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Molcho, M., Craig, W., Due, P., Pickett, W., Harel-Fisch, Y., Overpeck, M., & the HBSC Bullying Writing Group. (2009). Cross-national time trends in bullying behaviour 1994–2006: Findings from Europe and North America. International Journal of Public Health, 54, 225-234.

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Previous studies have demonstrated a number of adverse health outcomes associated with bullying such as psychological maladjustment, psychosomatic health problems, absenteeism from school, impaired academic performance, and physical injury. Bullying behavior is also associated with involvement in a range of other risk behaviors such as drinking, smoking and drug use. The effects of bullying are not only acute, but may also persist into later adolescence and adulthood for victims as well as perpetrators. The current study examines cross-national trends in the occurrence of bullying examines.

Method: The HBSC study collects data from nationally representative samples of 11-, 13- and 15-year old schoolchildren every four years in each country. The current study utilized data collected from 21 countries from the 1993/1994 survey, and from 27 countries from each of the 1997/1998; 2001/2002 and 2005/2006 surveys. Sample sizes were 102,799 in 1993/94; 125,732 in 1997/98; 129,240 in 2001/02; and 133,981 in 2005/06. In the 1993/94 and 1997/98 surveys, the question for bullying was phrased “How often have you taken part in bullying other students in school this term?” with response options ‘I haven’t bullied others in school this term’, ‘once or twice’, ‘sometimes’, ‘about once a week’, ‘several times a week’. In 2001/02 and 2005/06 a slightly different phrasing was used: “How often have you taken part in bullying other students at school in the past couple of months?” with response options ‘I haven’t bullied other students in the past couple of months’, ‘it has only happened once or twice’, ‘two or three times a month’, ‘about once a week’, ‘several times a week’. The question on bullying victimization was changed between 1997/98 and 2005/06 from “How often have you been bullied in school this term?” with response options ‘I haven’t been bullied in school this term’, ‘once or twice’, ‘sometimes’, ‘about once a week’, ‘several times a week’, to “How often have you been bullied at school in the past couple of months?” with response options ‘I haven’t been bullied in the past couple of months’, ‘it has only happened once or twice’, ‘two or three times a month’, ‘about once a week’, ‘several times a week’.

Results: The prevalence of occasional bullying behavior decreased in most countries. In Canada, occasional bullying behavior decreased among boys but increased among girls. In France, occasional bullying behavior decreased among boys and girls. In the U.S., occasional bullying behavior decreased among boys and girls but not a lot among girls. Decreases in occasional victimization were evident in most countries. In Canada, occasional victimization increased in boys and girls but more among the girls. In France, occasional victimization decreased among boys and girls. In the U.S., occasional victimization decreased among boys and girls but more among boys. Overall, the percentage of children involved chronically in the bullying of others decreased over the years. In Canada, France, and the U.S., chronic bullying decreased among boys and girls but decreased more among boys in the U.S. Significant decreases in chronic victimization were reported in 21 countries. In Canada, chronic victimization decreased among boys and increased among girls. In France chronic victimization decreased significantly among boys and girls. In the U.S., chronic victimization decreased among both genders but more among boys. With respect to geographic patterns, decreases in bullying behavior were reported over time in countries from the following areas: Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, most of Western Europe, and the Baltic countries.

Discussion: Bullying and associated victimization are common in almost all participating countries. A third of the children in the overall sample report occasional bullying or victimization, and around 1 in 10 children report chronic involvement in bullying, either as a perpetrator or as a victim. In most countries involvement in bullying behavior is decreasing over time. All of the Western European countries reported consistent decreases for each of the four measures of bullying. The reported decreases could be a consequence of ongoing efforts to address school bullying, the result of the increased awareness, or both.