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  • Facts about bullying among children and adolescents in Norway

Fact sheet

Facts about bullying among children and adolescents in Norway

Published Updated

At any given time, approximately 63,000 children and young people in Norway will experience bullying. The strain associated with being bullied can significantly increase the risk of developing mental health problems and disorders. In many cases, this risk can continue into adulthood.

Foto: Scanpix
Foto: Scanpix

At any given time, approximately 63,000 children and young people in Norway will experience bullying. The strain associated with being bullied can significantly increase the risk of developing mental health problems and disorders. In many cases, this risk can continue into adulthood.

Several different programmes can reduce bullying in schools. The programme with the most convincing evidence of positive effects is the Olweus programme.


Bullying is defined as repeated negative or malicious behaviour by one or more individuals against a person who cannot defend him or herself (Olweus, 1991, 2004).

Bullying is more than just acting aggressively: 

  • The behaviour must be repeated and there must be an imbalance of power between the parties. 
  • The bully must be the strongest party, or at least perceived to be.

Bullying is not a conflict, but a form of abuse.

The US National Institute of Health (Centers for Disease Control) defined bullying in 2014:

“Bullying is any unwanted aggressive behaviour(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm.”

If this definition is followed, researchers can more easily study changes over time and compare figures from different studies. It would also be possible to compare the impact of various measures against bullying across studies.

Direct and indirect bullying

There is a distinction between direct and indirect bullying. 

  • Direct bullying happens during direct interpersonal contact and includes conduct such as hitting, threatening, using negative nicknames or insulting. 
  • Indirect bullying includes behaviour that does not need to take place directly between the bully and the person being bullied. Examples include spreading rumours and gossip and engaging in social manipulation to encourage marginalisation or exclusion (van der Wal, de Wit & Hirasing, 2003; Arsenault et al., 2010; Boyes et al., 2014). 
  • Cyberbullying, which is bullying via electronic media, is now considered to be a third category.

Those involved in bullying are often divided into three groups:

  • Victims of bullying are those who are bullied without bullying others. 
  • Bullies are those bully others without being bullied themselves. 
  • Bully victim-bullies are bullies who are bullied by others

How common is bullying among children and adolescents in Norway?

  • In Norway, about 63,000 pupils are regularly bullied 2-3 times a month or more.

Among 5th - 10th grade pupils in primary school and secondary school, the figures have been quite stable for a long time. This has been shown in studies carried out by the Norwegian Directorate of Education and Training. The 2013 study showed lower numbers than were found previously, but this was probably due to changes in both the questionnaire and the time of year of the study. From 2013 to 2014 there was a decline from 4.3 to 3.9 per cent. We need to see figures from the next studies before we know for sure if there has been a decline.

About 80,000 (13.3 per cent) of primary school pupils are involved in bullying, if victims, bullies and bully victims are included (Olweus & Breivik, 2015). Estimates show that in addition to 50,000 (8.3 per cent) that are only victims, 17,000 (2.8 per cent) are only bullies and 13,000 (2.2 per cent) are both victim and bully.

Who is at increased risk of being bullied?

According to both Norwegian studies and studies from other countries, the risk of being a victim is highest for the youngest pupils. Some of the bullying against the younger pupils is conducted by pupils in higher grades.

The risk of being a bully does not change systematically with age, but bullies tend to be found more often at lower secondary (grades 8-10) than in the lower grades (Craig et al., 2009; Olweus & Breivik, 2015).

Gender Differences:

  • Being bullied is almost as common among girls as among boys. 
  • Being a bully is far more common among boys than girls. Often bullies act in groups of two or three, preferably with a leader. However, many report being bullied by a single pupil.

When girls bully, they use less physical violence than boys do. Indirect bullying is as common among boys as among girls.

Effects of bullying on mental and physical health

To jenter
Illustrasjonsfoto: Scanpix

Children and adolescents who are bully victims have a significantly increased risk of developing mental health problems. 

  • The risk is often doubled or higher among victims than among those who have not been bullied, according to several studies. 
  • The level of distress is highest when bullying is systematic and prolonged.

Mental problems appear in the form of depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, loneliness, suicidal thoughts, psychotic symptoms and psychosomatic complaints such as headaches, abdominal pain and insomnia (Fekkes et al., 2006; Arseneault et al., 2010; Olweus & Breivik, 2014).

Psychological problems among victims last a long time, often throughout life. Fosse (2006) found that almost 50 per cent of adult patients who sought help at a psychiatric outpatient clinic, had been bullied in school. The more they were bullied, the more depression and anxiety they experienced in adulthood.

