Bullying in the Netherlands is a real problem, just like it is everywhere, but Dutch people seem to be taking actions to try to stem the state of affairs.
The nation was gripped with the news, a 15-year old girl named Amanda Todd took her own life after a bully threatened to post photos of her nude – which she had apparently sent – online. She posted her story online which gathered nationwide attention. An adult, a 38-year old Canadian known only as Aydin C will stand trial in the Netherlands on charges of extortion, internet luring and child pornography. The trial is set for January 2017 according to a story in the BBC. The defendant is not being charged with the death of Todd, but is being charged with essentially bulling many teen girls from the Netherlands, Canada and the United States.
The case did bring to the forefront the problem of cyberbulling, or using the Internet for bullying. Internet bullying, or facebook bullying is a relatively new thing and more studying needs to be done at the local level. Facts about cyberbullying are starting to emerge, and the Netherlands are considering some cyberbullying laws to address the issue. Amanda Todd was a victim primarily of Facebook harassment, but there are several other social media that can be used for bullying.
Before the Internet, people had to be in contact with each other physically. The telephone could be used some, but the Internet has made it inescapable for some victims. More studies need to be done, but it is believed by some Dutch authorities the effects are multiplied when social media is involved. Posting bullying type material stays on the internet, making it even more hurtful – and even damaging – than spoken words in person.
The case of Amanda Todd did get the nation’s attention, and has gotten the entire country involved in the issue. There seems to be a move in the Netherlands to address the issue, and some success has been had, especially in the schools. There are programs now in place for all age groups, including adults and senior citizens.
Prevalence of bullies
Bullying is still a problem in Holland. The Netherlands Times reported according to statistics on bullying in the Netherlands three students in each classroom in the entire country are bullied at some point in their lifetime. While it may not be as high as it is in some countries, the study by the National Health Service showed that 11 percent of students are bullied at some point. Five percent of that 11 percent say they have also been cyberbulled – or bullied online.
The study surveyed 100,000 students in the country, asking about their lifestyle and focusing mostly on bullying. Boys are bullies twice as often as girls, and girls are victims more than boys are, the study showed. As one might expect, younger students are victims while older students are the bullies.
The study also showed how students react to bullying seems to have an affect on how much they are bullied. Those students that are more resilient, or better able to handle the situation, are less likely to continue to be bullied. There are many types of bullying. Sibling bullying exists, but primary bullying is in school.
There have been other reports of suicide as well, as children who are victims give up hope and decide ending their life is the only answer. That has led people to take action around the country, and there is debate over whether some measures are effective or not.
One controversial move has been a TV station that has given students cameras to secretly record themselves being bullied. The station then runs these videos to shame the bullies.
Some schools have sued, saying it is a violation of privacy. The argument of privacy was dismissed by many people, arguing that the bully actions are too severe to allow it to be protected. Some schools have gone to court to block the station from showing the videos, and it remains in the courts. Some say bullying has actually increased at these schools.
Previously the same television station allowed victims to tell their stories, and tried to get the bullies to show up and be confronted by the victim. Usually these were adults and the bullying had happened years before. That did result in some interesting confrontations, and even some forgiveness. But since it involved adults talking about things in the past, it was not very controversial.
The shaming of bullies is a new approach, and whether it can be showed will soon be decided by the courts, and it may be shown some before the court makes its ruling. The controversy will continue, and advocates of anti bullying programs say at least it has brought the subject out into the open and started a debate, which they feel is a good thing. The TV show focuses more on high school bullying.
There is one program that seems to be working well in the schools that is not causing controversy, and is showing good results.
A program called KiVa, which is a program developed in Finland, have resulted in a reduction of 50 percent in the schools where it has been tried. The evaluation was done by the University of Groningen, where 10,000 students in 100 schools were studied across all of the Netherlands.
The program’s main goal is to raise awareness of all students, teachers and parents at the same time, as opposed to focusing just on the bully and the victim. It is more just making people aware of what bullying is and what harm it can do.
