Subjective Well-Being of Bullied Children in Indonesia

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Abstract

This study aimed to explore sibling bullying and school bullying across three age groups (8, 10, and 12 years old) in Indonesia (N = 21,002; 49.44% boys, 50.56% girls) and how these bullying actions (physical, psychological, verbal) affect children’s subjective well-being. The study used data from the third wave of Children’s Worlds Survey, which was conducted in West Java Province. Bullying actions were measured by reported frequency of experiencing being bullied by siblings and other children during the last month. Subjective well-being (SWB) was measured using the Children’s Worlds Subjective Well-Being Scale (CW-SWBS). Data were analysed using structural equation modelling. Being hit by siblings displayed significant effects on the CW-SWBS for Grades 6 and 2, while being called unkind names by siblings showed significant effects in the three grades. Being hit by other children at school did not display a significant effect on the CW-SWBS for Grades 2 and 4, and only a low level of significance for Grade 6. Being left out by children in class showed significant effects for all grades. Being called unkind names by children at school displayed significant effects for Grades 2 and 4 and was non-significant for Grade 6. Many Indonesian children who are victims of bullying seem to have adapted to physical bullying to maintain their level of SWB through buffers (behaviour and good relationships). The incidence of bullying in Indonesian children is very worrying and it must be taken into account by parents and teachers that these children may be at risk, although they remain passive to the situation in apparently a conformist way, by reporting rather high SWB scores.

Introduction

School Bullying Incidents

Bullying is a serious problem for children worldwide. A summary report released by UNESCO on October 2018 based on the Global School-based Student Health Survey and Health Behaviour in School-aged Children, which involved 144 countries and territories, revealed that 16.1% of children have experienced being bullied physically (en.unesco.org). The Annual Bullying Survey 2018 in The United Kingdom (Ditch The Label 2018) showed that of 9150 people aged 12–20 who participated in the survey, 22% reported to have been bullied in the past 12 months, 34% of which have been bullied at least once a week and 51% of which have been bullied at least once a month. Student Reports of Bullying (U.S. Department of Education 2016) showed 20.8% of students reported being bullied. 33% of students who reported being bullied at school indicated having been bullied at least once or twice a month during the school year (Musu-Gillette et al. 2017).

Indonesian Context

In Asia, there is limited information available on the exact number of bullying cases. Mostly, information about bullying comes from media reports. A study in Hong Kong revealed that 1260 (70%) of 1800 students reported being bullied at school (Syed 2018). Another media report stated that Indonesia showed an 84% rate of child bullying, followed by Vietnam and Nepal (79%), Cambodia (73%), and Pakistan (43%) (Novianto 2018). It seems that Indonesia has the highest rate of bullying cases among Asian countries.

From 2011 to 2017, The Commission on Child Protection in Indonesia received 26,000 child protection cases, 34% of which were about bullying (www.kpai.go.id). In 2018, The Commission of Child Protection in Indonesia received 161 child protection cases, of which 36 cases (22.4%) were bullying victims, and 41 cases (25.5%) were bullying perpetrators (Novianto 2018).

Some international surveys presented more precise bullying data in Indonesia; for example, the one conducted by Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) in 2011 which involved 46 countries showed that 55% of Indonesian children aged 11 to 15 years old were bullied at school (United Nations 2016). They reported being made fun of or called names, being left out of games or activities, having lies spread about them, being stolen from, being hit or hurt and made to do things they didn’t want to do by other students (United Nations 2016).

Indonesian children aged 7–12 years go to elementary school and continue their study into junior high school at ages 13–15. In the process of continuing their study from elementary school into junior high school, they are also in the transition from childhood to puberty.

The educational system in Indonesia has 4 types of schools: public school, private school, religious-based school (Islamic, Christian, or other religious-based school), and non-religious-based school. Indonesia has a national curriculum that is implemented in these 4 types of schools, but each school is able to have their local content considering a specific value of the school, e.g., religious values.

Nowadays, nuclear families are the most common structure in modern urbanized Indonesian families (Shwalb et al. 2010). In this type of family, parents rear their own children, but in affluent families, they often pay nannies or servants to help them. In the majority of rural Indonesian homes, families may include grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles, aunts, nephews, and cousins (Koentjaraningrat 2005). The typical Indonesian family system is patriarchy (Koentjaraningrat 2005) where boys receive more attention than girls from parents, girls have less status and rights in the family than boys, and females have important roles in housework and childrearing. In rearing practice, several studies in Indonesia have showed that authoritarian child rearing correlates with bullying (A’yun and Masykur 2018; Irmayanti 2016; Korua et al. 2015; Ningrum and Soeharto 2015; Susilo and Sawitri 2015; Tis’ina and Suroso 2015).

