Contextual Influences on the Perception of Bullying Behaviours for Youth in New Zealand
Bullying has gained a lot of attention in the public and academic spheres over the past two decades (Carrera, DePalma, & Lameiras, 2011; Monks et al., 2009) and is considered to be a very serious international issue (Due et al., 2005; Mullis, Martin, Foy, & Arora, 2012). There is extensive research based on the experiences of bullying, which has examined prevalence rates (Green, Harcourt, Mattioni, & Prior, 2013), distinctions between different types of bullying (Rivers & Smith, 1994; Smokowski & Kopasz, 2005) as well as the short and long term impacts (Coggan, Bennett, Hooper, & Dickinson, 2003). Through this, a strong research based understanding of bullying has been developed and a consistent definition established (Canty, Stubbe, Steers, & Collings, 2014; Carroll-Lind, 2009). However, previous research has primarily focused on the experiences of bullying, and few studies have examined how bullying is understood from the perspectives of young people. The present study aimed to bridge this gap by exploring young people’s understanding of bullying behaviour in New Zealand. Twenty participants completed a short questionnaire and structured interview, where they discussed four hypothetical scenarios, each describing a different type of bullying in a different setting. Results demonstrated that young people maintain a much broader conception of bullying than what is currently defined by academia. The academic criteria of intention to harm, repetition and an imbalance of power were not central to young people’s definitions of bullying. Rather, factors such as, the reaction of the victim, how public the behaviour was and the role of friendship were more instrumental in shaping young people’s bullying perceptions and definitions. Furthermore, it was found that the perceived relationship between bullies, victims and bystanders as well as gender differences, also influenced participants’ understanding of bullying behaviours. These findings yield important implications for the development and efficacy of intervention programs. Limitations and avenues of future research are also discussed.