When it comes to childhood bullying, America is surprisingly average.
image via (cc) flickr user Spookman01
That bullying is both a terrible and all too common feature of childhood is beyond question. But a recent report put out by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) seeks not only to address the social and developmental realities of children around the world, but indexes exactly where in the world kids reported experiencing the most bullying.
In “Skills for Social Progress: The Power of Social and Emotional Skills,” OECD pulled data from a 2009-2010 World Health Organization survey, published in 2012, which asked children ages 11, 13, and 15 about having been bullied multiple times in the previous several months. What they found was that for the years in question, nearly one in 10 boys worldwide reported having been bullied, with Austrian boys experiencing the most harassment, and Swedish ones, the least. Eleven percent of American boys reported incidents of bullying, compared to 15 percent of their Canadian neighbors to the north.
The OECD average for boys reporting bullying was 11% (Ireland, the US, Finland, and Germany were at this average). One in five Austrian boys said they were bullied, the highest rate, versus only 4% in Sweden.
Girls in almost all the countries surveyed reported significantly lower rates of bullying than boys. The OECD report notes, however, that this was a 2009-2010 survey, so it might not capture the extent of cyberbullying that teens face today. A 2013 study of bullying (pdf, pg. 56) among Swedish youth found that girls are more likely to face cyberbullying.
The OECD authors cede that last point, writing that “although online bullying is less prevalent than offline bullying, it can cause a higher intensity of harm than offline bullying.”
The full OECD report, and the WHO study it draws from paint a more textured look at global bullying, especially in terms of how it varies by gender, changes over time, and is even influenced by the level of wealth of a child’s family. It concludes that while bullying is prevalent in nearly every country on Earth, rates differ wildly, suggesting “cultural factors may affect and influence its acceptability.” That may seem like something of a no-brainer, but it’s by identifying those unique factors that local initiatives designed to prevent bullying will be more effective.
To that end, the WHO recommends combating childhood bullying using schoolwide programs which draw from a number of different disciplines, rather than a single curriculum, or targeted social group approach, which they claim can ultimately worsen the harassment. The OECD report cites interventions that build self-esteem, resiliency, help manage emotions like anger and aggression, and focus on “long-term health and social costs” as being the most helpful.