Review of Past Studies

The study of bullying has been scrutinized for the last 40 years when it started in Scandinavian countries with the publication of Olweus’ book in 1978 entitled Aggression in the Schools: Bullies and Whipping Boys. Since then, there have been many debates about the definition of bullying (Maunder and Crafter 2018). Most researchers agreed to define bullying as aggressive behaviour that intentionally harms the victims, and involves a disparity of power between the victims and the perpetrators (Farrington 1993; Olweus 1997; Espelage and Swearer 2003; Wang et al. 2009; Salmivalli 2009; Rigby and Smith 2011). Olweus (1997) explained three criteria of bullying: (1) it is an aggressive behaviour, (2) which is carried out repeatedly and over time, (3) in the context of an interpersonal characterized by an imbalance of power. Although several researchers agreed with Olweus (1997) on the concept that bullying is repeated aggressive behaviour (Espelage and Swearer 2003; Wang et al. 2009; Rigby and Smith 2011), Olweus (1993) also pointed out that a single instance of serious harassment can be regarded as bullying under certain circumstances. Monks et al. (2009) suggested these certain circumstances on how long after the bullying happens the victim continues to be intimidated, frightened, threatened, degraded, or humiliated. In line with the statement by Monks et al. (2009), a study which had been conducted by Naylor et al. (2006) showed that only 9% of pupils and 17.8% of teachers included repetition in their definition of bullying when they were requested to define bullying in an open-ended questionnaire. Based on these statements, in the current study, we aim to explore the effects of the number of times an aggressive behaviour is reported, when involving disparity of power between victims and perpetrators.

As an aggressive action, bullying aims to hurt the victim targeted by physical (e.g., being hit, being kicked), psychological (e.g., being threatened, being locked inside a room), or social dimensions (e.g., being left out or never talking to the victims) (Olweus 1997; Espelage and Swearer 2003; Wang et al. 2009).

Some researchers do not agree with the term sibling bullying (Krienert and Walsh 2011; Goodwin and Roscoe 1990; Ensor et al. 2010) and use the terms antisocial among siblings (Ensor et al. 2010), sibling aggression (Tucker et al. 2013b), or sibling abuse (Goodwin and Roscoe 1990). Other researchers (for example, Wolke et al. (2015) have defined sibling bullying as repeated aggressive behaviour perpetrated by a sibling, intending to cause harm and involving an element of perceived or real power imbalance. In the debate about the term and definition of sibling bullying, it is argued that aggressive behaviour among siblings is typically accepted and viewed as normal (Caspi 2012; Tucker et al. 2013a). A majority of children live and grow up with siblings. Living with siblings can become a source of being supported and having companionship (Tucker et al. 2001) as well as a source of conflict and aggression (Slomkowski et al. 2001). Therefore, sibling bullying may arise as a result of the conflicts they may have when living with siblings. Parents often minimize the effect and consider sibling bullying as something to be expected as siblings naturally compete for parents’ attention (Tucker et al. 2013a). The current study uses the term sibling bullying, which is defined as aggressive behaviour between siblings involving systematic abuse of power (Rigby 2002). It implies intentional aggressive action against someone who cannot defend herself or himself appropriately (Olweus 1997), and an imbalance of power among siblings (Menesini et al. 2010; Rigby 2002; Olweus 1997).

Aggressive behaviour between peers, referred to as school bullying, is viewed differently and usually is considered unacceptable. School bullying is defined as the experience of being subjected to physical, verbal and psychological violent behaviour by peers in the school context, particularly in spaces with little supervision from adults (Graham 2006). School bullying involves physically violent behaviour (e.g. hitting, kicking), verbal bullying (insults or calling unkind names), and psychological bullying (e.g., spreading rumours or excluding the victims (Little et al. 2003).

The current study focuses on two types of bullying following Children’s Worlds (www.isciweb.org) concept of bullying, which are sibling bullying and school bullying, and includes three indicators of bullying, which are physical bullying (being hit), verbal bullying (being called unkind names), and psychological bullying (being left out). The operational definition of sibling bullying refers to children’s reports of being hit and being called unkind names by siblings at least once in the last month. School bullying relates to reports of being hit and being called unkind names by other children at school and being left out by other children in class at least once in the last month (www.isciweb.org).

