be used to examine to what extent children exhibit bullying behaviours themselves.

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Footnote

1 Of children who changed schools, 4% moved from primary to secondary school, or moved as a result of school closure.

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