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Boys cut to the quick by cold shoulder

WHAT children think about bullying bears little relationship to their actual experiences, according to Australian researchers.

But their age, ethnic background, and how supportive they feel their schools are, all help to shape their attitudes towards the perennial playground problem.

Researchers from Sydney questioned 1,403 adolescents from two schools, and collected data on their backgrounds and attitudes to school.

Perhaps surprisingly, girls reported being teased, threatened and hit more than boys did. Boys said they were left out more than girls - a reversal of the stereotypical bullying behaviours of the two genders.

The researchers suggest that as boys are more physical, they are less likely to regard hitting as bullying. Similarly, girls may see ostracism as a routine way of resolving disputes, and not as bullying. "Bullying may be as much in the eyes of the givers and receivers as it is in the eyes of the onlookers," they told the conference.

They also found that older girls with at least one parent born overseas were more likely to feel that bullying was related to family background.

Yet their reported experiences of bullying were similar to those of other pupils. The good news for schools is that they can make a difference.

Pupils who felt supported and nurtured were less likely to report being bullied because of family background or appearance. But they were also less likely to report incidents to teachers.

Perversely, those who felt their school was not supportive were more likely to report problems to teachers - perhaps, speculate the researchers, because they felt they had to do something about bullying themselves.

The majority of pupils said they had never or rarely been bullied, although one in 10 suffered weekly and unwelcome comments about their appearance, and more than three-fifths felt bullying was a problem in their school.

Most (80 per cent) said they would help someone they saw being bullied, but far fewer (66 per cent) would report incidents to teachers.

Adolescents' bullying-related experiences, perceptions and attitudes: an empirical investigation, Jean Healey, Western Sydney University, and Martin Dowson and Narelle Bowen, Institute of Christian Tertiary Education, contact mdowson@icte.edu.au

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