Several studies revealed the effect of bullying on children. Martin et al. (2008) showed the relationship between being a school-bullied victim and low satisfaction with life. The Annual Bullying Survey 2018 in The United Kingdom (Ditch The Label 2018) reported how bullying impacts the victims. As much as 50% of those who had been bullied in the past 12-months felt depressed, 45% felt anxious, 34% had suicidal thoughts, 28% self-harmed, 21% were truant from school, 15% developed an eating disorder, 12% developed anti-social behaviour, 11% attempted suicide, 11% ran away from home, 7% abused drugs and/or alcohol, 4% engaged in risky sexual behaviour (The Ditch Label 2018).

Bullying has an impact on increased suicidal ideation (Nansel et al. 2004; Kim and Leventhal 2008; Card and Hodges 2008; Wang et al. 2009; Hinduja and Patchin 2010; Lenci and Matuga 2010), increased behaviour problems and increased serious problems for children’s development (Wolke et al. 2000; Dombrowski and Gischlar 2006), decreased pro-social behaviours (Wolke et al. 2000), having a negative effect on how children feel about themselves and their dignity (Dombrowski and Gischlar 2006; Musu-Gillette et al. 2017), having adverse impacts on children’s physical health (Musu-Gillette et al. 2017), increased higher risk of psychosomatic problems, such as headache and stomachache (Gini and Pozzoli 2013), increased maladjustment (Perren et al. 2013), and increased depression (Olweus 1991; Slee 1991; Craig 1998; Shelley and Craig 2009; Chen and Wei 2011). These studies show how seriously bullying can affect children’s mental health and life satisfaction.

Subjective Well-Being

Although research findings about bullying have been published in scientific journals over decades (Olweus 1978; Goodwin and Roscoe 1990; Olweus 1994; Smith and Sharp 1994; Olweus 1997; Smith and Brain 2000; Espelage and Swearer 2003; Lai et al. 2008; Eriksen and Jensen 2009; Wolke and Skew 2012), and several studies have explained the effect of bullying on children, there are not many studies that reported how bullying affects children’s SWB (Savahl et al. 2019; Tiliouine 2015).

Subjective well-being (SWB) has been scrutinized widely since the social indicator’s movement emerged (Land and Michalos 2018). SWB defines a person’s evaluations of their lives – the degree to which their thoughtful appraisals and affective reactions indicate that their lives are desirable and proceeding well (Diener 1984; Diener et al. 2015).

In recent decades, the study of SWB has been expanding not only on adults but also on children. Several international studies surveyed children’s life satisfaction (as a component of children’s SWB) and children’s health, such as HBSC (Health Behaviour in School-aged Children), Global School-based Student Health Surveys (GSHS), and Children’s Worlds.

Children’s Worlds third wave survey involved more than 40 countries asking children about their own perceptions of their life, including their SWB (www.isciweb.org). Savahl et al. (2019) defined children’s SWB as the result of children’s cognitive and affective evaluation about their lives, the circumstances affecting their lives, and the social context in which they live. Based on the second wave of Children’s Worlds survey, Casas (2016) stated there are three strong predictors of children’s SWB, which are (1) bullying, (2) perception of safety, and (3) respect for children and inclusion of their voice. Children perceive the most protective settings are at home and school under the control of the adults closest to them (González-Carrasco et al. 2019). But in fact, bullying cases mostly happen at home and at school. A study conducted by Klocke et al. (2014) revealed that the frequency of bullying has a significant and linear impact on decreasing children’s SWB. Children have low life satisfaction when they are bullied. Life satisfaction is a crucial predictor for positive adjustment.

Although some studies explained how bullying affected children’s SWB across countries (Klocke et al. 2014; Tiliouine 2015; Savahl et al. 2019), there is still a gap and very little to know about how bullying affects Indonesian children’s SWB. The current study aims to explain Indonesian children’s SWB when they are bullied by siblings or by other children at school.

