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Harel-Fisch, Y., Walsh, S. D., Fogel-Grinvald, H., Amitai, G., Pickett, W., Molcho, M., … The Injury Prevention Focus Group. (2010). Negative school perceptions and involvement in school bullying: A universal relationship across 40 countries. Journal of Adolescence, 34, 1-14.

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Bullying has been defined as deliberate and repeated long-term exposure to negative acts performed by a person or group of persons regarded of higher status or greater strength than the victim (Harel, 1998; Olweus, 1993; Scheidt & Harel, 2001). It implies an imbalance of power (physically or psychologically) between the bully and the victims (Olweus, 1991) and may involve verbal acts such as threats, insults and nicknames, physical acts such as assault or theft or social acts such as exclusion from the peer group (Due et al., 2005). Bullying affects the health of young people, resulting in psychological distress, such as depression, bad temper,nervousness, loneliness and helplessness (Haynie et al., 2001; Kaltiala-Heino, Rimpela, Marttunen, Rimpela, & Rantanen, 1999; Peskin, Tortolero, Markham, Addy, & Baumler, 2007; Salmon, James, Cassidy, & Javaloyes, 2000) and long term patterns of problem behavior, such as aggression, violence, problem drinking and substance use (Farrington, 1989; Kaltiala-Heino, Rimpelae, Rantanen, & Rimpelae, 2000). While bullies have been shown to exhibit higher levels of externalizing behavior and victims as showing higher levels of internalizing behavior, those who are classified as both bullies and victims have been shown to exhibit higher levels of both and lower levels of functioning (Hanish & Guerra, 2004; Menesini, Modena, & Tani, 2009; Nansel et al., 2004).A participative life in school and the perception of safety in schools, a feeling of belonging and bonding with teachers and pupils, are relevant factors in well-being (Bonny, Britto, Klostermann, Hornung, & Slap, 2000; Gonçalves & Matos, 2007; Matos, 2005; Matos et al., 2008; Simões, 2007). Many existing studies show that negative school perceptions among youth predict higher likelihood of involvement in various risk behaviors, such as substance use, problem drinking, truancy and involvement in school bullying, fighting and weapon carrying (Harel, 1999; Kasen et al., 2004). Bullying is associated with poorer grades, more absenteeism and lower school attendance (Eisenberg, Neumark-Sztainer, & Perry, 2003; Juvonen, Nishina, & Graham, 2000; Nishina, Juvonen, & Witkow, 2005; Pekel-Uludagli & Ucanok, 2005).

Method: This study contains data from the 2002 and the 2006 World Health Organization Health Behavior in School-Aged Children (HBSC) cross-national surveys conducted in 40 countries. The HBSC surveys school children aged 11, 13 and 15 in 40 countries in Europe and North America. The HBSC questionnaire includes 17 measures describing various dimensions of school perceptions; six of these items are mandatory and were included in all 40 countries in 2006. An additional 11 items were offered optionally in the 2002 survey, and were included by 12 of the 40 countries. In total, the 2006 survey was comprised of 197,502 students, and the 2002 data included 57,007 students from 12 countries. To measure bullying two questions were asked, how often have you been bullied at school in the past couple of months and how often have you taken part in bullying another student at school in the past couple of months? Response options were: 1- I haven’t been bullied/been involved in bullying in school in the past couple of months; 2- it has only happened once or twice; 3- 3 times a month; 4- about once a week; and 5- several times a week. School perceptions included six mandatory items in three areas, academic achievement, student social relationships and general school perception. The 11 optional questions were related to three areas as well, rules and regulations, teacher–pupil relations, and general school perceptions. For all questions a five point Likert scale was given ranging from ‘strongly agree’ to ‘strongly disagree’. Two scales of Cumulative Negative School Perceptions (CNSP) were created. One scale was based on the six mandatory items, and the second scale was based on all 17 items.

Results: The findings suggest that each of the negative school perceptions is significantly related to all three groups involved in bullying (bully, victim and bully-victim). However, strong relationships were found between being bullied and student social relationship variables such as students being together, students being kind and helpful , and students accepting me and for general school perception variables such as feeling safe and feeling that I belong. Strong relationships were also found between bullying others and lower academic achievement, general school perception variables such as liking school, feeling I belong, and feeling safe, teacher–pupil relation variables such as teacher encourages students to express views, teacher treats students fairly, and teachers give extra help when needed, and rules and regulations variables such as rules are fair and students are treated too severely/strictly. Strong relationships were found between bully-victims and lower academic achievement, general school perception variables, teacher–pupil relation variables, rules and regulations variables and student social relationship variables. For all three groups, the odds of being involved in bullying increase significantly for each unit in the CNSP scale with the bully-victim group showing a greater number of high odds ratios amongst individual negative school perceptions. The effect of CNSP on bullying is stronger for girls than it is for boys. The higher the number of negative perceptions, the higher the odds of being involved in bullying. These strong relationships between the cumulative number of negative school perceptions and the involvement in bullying are universal across almost all 40 countries. In the majority of countries, having only three negative school perceptions was associated with twice the odds of being involved in bullying, as compared to students with no negative perceptions.

Discussion: Negative perceptions of the school experience were strongly and consistently associated with bullying, with being a victim of bullying and being a bully-victim. The more that a child feels a sense of belongingness, liking, and safety, the less chance they will be involved in bullying, either as perpetrator or victim (Ahmed & Braithwaite, 2004; Eisenberg et al., 2003; Laufer & Harel, 2003a; Rigby & Slee, 1993). This can be utilized to reduce bullying involvement by means of improvement of school experience. While victimization is significantly related to variables of fellow–student relationships, being a perpetrator of bullying is related more to the teacher–student relationship items and to the variables related to rules and regulations. Interestingly, being a bully-victim was significantly associated with the greatest number of negative school perceptions in different areas. Poor relationships with students lead to a child being chosen as a victim for bullying. Children who feel that they are being treated badly or unfairly by teachers, may in turn treat other children badly, either as a way of relieving their hurt or frustration or as a way of re-taking a sense of relationship control through the construction of a relationship where they have power and control. In order to reduce bullying in schools, we need to understand how the “bully” perceives their relationships with teachers and their place in the school environment.