In Bullying Around the World

Bullying in Norway in Modern Times

Bullying is an age old problem that threatens the physical and emotional health of people all over the world. Various types of bullying plague people in society today to include school bullying, sibling bullying, workplace bullying and cyberbullying, just to name a few. Of these, school bullying seems to be the most notorious as it endangers the lives of children – the hope of a country’s future – at an early age.

Few, if any, country’s educational system seems to be immune to the dangers of bullying. Even Norway, ranking in the top third of the “2016 Best Countries for Education” list, suffers from problems with bullying. The Scandinavian countries of Norway, Finland, Denmark and Sweden all invest highly in the education of their children. Despite this financial investment and the incorporation of an array of no-bullying programs and campaigns, Norway schools at all levels continue to battle with bullying problems.

Norway: Bullying Facts

In Norway, bullying, aka mobbing, has been defined as “repeated negative or malicious behavior by one or more individuals against a person who cannot defend him or herself.” Such behavior indicates that the bully is the stronger party instigating some type of abuse against someone who is weaker.

Bullying tends to be a common problem in Norway. According to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, an estimated 63,000 children and teens suffer regularly from bullying acts in Norwegian schools. Little decline in bullying statistics from the 5th grade primary school level through 10th grade secondary school level indicates that much work yet needs to be done in this area. It’s estimated that almost 13% of Norwegian primary school students are in some way involved with bullying, either as victims, perpetrators or both.

Bullying can cause tremendous strain and pressure on a child or adolescent, resulting in long standing emotional problems. Children and teens who are consistently bullied over a period of years may develop emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, mental distress and paranoia. Students subjected to bullying over a period of years often suffer from low self-esteem, isolation and worries about their future. Some students even suffer physically from headaches, nausea, nervousness and insomnia at the mere thought of having to go to school and face bullies.

It’s not unusual for psychological problems caused by bullying to extend into a victim’s adult years. A 2006 study conducted by Dr. G.K. Fosse, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, revealed that approximately 50% of adults seeking psychiatric outpatient services in the country had been victims of bullying in school. Apparently their negative experience with bullying as children or teens resulted in problems with anxiety and depression in their adult years.

Studies also indicate that teen bullies are at greater risk of demonstrating antisocial behavior as adults, proving that the long term effects of bullying can be detrimental to both victims and bullies themselves. Taking into consideration the damage that bullying can cause throughout a person’s life, it’s essential that Norwegian schools and government agencies do all they can to stop bullying and protect upcoming generations from its damaging effects.

Bullying Victims: Who’s at Risk?

Although any student can be at risk of being bullied, government studies reveal certain characteristics concerning bullies and victims that provide greater insight into how bullying cases play out in Norwegian society.

Like most countries in Europe, Norway faces problems with primary bullying, middle school bullying and high school bullying, howbeit at different levels. Studies reveal that young students are at greater risk of being bullied, due in part to being weaker and less experienced than students who are older. Older students in the same school often take advantage of the weaknesses of younger kids to commit bullying acts.

When it comes to gender, Norwegian studies show that bullying is a problem among girls and boys alike, howbeit boys are more likely to be perpetrators of the crime. Bullies sometimes work in groups under a specified leader and sometimes they work alone. Bullying activities range from indirect bullying, i.e. spreading negative rumors or stories about others to verbal abuse (teasing, insults, threats) to physical violence.

In recent years, a number of news stories have appeared in the media in Norway exposing the inroads of bullying and its devastating effects on Norwegian youth. According to bullying information collected by news agencies, certain categories of youth are at greater risk of being bullied to include:

  • Poor learners
  • Young smokers
  • Kids from different ethnic backgrounds
  • Gifted students

Poor Learners

A 2014 survey conducted by Professor Lars Lien, Hedmark College, Oslo, revealed that kids who receive poor grades have increased risk of being bullied at all levels of education. By working closer with kids who are poor or slow learners, parents and educators can help prevent bullying within this faction of the student body. According to Professor Lien, “Some people are vulnerable to bullying, and when this is combined with poor psychological health or poor school performance people should be particularly on guard.”

Young Smokers

According to a 2014 study by Professor Tilmann von Soest and Willy Pedersen, Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, young smokers in Norway run greater risk of being stigmatized and bullied than their non-smoking counterparts.

After smoking was banned in Norwegian restaurants and bars, the country underwent a “change in climate” for young smokers, making it a less desirable trait at the high school level. From 2002 to 2010, smoking amongst the 16-17 year old bracket dropped drastically from 24% to 7%.

In 2002, the percentage of smokers and non-smokers being bullied in high school was the same, 5%.  In 2010, this figure dropped to 3% for non-smokers and rose to 7% for smokers, indicating young high school smokers had double the risk of being bullied than their non-smoking peers. Professor Soest further reported that young smokers also experienced more problems with depression, alcohol and cannabis use than their non-smoking counterparts.