Cummins’ (1995, 2010) theory of SWB homeostasis will be used in explaining the results of the current study in Indonesia. Cummins (2014) explains SWB analogous to the homeostatic maintenance of body temperature, whereas SWB is actively controlled and maintained by automatic neurological and psychological processes. SWB homeostasis maintains a normally positive sense of well-being that is generalized and slightly abstract. When asking, “How satisfied are you with your life as a whole?” people answer not only based on a cognitive evaluation but also based on deep reflection, reflecting a stable positive mood that becomes the essence of SWB. Cummins (2014) stated the set points of SWB range from 60 to 90, with a mean of 75 when projected into a 100-point scale (0 represents complete dissatisfaction and 100 represents complete satisfaction).

Cummins (2014) also discussed buffers that protect SWB homeostatically. The first buffer, considered an internal buffer, is behaviour. Cummins (2014) stated that people are generally adapted to intense challenges on life routines, which make daily experiences predictable and manageable. However, unexpected adverse events may occur from time to time in someone’s life and may shift SWB out of its normal range. The person may need a brief time until the adaptation occurs (Cummins 2014). Internal buffers protect SWB by altering the way a person sees himself or herself concerning homeostatic challenges. The person’s ways of thinking help him or her to achieve this protection, e.g., finding the meaning of an adverse event, or avoiding taking responsibility for the failure, or regarding a negative event as unimportant (Cummins 2014).

The second and third buffers are explained as external buffers, which are relationship intimacy and money. The most powerful external buffer refers to relationships that involve mutual sharing of intimacy and support. Good relationships have power to moderate the influence of potential stressors on SWB (Cummins 2014).

The third external buffer does not mean that money can buy happiness. The average level of SWB cannot be sustained higher than a level that lies toward their set-point range (Cummins 2014). Money protects SWB through its use as a highly flexible resource that allows people to defend themselves against the negative potential inherent within their environment (Cummins 2014).

Method

This study used data from the third wave of the Children’s Worlds Survey (www.isciweb.org), which was conducted in Indonesia in October 2017.

Sample

A representative sample of children in West Java Province (27 districts), Indonesia was obtained in this study. Participants were elementary school students (N = 22,616) from Grades 2, 4, and 6. The database was cleaned and depurated to remove incomplete and low-quality responses, and the final pooled sample was N = 21,002. Details of the final sample are presented in Table 1. Children of the 8-year-old group (mean age 7.84) were in Grade 2 (30.60%), those in the 10-year-old group (mean age 9.66) were in Grade 4 (32.65%), and those in the 12-year-old group (mean age 11.53) were in Grade 6 (36.75%). 49.44% were boys and 50.56% were girls.

Table 1 Age by school grade

Procedure

Data Collection and Ethical Issues

The ethical committee at Universitas Padjadjaran, Bandung, approved conducting a research project with children. The research team also received permission from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Religion at the provincial level of West Java to collect data in 267 randomly chosen schools that agreed to participate. Before starting the data collection, the research team sent informed consent through the schools, which helped spread the consent to parents. All participants were required to have parental consent. After written parental consent was obtained, children were also informed that the data would be treated confidentially, and they were free to answer the questions or not.

Before the process of data collection, children used a training sheet to ensure they understood how to answer the questions. Two enumerators were present during administration to clarify doubts regarding the correct completion of the questionnaires. In the administration for the 8-year old children, the enumerators read aloud the questions while children read, and listened to children’s comments to ensure the children understood each of the questions.

Data Depuration

Depuration procedures of the three data sets (one for each age group) for this study were conducted in two steps. First, cases with incomplete questionnaires and missing gender, as well as a few children reported to be 6 year-olds, were deleted. Second, following the recommendation from Casas (2016), who stated that cases with three or more missing values in an SWB scale should be eliminated for further analysis, children with more than 3 missing values in the CW-SWBS items, and also cases showing inconsistent answers for the CW-SWBS and the OLS (the two SWB psychometric scales here used as SWB indicators) were deleted. No significant difference was observed in the demographic characteristics of the cases that were removed in relation to the final sample.

Remaining missing values in the SWB scales were substituted by multiple imputations, using regression, as implemented by the SPSS version 23.

Instruments

All instruments used in this study are from Children’s Worlds (www.isciweb.org) and have been translated into Indonesian - considering Indonesian context - and back-translated following the guidance of adaptation of the questionnaires from Van de Vijver and Hambleton (1996) and van de Vijver (2015) to ensure the construct validity (Borualogo et al. 2018).

