Being bullied and aggressive behavior are serious problems that negatively affect schoolchildren’s mental health and achievement [24
]. Olweus [25
] defines bullying or victimization in terms of being bullied, intimidated, or victimized when students are exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions from more powerful peers. Such negative behavior may be manifested in various ways, for example, as teasing, active exclusion from a social group, or physical assaults [27
In a cross-national study of 113,000 students between the ages of 11 and 15, from 25 countries, involvement in bullying (as being bullied or as being aggressive toward others) varied from 5 to 54% across countries [24
]. The estimates differ widely. Prevalence numbers for Norway are somewhat lower than for most countries [30
Being bullied is known to be associated with a wide range of mental health problems. Victims are more anxious and insecure than other students, in general [25
]. The results of meta-analyses have shown victimization to be correlated with internalizing problems [15
]. According to Perren and Alsaker [26
], victimized children’s lack of friends might render them psychologically and socially vulnerable, and thus more prone to becoming easy targets. In a Swedish study, a substantial proportion of the adolescents in the victim group showed psychiatric symptoms and functioned socially less well than students not involved as victims or as aggressive toward others (hereafter, “noninvolved” students) [18
]. Nansel and colleagues [24
] report remarkable consistency across countries on the relationships between bullying and psychosocial adjustment, with persons who bully others and victims both exhibiting poorer emotional adjustment than those who are not involved in such behaviors.
In general, individuals who are aggressive and bully others show externalizing symptoms [18
], while findings concerning internalizing symptoms are less consistent [19
]. The long-term effects of both being bullied and being aggressive in childhood are poor, and are reported to be potential risk factors for adolescent depression, suicidal behavior, and self-harm [8
]. A worrisome consequence for students who are aggressive toward others is susceptibility to future problems of violence and delinquency [28
Gender differences have been found in a cross-national study: boys reported higher rates of aggressive behavior in all 40 countries, and rates of victimization were higher for girls in 29 of 40 countries [11
]. In a large Finnish study, each gender also had a different risk profile. Male victims were at risk of anxiety and later suicide attempts and suicide, and aggressive males were at risk of personality disorders. However, an aggressive status did not predict any psychiatric outcomes or suicidal behavior when psychiatric problems in year 8 were controlled. Among girls, frequent victimization predicted suicide attempts and suicides even when problem levels at 8 years of age were controlled for [20
In the present study, in contrast to other studies, specific questions about being bullied both at school and on the way to school were included, in addition to assessment of levels of being bullied. Being aggressive toward others was measured by a scale constructed of four items, while other studies often use a single question. The present study focused the social behavior of the adolescents, their social acceptance, their self-esteem as well as their mental health status, to examine characteristics of bullied and aggressive students. Social problems represented by extreme shyness and related characteristics are suggested as a first step to harassment [13
] and were assessed and discussed in the present study, something that has seldom been done in earlier research. Although children involved as victims or as aggressive are more likely to have used mental health services at some time during their lives [21
], the use of mental health services for such problems might also differ across countries.
The aims of this study were to assess the prevalence of being bullied and behaving aggressively toward others and the psychosocial characteristics of exposed students, and to make comparisons with noninvolved students. In addition, the help-seeking behaviors of affected students were addressed, and differences between genders were explored.