Often programs try to focus either on the perpetrator or the victim, but this takes a more universal approach. There are real life assignments that get students to think about bullying, and what it means to be the victim. The study involved 66 schools that used the program, and 34 other schools as a control group that were not using the program for comparison purposes. After a year in the program, the number of victims went from 29 percent to 13 percent. The study showed this is a promising method for how to deal with bullying, and can prevent bullying in many cases.
One key component was that teachers paid more attention to the issue, and researchers believe this is a key factor in stopping bullying. If parents and teachers are more involved, bullies are less empowered and less likely to act, the study concluded. The main difference between this program and others, is that it involves everyone as part of the solution. The program has also shown positive results in other parts of Europe, but it has worked very well in the Netherlands as well.
“The effectiveness of the programme is based on the fact that everyone is responsible for the well-being of the group. Thereby, there are no bystanders in bullying. Resources are channelled to promoting involvement, and not all energy is used to help victims and to educate bullies,” Gijs Huitsing, a researcher at the University of Groningen, says in one of the quotes.
While people in the Netherlands are concerned about bullying in the Netherlands, they seem to be also interested in the effects and are looking for solutions. But that raises the question of what is a bully and it is at times hard to define.. While there is friendly teasing that goes on, at some point a line is crossed to where it becomes harmful.
While the suicide in 2013 grabbed headlines and the nation’s attention, bulling awareness was already there. In 2006 there was a study of middle school bullying by the National Center for Biotechnical Information that showed some positive results of just having an anti-bullying policy in place. The NCBI is a United States based research group, but is an international research organization.
They studied 47 schools over a two year period and found that having a program in place reduced bullying reduced the problem by 25 percent. The study at that time suggested creating policies on how to handle bullying, as well as having bullying information available for teachers and parents. The study cautioned that the program needs to be repeated each year to keep the problem at a low level.
Another study by the same group, in 2000, examined bullying statistics on effects. They asked whether bullying causes psychological issues, or if students with psychological issues were more likely to be bullied. The study found that physically ill kids were not bullied more, but children who had anxiety or depression already, were more likely to be bullied.
The study determined that psychological issues such as depression often follow being victimized. Being bullied has an adverse effect on a child’s ability to cope with anxiety or depression that is already there, so the study recommended doctors make an effort to determine if bullying is an issue when treating other conditions.
A 2016 study in the United States showed a direct correlation between being bullied and increased suicide risks. They studied mostly United States students, but also several in schools in Europe. This study showed that particularly if depression or anxiety is already there, bullying can increase the danger of suicide.
Another interesting aspect to these studies is that they show differing effects depending on age and sex of the child. Girls, it seems, are more negatively impacted than boys in most cases, especially in the middle school ages. Young children are not as negatively impacted as middle school age children are in general.
Which came first
The studies did show that there are certain characteristics that make one more likely to become a victim. Things like low self esteem, anxiety, and even having overly protective parents make a child an easier target for bullies and are part of what causes it to happen. One of the reasons why people bully is that they perceive another person as weak and think they can get away with it. Developing coping skills, and helping children deal with other issues, could help stop bullying. When a bully finds his or her actions are not having the desired effect, they tend to stop with that person at least. How to stop the bullying is a hard question, but it does seem that empowering those likely to be bullied is a good step in the right direction. Knowing bullying facts, and bullying signs could reduce bullying cases.
Many studies show the middle school years are the most important when it comes to bullying. That is the age when it seems to be the most devastating to a child. It is also true that those who have been victims are the most likely to be victims again. Intervention at the middle school level would seem to the most important. If students at that age do not develop coping skills, they could well continue to be bullied by others well into adulthood. Once someone is a victim, continuing to be a victim seems to be one of the long term effects.
Officials in the Netherlands continue to work on policies and procedures for students in the schools in dealing with this problem. The nation is taking it seriously, and there are now policies in place for bullying in the workplace as it relates to adults as well.
Bullying in the workplace
There are several governmental agencies now involved in at work bullying and office bullying. There are now laws against workplace bullying. The government feels employers have a legal and moral obligation to protect workers from being harassed or bullied. The definition of bullying is slightly different for adults than it is for children, though the effects are similar.