Bullying Items

There are five items measuring bullying (www.isciweb.org). Two items measure sibling bullying, and three items measure school bullying. Sibling bullying was measured by frequency of physical bullying experiences (“How often in the last month have you been hit by your siblings?”) and verbal bullying (“How often in the last month have you been called unkind names by your siblings?”). School bullying was measured by frequency of physical bullying experiences (“How often in the last month have you been hit by other children in school?”), verbal bullying (“How often in the last month have you been called unkind names by other children in school?”), and psychological bullying (“How often in the last month have you been left out by other children in your class?”) (www.isciweb.org). These items were scored on a 4-point frequency scale using four response options: 0 = never; 1 = once; 2 = 2 or 3 times; and 3 = more than 3 times.

CW-SWBS

The Children’s Worlds Subjective Well-Being Scale (CW-SWBS) is a multi-item context-free psychometric scale, originally based on the Student’s Life Satisfaction (Huebner 1991), but modified in the two successive survey waves to improve the scale’s reliability and its cross-country comparability (Rees and Main 2015). The Children’s Worlds project renamed the final modified version as CW-SWBS (www.isciweb.org). Its scores will be used as indicators of SWB in the current research.

The CW-SWBS has 6 items. For the 8-year-old group, it uses a 5-point scale, and for 10 and 12 year olds, it uses an 11-point scale from 0 to 10. The CW-SWBS was tested using confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) for each of the three age groups separately. Results show a very modest fit with the 6 items. However, the fit statistics were excellent when only including 5 items in the model. Therefore, a reduced version was used in the further analysis in this study (CW-SWBS5), by deleting the item “I like my life”. Fit indices are: for Grade 6, Chi-square = 93.790; df = 5; p = .000; CFI = .995 and RMSEA = .047 (.039–.056); for Grade 4, Chi-square = 75.165; df = 5; p = .000; CFI = .995 and RMSEA = .043 (.035–.052); and for Grade 2, Chi-square = 94.580; df = 5; p = .000; CFI = .988 and RMSEA = .049 (.041–.058) (Borualogo and Casas 2019).

Data Analysis

Data were analysed using the structural equation model (SEM), which represents a set of data analysis techniques, comprising confirmatory factor analysis (CFA), multiple regression, and path analysis (Schreiber et al. 2006). SEM is able to estimate the parameter of the relation between variables and to assess the fit structure of models in relation to the data (Hox and Bechger 1998). It is recommended to use more than one fit index to assess model fit (Hooper et al. 2008). The fit indices considered were the CFI (Comparative Fix Index) and RMSEA (Root Mean Square Error of Approximation) (Jackson et al. 2009; Kline 2010). We assumed that results higher than .950 for the CFI and results below .05 for the RMSEA are excellent, in accordance with Arbuckle (2010) and Byrne (2010), while RMSEA values up to .08 were considered acceptable errors of approximation (Browne and Cudeck 1993; Byrne 2010; Marsh et al. 2010), and CFI of above .90 was considered to reflect acceptable fit to the data (Marsh et al. 2010).

To meaningfully compare statistics across groups, measurement invariance is required. Three steps necessary to be conducted include: (a) configural invariance (unconstrained variables); (b) metric invariance (constrained factor loadings); and (c) scalar invariance (constrained factor loadings and intercepts). Metric invariance allows meaningful comparison of correlation and regressions. On the other hand, scalar invariance allows meaningful comparison of the latent means (Coenders et al. 2005). Therefore, we will test each multi-group model in three steps. When any constraint is added to a model, a change in the CFI of more than .01 is considered unacceptable (Chen 2007; Cheung and Rensvold 2001).

We analysed the Squared Multiple Correlations (SMC) obtained with each model because they indicate how accurately each variable is predicted by the other variables in the model (Arbuckle 2010; Byrne 2010). Additionally, the remaining % variance is accounted for by its unique factor error. If error represented measurement error only, we could say that the estimated reliability of the variable is the value displayed for each variable SMC. Therefore, each SMC value is an estimate from the lower band of reliability relating to its variable (Arbuckle 2010; Byrne 2010). All calculations were done with the SPSS version 23 and AMOS23.

Results

Descriptive Statistics

Table 2 shows that boys reported being bullied by siblings at home and by other children at school more frequently than girls, with one exception – girls (12.8%) reported to have been left out by other children in class more frequently than boys (11.6%). Both boys and girls reported experiencing being called unkind names more frequently by other children at school (21.2% in total) than at home by siblings (10.1% in total). However, both boys and girls also reported getting hit by siblings at home (16.0% in total) more frequently than by other children at school (12.5% in total).