In a large meta-analysis (systematic research overview) of 29 different studies, it was documented that pupils who were bullied at school age on average had a doubled risk of depression and other related problems at a follow-up seven years later (Ttofi et al., 2011).

The relationship between exposure to bullying and the degree of internalising problems such as withdrawal, somatic complaints, depression and anxiety is also confirmed in a study where it was adjusted for genetic factors (Arseneault et al., 2008). This means that the relationships cannot fully be explained by genetic vulnerability but that bullying is a real risk factor for mental health disorders.

Adolescents who bully others at school-age are at increased risk for subsequent antisocial or criminal behaviour development (Ttofi et al., 2011; Olweus, 2011). This is shown in many studies. It is therefore not only being a victim, but also a bully, that is associated with negative long-term consequences.

  • Preventive measures are likely to have positive effects both for those who are bully victims and for the bullies themselves.

Measures against bullying in schools

Several programs have been designed to reduce the bullying problem in schools. Three of the programmes are described below.

Olweus programme

The Olweus programme seems to work particularly well. It is based on four principles: 

  • Create a warm and supportive environment through adults’ behaviour. 
  • Set clear boundaries for what is acceptable behaviour. 
  • Sanction in a non-hostile and non-physical way when unacceptable behaviour occurs. 
  • Adults at school and at home should be explicit in their roles.

Action is taken at three levels:

  • School level: administration of surveys, better monitoring of pupil behaviour during break times and regular discussion groups for staff. 
  • Class level: four clear rules against bullying, regular class meetings with pupils. 
  • Individual level: clear procedures for discussion with bullies and bully victims, and with the parents of the pupils involved.

The positive effects of the Olweus program are demonstrated and documented in six major studies with hundreds of schools and more than 30,000 pupils. After eight months of work with the program, the results generally show that bullying is reduced by 30-50 per cent (Olweus & Limber, 2010; Eriksen, Hegna, Bakken & Lyng, 2014; Ungsinn.no).
A study at 14 schools in Oslo showed that the effects of the programme (40 per cent decline in being bullied and about 50 per cent decline in bullying others) remained equally strong over a period of five years (Olweus & Limber, 2010). Evaluation of the programme has also documented a reduction in other antisocial behaviour, better classroom climates and learning environments, and greater satisfaction with school. Ungsinn.no referred to the Olweus programme as a “proven effective intervention”.

ZERO programme

The ZERO programme was developed at the Centre for Behavioural Research, University of Stavanger (Galloway & Roland, 2004; Midthassel, Bru & Idsøe, 2008; Roland et al., 2010; Midthassel & Roland, 2011; Roland & Midthassel, 2012; Ungsinn.no).

The programme was recommended in a report by the Directorate of Health and Care Services and the Directorate of Education and Training (Nordahl 2006). Problems with the research methods made the results of the evaluation studies somewhat uncertain. Ungsinn.no refers to ZERO as a "functionally effective intervention."

At the National Centre for Learning and Behavioural Research, University of Stavanger, work is underway to further develop ZERO. The new version of the programme is called the "Municipality Model" and can be implemented in schools and kindergartens.

To date there have been no studies that can tell how much the new version of the programme has helped to reduce bullying (personal communication Tove Flack, 2015).

RESPECT programme

RESPECT is developed at the Centre for Behavioural Research at the University of Stavanger (Ertesvåg & Vaaland, 2007; Ertesvåg, 2009; Antonsen & Ertesvåg, 2010) and is based on four principles: The authoritative adult, comprehensiveness (bredde), consistency and continuity. The programme is implemented over two and a half years.

In addition to preventing bullying, RESPECT is designed to prevent problem behaviour in general and provide a better learning environment.

In evaluation studies it was shown that the programme led to improvements in both the academic and the emotional support that pupils experienced from the teacher, as well as improvements in the teachers’ monitoring of pupils' work and behaviour (Ertesvåg, 2009).

There has also been a reduction in various forms of problem behaviour: negative classroom behaviour and discipline problems, bullying and aggression (Ertesvåg & Vaaland, 2007; Antonsen & Ertesvåg, 2010). RESPECT is considered by Ungsinn.no to have "documented effect."

Summary of the specific results of anti-bullying programmes

Researchers from Cambridge University have performed a meta-analysis of anti-bullying programmes from around the world (Ttofi & Farrington, 2009, 2010). Here the Olweus programme was highlighted as the most effective and is regarded as a model programme. Also RESPECT and ZERO (referred to in the report as “The Norwegian Anti-bullying Programme”) emerged as programmes with positive effects.