The Dutch government takes these matters seriously. It is recognized that by the nature of work itself, there is a natural inequality between the employer and the employee. The employee is being paid of course, but the employer still has a lot of power and influence. The threat of being fired, for instance, can have an intimidating effect.
As a result the Netherlands puts a legal duty on the employer to create a healthy working environment, and to rid the workplace of any behavior that is degrading. Even so, the law does say that both the employer and employee must be fair in how they go about this and in their expectations.
The law states employers must give clear instructions and expectations with measures to prevent suffering or injury to the employee. Of course this includes physical injury, but the Dutch have gone so far as to include mental or emotional injury as well.
The law says employers are liable for damages suffered while at work, including emotional or mental harm or other effects of bullying.
According to governmental guidelines, employers should:
- Draw up a plan of prevention, creating awareness with examples
- Have a clear list of regulations with clear sanctions
- Appoint someone to oversee the issue
- Uphold the policy with sanctions at all times
- Deal with complaints confidentially
- Take inventory of possible risks that may exist
On the other side, employees should:
- Be aware the employer has obligations to investigate and take appropriate measures.
- Discuss or report negative behavior
- File a complaint when needed.
- File for damages if the employer does not respond
Bullying also affects older people, and at times people in nursing homes are bullied, but studies in the Netherlands have shown that bullying between seniors is also an issue at times. “Sweet little old grannies can also be merciless bullies,” according to a Radio Netherlands Worldwide story.
With raised awareness having started in the schools among young people, the issue of bullying is now being addressed in all age groups, and it is a problem in the nation’s senior citizen homes. The National Fund for the Elderly has developed procedures and protocols for handling bullies. It is at times the caregivers who do the bullying, but what is not as well known, is that seniors often bully each other in the homes. A national survey said one in five residents of nursing homes are bullied by fellow residents.
Those suffering dementia are often the most involved in bullying, but surprisingly, often those suffering this condition are the ones doing the bullying. They either don’t remember doing it, or don’t remember having been confronted about having done so.
Who are bullies?
A lot of effort has been put into finding solutions, and to help victims of bulling, but the question remains as to why people do this behavior in the first place. There must be some type of reason for intentionally belittling another person. Most research has focused on victims, but we are beginning to get a picture of who bullies are.
Traditional wisdom has held that kids who pick on other kids have low self esteem, and poor social skills. Recent studies at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, in conjunction with American studies, have discovered some new trends.
It seems that the primary motivation is to impress others and win their approval. Boys do it to gain respect and approval from other boys in their class, and girls do it to get the same thing from other girls.
It may be rooted in insecurity, but it can be popular and well liked kids who do the bullying. Even at very young ages, children are aware of social hierarchy, and want to move up the scale. Bullying is one way to get that.
“Bullies aren’t looking to be loved, but they are looking to be noticed,” says study researcher Rene Veenstra, PhD, who is a professor of sociology at Holland’s University of Groningen. “They are often perceived as very popular.”
There are also cases where boys bully girls and girls bully boys. In those cases they tend to bully those that are not liked by their own group. Boys tend to pick on girls not liked by other boys, so that would help them win even more approval.
So bullies may not be the outcasts that many once believed to be the case. It could just as well be the popular kid just looking for even more approval or social status among his or her peers.
Bullying is an issue for all age groups in the Netherlands, from pre-schoolers through senior citizens. It seems it is done more to win approval from others than to necessarily harm the victim. Those who have low self esteem, anxiety issues, or who are bothered most by the behavior are most likely to be victims. It seems people with the best coping skills are less likely to be bullied.
In the Netherlands, especially since teen suicides were linked to bullying, there has been a lot of public awareness and concern.
In schools, in workplaces and even in senior citizen homes, there is a renewed awareness of the problem, and there seems to be some effort to make some progress and to prevent bullying.
The KiVa program out of Denmark seems to be having a positive effect in the schools, as well as across much of Europe. It is being implemented slowly, but the basic premise is that the entire community needs to be aware and involved in the solution. Empowering those most likely to be bullied, by making everyone aware that it is not acceptable, and giving them freedom to report injustices, seems to be a move headed in the right direction. Nobullying is the goal and it has become a political issue in the Netherlands.