Table 2 Descriptive data of bullying actions within the past month, by age group and gender

To analyse the effects of all kinds of bullying here considered on SWB, a SEM was built up relating the 5 bullying items, age, and gender, to the latent variable CW-SWBS, which was considered an endogenous variable in the model. Bullying items were correlated (Figure 1). This SEM displays an acceptable fit (Table 3 Model 1). Loadings for the CW-SWBS items on its latent variable are between .62–.72.

Fig. 1
figure1

SEM with pooled sample

Table 3 SEM models. Fit statistics for pooled sample and multi-group models by grade

Next, we tested this model as Multi-group by each of the three analysed school grades, and fit statistics also appeared to be acceptable. With each additional constraint, the fit statistics do not display any decrease bigger than .01. Therefore, it can be suggested that correlation, regression, and mean scores are comparable across groups and that answering styles can be considered equivalent (Models 2 to 5 in Table 3).

The results of Model 4 are displayed in Table 4. Age within each grade only shows significant effects in Grade 6, probably due to a broader age variation in this group. Girls in the three grades display significantly higher scores in SWB than boys.

Table 4 Standardized Regression Weights, with Constrained Loadings and Intercepts. Correlation and Squared Multiple Correlation (SMC)

Being hit by siblings displays significant effects on the CW-SWBS for Grade 6 and Grade 2 – although with a lower level of significance for Grade 2, while being called unkind names by siblings shows significant effects in the three grades; in Grade 4 the level of significance is lower. These two kinds of bullying by siblings tend to appear together; the correlation is at .296 among the younger (Grade 2), but higher than .4 in Grade 4 and Grade 6.

Being hit by other children at school does not display a significant effect on the CW-SWBS for Grades 2 and 4, and only a low level of significance for Grade 6. Being left out by children in class shows significant effects for all grades. Being called unkind names by children at school displays significant effects for Grades 2 and 4 (although the level of significance is lower for Grade 2) and is non-significant for Grade 6. Correlation between being hit by other children at school and being called unkind names by other children at school increases the higher the grade is. Correlation between being left out by other children in a class and being called unkind names by other children at school and correlation between being left out by other children in a class and being hit by other children at school are somewhat similar for the three grades at around .4, with the highest scores in Grade 4.

Both standardized regression weights of the CW-SWBS items on its latent variable and SMC of each of these items increase the higher the grade is. SMC for the CW-SWBS stays the same for the three grades and is rather small.

Discussion

This study aimed to explore the effect of being bullied by siblings at home and by other children at school to children’s SWB in three groups (Grade 2, Grade 4, and Grade 6). This study found a significant negative effect between being bullied and children’s SWB. Bullying actions were predicted about 5% of children’s SWB in the three groups (Table 4).

Studying bullying is very crucial and essential, especially in the case of Indonesia, where the bullying rate is high (www.kpai.go.id) and is trending higher. From the data of wave 3 Children’s Worlds survey in 27 districts in West Java Province, it is known that there is a high bullying rate in every district (Borualogo and Gumilang 2019). This means bullying is a part of daily life of Indonesian children, which makes it important to take bullying into account to be solved by parents, teachers, and social policymakers.

While home should be the safest place for children to be, with their parents and siblings, data shows that children were bullied physically more frequently by siblings at home than by other children at school (Table 2). These results suggest that children experienced bullying in habituation since they face it in their everyday life at home. Siblings not only bully children physically, but also verbally by calling them unkind names. These bullying actions display different effects on children’s levels of SWB, depending on the age group (Table 4). Children might have to adapt to the situation of being bullied at home because they are not able to avoid the problem since they live together.

Results showed unexpected findings for the 10-year-old (Grade 4) students, who displayed non-significant effects of being hit by siblings on SWB (Table 4). This means, even though they experienced being hit by siblings at home, they still displayed a rather high SWB. This can be explained using Cummins’ theory of homeostasis (2014), where children age 10 seem to adapt to the situation of being bullied at home and perceive the situation as a challenge they have to face in their daily life, which they cannot avoid. This can be a serious problem, because children tend to hide their problems from other people around them, especially from parents. They might handle the situation, but not always succeed to solve it, potentially risking their mental health. Many studies revealed that bullied children may develop emotional problems (Delfabbro et al. 2006), social and psychological difficulties (Alikasifoglu et al. 2007; Snyder et al. 2003; Sweeting et al. 2006), lowered self-esteem, chronic anxiety, depression (Sweeting et al. 2006) or anxiety (Due et al. 2005), have health problems, tend to avoid school, and in extremely serious conditions, commit suicide (Hawker and Boulton 2000). Therefore, this should be taken into account by parents to help children out of these risky situations.