Gifted Students

In 2016, a study was conducted by NTNU, a prominent Norwegian research institute, concerning bullying and gifted students. The study revealed that high performance students were more apt to experience harassment from bullies than students with average or below average academic standing. Apparently, being a gifted student in Norway doesn’t necessarily mean young people will enjoy a blissful school experience. In fact, students who fell into the “super gifted” category often experienced more bullying than students receiving very poor scores. As such, gifted students find it very difficult to be challenged by their learning environment.

Coping with Bullying in Norway

Mobbing, aka bullying, is a problem that has plagued Norwegian schools for decades. Anti-bullying campaigns focusing on why people bully and how to deal with bullies have been helpful in giving people a greater understanding of the problem. In like manner, media exposure of how bullying is ruining the lives of Norwegian youth has increased awareness of the problem. These efforts, however, have not met with success when it comes to stopping mobbing altogether.

Norwegian schools also share part of the blame for the increase in bullying activity due to not taking mobbing seriously enough and failing to take action against bullying offenders. In March of 2014, the situation with school bullying reached crisis proportions when a young teen named Odin Olsen Andersgård from the city of Aurskog, South Norway, committed suicide after years of suffering from bullying at school.

To arouse public awareness of the seriousness of mobbing, 14 year old Villemo Hatland, a victim of bullying herself, helped organize a torchlight demonstration through the city of Oslo in protest of bullying behavior in Norwegian schools. The November 2014 event drew thousands of participants to include parents, students, educators, concerned citizens and even the prime minister. Villemo also gave a moving speech before the Norwegian Parliament, urging adults to listen to young people when they expose bullying in their schools and take action against bullying acts.

Katrine Olsen Gillerdalen, Odin’s mother, reiterated Villemo’s stance on young people being heard and admonished schools to take action against bullying offenses. Rather than waste time on anti-bullying programs that produced little results, Mrs. Gillerdalen urged schools to make wise decisions and use their precious time for the benefit of their students.

Measures against School Bullying in Norway

Norway has instituted a number of anti-bullying programs into their schools in an effort to stop bullying and provide a safe and secure environment for learning. Of these programs, the one that stands out as being the most effective was the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

Created by Dr. Dan Olweus, a Norwegian psychology professor, this comprehensive anti-bullying program was specifically designed to prevent school bullying at the elementary, middle school and high school levels. The program was adopted by public schools in Norway under a government initiative to reduce mobbing and restore a high quality of education in Norwegian schools. Dr. Olweus was one of the first to “pioneer” research on bullying in schools. His research was prompted by his concern for the safety and welfare of children in school environments.

To Dr. Olweus, school safety was a priority and a child’s right. His strong beliefs in this area impelled him to propose that Norway adopt an anti-bullying law as early as 1981 to ensure children were spared the humiliation of being bullied. Two years later, 1983, three teen boys committed suicide in north Norway as a result of being severely bullied by their peers. The Ministry of Education responded by initiating a nation-wide anti bullying campaign – the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program – in Norway’s public schools. Legislation against mobbing was enacted by the Norwegian parliament in the mid-1990’s.

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program entailed the participation of approximately 2,500 students from a total of 42 Norwegian schools. The program underwent an evaluation period of 2 ½ years and produced the following results:

  • 50% or more reduction in reported cases of bullying by students and teachers
  • Substantial reduction in student reported cases of anti-social behavior to include vandalism, theft, fist fights and truancy
  • Marked improvement, as reflected by students, in schools’ overall social climate to include order, discipline, student relationships and attitudes towards academics and school environment

Over time, the program was refined, expanded and re-evaluated in other districts and projects and continued to produce successful bullying prevention results. Since 2001, the initiative has been fully implemented throughout Norway’s elementary and secondary schools.

The Olweus bullying prevention program requires participation from three distinct sources: the school, the classroom and students.

  • At the school level, officials are required to administer surveys to get student input on bullying on school grounds. They’re also required to monitor student behavior in between classes and initiate discussion groups between staff.
  • At the classroom level, teachers are responsible for enforcing anti-bullying rules and initiating meetings with students to discuss bullying issues that may arise.
  • At the student level, young people establish procedures for discussing bullying activities with victims, perpetrators and parents of those involved.

Various other anti-bullying initiatives to include the ZERO program and RESPECT program were also developed and instituted into Norwegian schools to combat bullying. For the most part, these programs met with positive results in curtailing bullying activities, improving problematic behavior and creating a more productive learning environment.

Cyberbullying: How Norway is Fighting Back

Internet use and social media have become an integral part of society all around the world and Norway is no exception. Although these means can be used for good, they also open the door to negative actions in the form of cyberbullying. Norway’s Use Your Head school tour program was designed to educate kids about online bullying and help prevent bullying attacks.

