Swedish teenagers believe that the bully and the victim's individual characteristics, rather than the wider social environment, explain why bullying occurs.
Robert Thornberg and Sven Knutsen at Linkoping University in Sweden explored how teenagers explain bullying to better understand their actions as participants or bystanders in bullying situations and their research included young people's views on why bullying takes place in school.
A total of 176 15- and 16-year-old high school students in Sweden participated in the study and filled out a questionnaire asking them about their own school bullying experiences (bystander, victim and/or bully) as well as why they thought bullying occurs.
The authors found that 69 percent of teenagers attributed the cause of bullying to the bully. The bullies' inner flaws (e.g. insecurity and low self-esteem) and their desire to maintain or enhance their power, status, and popularity were the two most common explanations given for why they bullied others.
Interestingly, 42 percent of teenagers blamed the victim for the bullying, and their deviance from the norm (e.g. 'different' or 'odd') as the reason why. More girls than boys blamed the bully rather than the victim.
In contrast, only 21 percent of teenagers attributed the cause of bullying to the peer group, 7 percent to the school setting and fewer still to human nature or society in general.
The authors conclude that, "Teenagers explain bullying significantly more in individualistic terms, that is, the bully or victim is to blame, than in non-individualistic terms where peers, school or society are to blame.
These findings have important implications for prevention and intervention efforts designed to reduce bullying among children and adolescents.
The study is published online in Springer's journal, Child and Youth Care Forum.