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Keywords:

  • self-concept;
  • self-esteem;
  • victim;
  • bully;
  • bully-victim

Abstract

From the rapidly growing literature on bullying, it is increasingly recognised that peer relationship problems as manifested in being bullied are associated with low self-esteem. However, the literature on self-esteem in relation to children who bully others is controversial. The objective of this paper is to elucidate further our understanding of the relationship between self-concept and bullying behaviour. Data from a nationwide study of bullying behaviour carried out in Ireland during 1993-1994 have been reviewed. The relevant results from 8,249 school children aged 8 to 18 years are presented. The paper examines the global and dimensional nature of self-esteem and how it relates to children and adolescents who either have been victimised or bullied others. A distinction is made between “pure victims,” “pure bullies,” and children and adolescents who were both bullied and who bullied others. In other words, pure victims were those who had not bullied others, and pure bullies had not themselves been bullied. Those who were both bullied and bullied others were subdivided further into victims who bully occasionally, sometimes, and frequently and bullies who are victimised, occasionally, sometimes, and frequently. The results show that children of both primary and post-primary age who were involved in bullying as victims, bullies, or both had significantly lower global self-esteem than did children who had neither bullied nor been bullied. However, the pure bullies, in contrast to the pure victims, placed the same value on their physical attractiveness and attributes and on their popularity as did their peers who had not bullied others or been bullied. The bully-victims of all ages had the lowest self-esteem of the subgroups in the study. Also, the more frequently children were victimised or bullied others, the lower was their global self-esteem. The typology and frequency of bullying and the age of the children when they were involved in bullying influenced the status of the specific domains of self-esteem. There were, e.g., significant differences in anxiety between the pure bullies of post-primary age and their peers who had not bullied others or been bullied. The post-primary children who bullied most frequently were the least anxious. The results indicate that high self-esteem protects children and adolescents from involvement in bullying. Thus, in view of the strong relationship between self-esteem and bullying that has been found in the present paper, it is recommended that top priority be given by parents and teachers to preventing and reducing feelings of poor self-worth among children and adolescents. Aggr. Behav. 27:269–283, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.