How is Bullying Affecting the Nordic Island of Iceland?

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With approximately 333,000 inhabitants, Iceland is the least populated nation in Europe. At the same time, it’s a country with diverse cultures and beliefs, making it susceptible to ethnic bullying and discrimination. Bullying in Iceland may not be as widespread as it is in other European countries, but statistics show the country has its share of bullying problems.

Bullying in Icelandic Schools

Bullying threatens a child’s social and academic development. It’s this fear that prompts Icelandic parents to educate almost 160,000 children at home rather than send them to public schools. Bullying victims can be 2-9 times more susceptible to suicide than those who never suffer this abuse. Almost 14% of high school students consider suicide – about half this percentage attempt suicide annually.

In Iceland, ethnic children and LGBT youth have greater risk of being targeted by bullies. The long term effects of bullying can be devastating to a young person’s life, making this behavior unacceptable at any level.

There are various examples of high school bullying cases in Iceland that resulted in physical and mental harm. Earlier this year, the brutal attack of a teen girl by four of her peers at the Langholtsskóli playground shocked the entire community. The assault was caught on video by bystanders and posted online. The victim was hospitalized with neck and back injuries, cuts and bruises.

The girl had been bullied since transferring to her new school at Austurbæjarskóli; school officials, however, had done little to counter the bullying behavior. The victim’s father criticized the school for not taking action to prevent bullying behavior, especially after reports were made.

“This is the worst case of bullying and this matter is our priority right now,” said Detective Benedikt Lund who is investigating the incident. Since the attack, the school has suspended one of the perpetrators. The incident is being investigated by police and child protective services.

Ethnic Bullying in Iceland

Results of a doctoral study by Eyrún María Rúnarsdóttir, a student at Leiden University in Holland, revealed that foreign children were more susceptible to being bullied than those born in Iceland. Despite learning the local language and customs, foreign children had a hard time being accepted by those of Icelandic descent.

In a national survey, Rúnarsdóttir compared the ‘contentment and indisposition level’ of immigrant children from Asia, Poland and West Europe in grades 6, 8 and 10 to those of Icelandic children. “… all groups of immigrant children were less satisfied with their lives than Icelandic children, “said Rúnarsdóttir, “but Asian and West-European children felt worst.”

According to Rúnarsdóttir, Asian immigrant children fared badly when it came to integrating into Icelandic society. They often had less support from family or friends and experienced more animosity in the form of bullying from Icelandic peers.

The results of the study yielded the following bullying facts:

  • 16.4% of children from Asian descent reported being bullied; this figure dropped to 13.6% for children from Western Europe and 12.2% for Polish children.
  • Only 4.8% of children from Icelandic origin were bullied
  • Polish children topped the list of being bullies (11.4%) followed by kids from Western Europe (4.9%), Asia (4.1%) and Iceland (2.4%)

“There seems to be a lot that indicates that children of foreign origin are worse off socially than their Icelandic peers,” concluded Rúnarsdóttir. “They also have difficulties making Icelandic friends.”

Icelandic Muslims Bullied in Iceland

According to news stories from media sources RÚV and Kvennablaðið, Icelandic Muslims are suffering from online bullying as backlash for the 2015 terrorist attack in Paris. Nadia Tamimi and her family are among those receiving hate messages online.

Before the terrorist incident, Nadia and her family enjoyed good relations with their local community, having lived there for quite some time. “Today, I must defend my religion almost daily, defend my people and correct misunderstandings about Islam,” she says. “My father receives verbal abuses daily, online, in comment systems and messages.”

Nadia feels people shouldn’t blame an entire ethnic culture or religion for the actions of a few. Recalling her reaction to the tragic murder of her grandmother by an Icelandic Christian native, she said, “I was overwhelmed with sorrow and anger but never, ever did I think of blaming all Christian people, all Icelanders or all white men …”

LGBTI Bullying in Iceland 

Studies from researcher Sigurður Páll Jósteinsson indicate that LGBTI students are 30% more likely to suffer from mobbing (bullying) than their non LGBTI peers. Repercussions range from victims quitting school to attempting suicide. Gay teens in Iceland are 5-6 times more susceptible to suicide than those who are heterosexual.

Hafþór Freyr Líndal, a member of Iceland’s safe internet center, says cyberbullying of gay students can be particularly ‘coarse’, especially on such social media sites as Formspring and Ask.fm that encourage young people to post anonymous questions and comments about their peers.

Both Líndal and Jósteinsson feel education is key to addressing problems with LGBTI bullying.  “Teachers working with children and adolescents need to be better educated, to acquire the skills to analyze, react to and prevent LGBTI bullying,” says Jósteinsson.

As bullying frequently occurs at school, Jósteinsson feels school officials should be responsible for tackling the problem of why people bully gay students and how to deal with bullying acts. “They are supposed to educate students on bullying on the one hand and about LGBTI issues and sexuality on the other,” he said. “To be able to do that effectively, it needs to be assured that teachers themselves receive adequate education on LGBTI matters.”

In an effort to promote this education, Professor Ingólfur Ásgeir Jóhannesson, a member of the Faculty of Teacher Education, University of Iceland, and Jón Ingvar Kjaran, a post-doctoral fellow, proposed adding a course in queer studies unto the curriculum for education students.

The course would cover the history of ‘queer society’ in general, their struggle for equality and the dangers they face from bullying. Currently, there’s great interest for studies on the LGBTI lifestyle in the University and secondary schools in Iceland.

Internet Bullying in Iceland 

Recently, a cyberbullying study was conducted among 10,930 teens ages 14-17 from schools in six countries across Europe (Poland, Spain, Netherlands, Romania, Greece and Iceland). The following online bullying information was gleaned from the study:

  • Cyberbullying occurred more frequently among girls (23.9%) than boys (18.5%) and among older teens (24.2%) than younger teens (19.7%)
  • Romania (37.3%) and Greece (26.8%) topped the list of online bullying incidents while bullying was least prevalent in Spain (13.3%) and Iceland (13.5%)
  • One out of every five teens in the survey experienced cyberbullying at some point in their lives
  • Teens who used the Internet several hours or more daily were more susceptible to cyberattacks

Studies show that cyberbullying victims often suffer from psychological, health and academic problems. Schools that educate teens on how to handle bullying incidents and protect themselves online do their part to stop bullying and minimize its harmful effects. Currently, there are no laws against bullying in Iceland, making it essential for Icelandic schools and local communities to pool their resources in combating this problem.

Icelandic Celebrity Backs No Bullying Cause     

Icelandic singing sensation Greta Salóme is using her music to combat cyberbullying and promote positive messages to her audiences. Her song “Hear Them Calling” about the voices people listen to daily has been an encouragement to thousands. To show her support for anti-bullying work in Iceland, Salóme is donating one of her outfits for auction to raise funds for this cause.

“I believe that cyber bullying is a global issue especially for the younger generation,” Salóme says. “Therefore I’m giving the dress that I wore on the stage at Eurovision to ‘Speak UP!’ I hope the auction can help spread awareness about negativity and bullying and help ‘Speak UP!’ continue their fantastic work against bullying.”

The anti-bullying web/mobile app ‘Speak UP!’ enables students to take a stance against bullying by anonymously reporting abusive behavior that occurs in school and online. Tobias Wernius, the Global Development Manager of the app, welcomes the singer’s help and support to their no bullying cause.

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