According to research by Norwegian telecom Telenor, approximately 66% of children in Norway between the ages of 10-15 have been bullied online or via their mobile phones. The more young people use social media such as Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, WhatsApp, Kik Messenger and others, the chances of Facebook bullying and bullying via text messages, chat and photo sites only increase. By visiting local schools and speaking openly about the dangers of cyberbullying, the Use Your Head program can help curtail cyberattacks.

Use Your Head is a collaborate effort between four Norwegian entities: Telenor, the Norwegian Media Authority, Kids and Media and the Norwegian Red Cross. Since its initiation in 2009, the program has taken its message to over 700 Norwegian schools, educating Norwegian youth and their parents about Internet use and sharing facts about cyberbullying.

In 2015, the program upgraded its appearance and presentations, to include creating brand new talks geared for children aged 11-12 at the upper primary school level. According to a survey conducted by Opinion, a recognized research agency in Oslo, Norway, tweens (10-12) have a special attraction to social sites. By launching talks for this age group, the Use Your Head program has an opportunity to educate an entire generation in the proper use of the Internet and social media.

As most teachers will attest, children within the 10-12 year old age group can be quite impressionable and are often quite curious about the world around them. Many are already familiar with Facebook and are quite active on social media sites. Studies show that approximately 1 in 3 kids from this age group have had experience with cyberbullying, having received negative messages via their smartphone or online.

Concerning young tweens’ use of social media, Kjellaug Tonheim Tonnesen, one of the advisers from Kids and Media, had the following to say: “We are noticing that increasingly younger children are logging onto the net on the bus, at school and at home – and we know that 90 per cent of all 10 year olds have a smartphone. That’s why it’s only natural for us to respond to this development by offering Use Your Head to upper primary school pupils.”

How Effective is the Use Your Head Program?

Of the 49 teachers who have participated in the Use Your Head program, 96% gave positive feedback concerning its methods and message in addressing the topic of cyberbullying and teaching Norwegian kids responsible Internet and social media use. An estimated 96% felt the information shared in the program was useful to them as educators. A full 100% believed the program was beneficial to their students. More importantly, the majority strongly believed the program’s presentations were helpful in preventing online abuse.

The new talks developed by the program for upper primary school kids were launched for an audience of approximately 7,300 students aged 11-12 years at the Telenor Arena. Teacher feedback revealed that students expressed a great interest in the topics that were raised after the talk. Over 30% of the students who heard the presentation expressed a desire to discuss cyberbullying further with teachers once the presentation was done. Students’ interest in pursuing the topic was an indication that the presentation was getting through to this age group and hitting the mark.

Kors på halsen, the telephone counseling service of the Norwegian Red Cross, a key partner of the program, also experienced increased student interest in discussing online bullying after the Telenor Arena event. Some of the inquiries came from bullies themselves who were expressing their regrets for past actions against their peers. Program organizers and teachers alike were greatly encouraged to see their efforts being rewarded with the prospect of changing young people’s lives for the better.

Nelli Kongshaug, Head of Kors på halsen, made the following observation: “The average age of people contacting us is 14-15 years old, but following the event at the Telenor Arena, we saw an increase in the number of enquiries from 11 and 12 year olds who had been present. Several of them said they had been unkind to others online and regretted it – it’s unusual for us to hear the bully’s side of the story in cases of bullying. This confirms that we are reaching our new target audience.”

Bullying is a complex, multi-faceted subject with a history of disrupting learning environments and destroying lives. Parents, students, teachers and government agencies all have a role to play in putting a stop to bullying acts. Parental involvement is a must on all fronts. By getting involved in their children’s lives, parents will have a greater understanding of what they go through when bullied in school or online. Parents can also take proactive measures to educate their kids about bullying and how to handle bullying attacks.

There’s also a great need for Norwegian educators and staff to take mobbing more seriously and support victims of bullying acts. Students need to know their teachers and school staff are looking out for their welfare while on school grounds. If students feel their teachers are onboard with the school’s anti-bullying stance, they’re more likely to report bullying cases and stand up for their peers when bullies take action against them. By creating anti-bullying programs that work and instituting laws against bullying, government agencies do their part to curtail abusive behavior and safeguard the lives of Norwegian school children.

When it comes to stopping school bullying, there’s no “one size fits all” solution. The collective efforts of parents, teachers, students and local communities will, however, make a difference in minimizing bullying behavior and creating a safer school environment. Bullying in any form endangers lives, disrupts learning and destroys students’ dreams for the future. By curtailing school bullying and reducing cyberattacks, Norwegian schools can provide students with a secure learning environment wherein they can receive a quality education.

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