An objection that is often raised against programmes where external experts come into the school to deliver interventions is their short-term effect.

This is perhaps valid for programmes where the experts come in and act as instructors and administrators. When the purpose of a programme is to create lasting organisational and cultural changes and changes in school practices, the argument is not equally valid. It is precisely the creation of lasting change that is the target of bullying programmes.

Financial gain

Less bullying benefits both the individual who is spared personal strain and society through reduced use of health and social services (Sourander et al., 2007; Olweus, 2010).

Measures to reduce antisocial behaviour

Bullying is a form of antisocial behaviour. Several programmes focus more broadly upon reducing antisocial behaviour and not specifically on reducing bullying. These include:

PMTO programme

PMTO (Parent Management Training, the Oregon Model) has been tested by the Behavioural Centre at the University of Oslo. The programme is administered through a network of therapists who are trained and approved by the Behavioural Centre. Parents are trained to function better in their interaction with their child.

One of the evaluations of this programme shows medium-strength positive effects on parenting practices and behavioural problems. Six months later, positive effects were found when analyses were based on parental responses. When analyses were based on teacher responses, significant long-term effects were not obtained.

The intervention seems to have had positive effects with parents at home, but not similar good effects on children's behaviour in school or kindergartens (Kjøbli, Hukkelberg & Ogden, 2013). An earlier evaluation of the same programme showed positive effects on undesirable behaviour in children, with fewer problem behaviours in school and improved social skills, parenting practices and cohesion in families (Ogden & Hagen, 2008; Hagen, Ogden & Bjørnebekk, 2011).

BPT programme

The BPT (Brief Parent Training) programme was developed for use by personnel in primary health care. It comprises only 3-5 sessions.

An evaluation concluded that the programme had positive effects on parental practices, behavioural problems in children and on social competence. This was found when assessments were based on reports by parents or guardians. Similarly positive results were not seen when the teachers’ responses were analysed (Kjøbli & Ogden, 2012).

ART-programme (Aggression Replacement Training)

The ART programme aims to develop social skills and reduce aggression among children and young people with behavioural problems.

Interventions take place in smaller groups of youngsters. Each group is led by two adult instructors. Each session revolves around a theme and includes playing, role-play, discussions, demonstrations and feedback.

The aim is to influence participant behaviour.

An evaluation study among a smaller number of young people recruited from schools and institutions suggests an improvement in social skills and fewer behavioural problems (Gundersen & Svartdal, 2005; 2006; 2007).

The ART programme is meant to target young people who have developed behavioural problems and cannot be used as a universal programme in schools or kindergartens.

PALS programme

"Positive and Assertive Life Skills" - PALS (Sørlie & Ogden, 2007; Ogden, Sørlie & Hagen, 2007) is a programme that was originally developed in the USA. It has been adapted to the Norwegian context by the Behavioural Centre at the University of Oslo.

The programme is based on the idea that problematic behaviour among pupils can be reduced by creating a consistent and supportive school environment.

Researchers who have evaluated PALS say that they get fairly good effects when they base the evaluation on teachers’ ratings of pupils problem behaviour, but they get less convincing results when they base the evaluation on the pupils’ ratings of social competence and class climate (Sørlie & Ogden, 2007). The evaluation of the programme is based on relatively few schools, and the results are therefore uncertain.


Despite the fact that the phenomenon of bullying has long been known, it was not until the early 1970s that systematic collection of information on the issue began. During the 1970s, the Swedish-Norwegian psychology professor Dan Olweus published a book that is widely regarded as the first scientific study of bullying (Olweus, 1973). The definition of bullying presented in this book is still the most used internationally.

The first scientific evaluation of systematic school-based initiatives to combat bullying was performed in Norway. Implementation of the programme at 42 schools in Bergen was evaluated by a study including data collection over a period of 2.5 years, from 1983 to 1985. This was an early version of what would later become known as the Olweus Programme (Olweus, 1991). The implementation and evaluation of the programme was performed in conjunction with a national campaign against bullying initiated by the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research.

A major contributor to research and action against bullying in Norway is Professor Erling Roland at the University of Stavanger. He was member of the group that planned the campaign in the early 1980s.

The positive results of the aforementioned study in Bergen inspired a number of other international scientists to launch similar projects during the 1990s (Stassen-Berger, 2007; Olweus & Limber, 2010). After the year 2000 a strong increase in research into bullying in many parts of the world, and particularly in the USA, has taken place. Norway is considered a pioneer country in bullying control action and research.


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