It is surprising that being hit by other children at school does not seem to have a substantial effect on the SWB of Indonesian children, probably due to the habituation effect – only a very moderate impact for children in Grade 6. The fact that a high percentage of children were hit makes the situation perceived as somewhat expected, and therefore, to be a victim probably felt like “normal.” Bullied children have been conceptualized as passive victims who are not able to react to what had been happening to them (Bibou-Nakou, and Markos, A. 2013). The non-significant effect of being hit by other children at school on SWB (Table 4) for the 8-year-olds (Grade 2) suggests that students adapt to this aggressive behaviour that has happened since their second year of being students in elementary school. It is very worrying since it did not affect their SWB.

The high rates of bullying actions displayed in 27 districts in West Java confirm that bullying seems to be the regular life many students have to face every day (Borualogo and Gumilang 2019). In the process of data taking, some children talked and reported to the enumerators how happy they were having the opportunity to participate in this study and to be able to report their unpleasant experiences. They reported that not many adults were really aware about the situation and thought that bullying was part of regular life for students, which they have to adapt to. Although children reported that they did not feel comfortable with the situation being bullying victims, they did not really have enough courage to report the actions to teachers or parents (Borualogo and Gumilang 2019).

Using Cummins’ theory of homeostasis (2014), we may explain the high scores in SWB of some children because of the buffers, which help them maintain their level of SWB even if they are bullied (Savahl et al. 2019). Students adapt to the bullying actions they experience at school and see these bullying actions as a normal part of life they have to face daily. They might observe bullying actions on other mates while teachers are not around (Rigby 1996). They may, for example, have an external buffer from having good relationships with and support from other children who are concerned about their experience being bullied. They might be able to seek help through good relationships or find support from others who allow them to cry their fear out, and that may help them maintain their level of homeostasis. In Indonesia, parents and teachers often occupy high positions in the community and their opinions must always be adhered to. This situation creates social distance between parents and teachers to children. Children might not have enough courage to speak their minds and to report their unpleasant experiences. Therefore, children prefer to seek help from other children and strengthen each other.

Being hit by siblings and being called unkind names by siblings significantly affected the SWB of children in Grade 6. Children in Grade 6 are transitioning to teenagers. In Indonesia, they are in the last grade of elementary school and transitioning into middle school. In their transition, becoming teenagers, they experience changes in hormonal function, their physical appearance, their identity transition, new social roles, and the need to be accepted by peers and society. They might feel uncomfortable about these normal changes, which might cause unhappy feelings. Teenagers have difficulties in controlling their emotions due to changes in hormonal function and might affect their level of well-being. Teenagers tend to have less favourable moods, which are linked to a higher number of adverse life events, such as difficulties with parents, with siblings, or even being bullied by siblings. Teenagers seem to react to their difficulties with greater emotion. According to Berk (2007), teenagers’ emotion often shifts from cheerful to sad and back again, which is strongly associated with situational changes. Being bullied by siblings added more problems to children in Grade 6 and possibly made their challenges higher than before. It can be understood from this study that being bullied by siblings significantly affects the SWB of children in Grade 6 who are going to become teenagers.

Being called unkind names by siblings and by other children at school affected the SWB of children in Grades 2 and 4. These results suggested being bullied verbally might affect the ways children see themselves. They might believe these unkind names truly reflect themselves, and a consequence can be risking the way they build their self-confidence. Teachers and parents were not aware of how seriously verbal bullying affected students’ SWB. In the process of data taking, teachers explained unkind name-calling as being done only for fun among students, and it frequently happens at school. Teachers did not consider this behaviour as aggressive verbal bullying. Therefore, it is important to raise awareness to teachers and parents about bullying and how they should take this aggressive behaviour into account to help children out of serious risky problems.

Girls display higher scores in SWB than boys. These results are in line with studies by Crick and Grotpeter (1995), Bjorkqvist et al. (1992), and Monks et al. (2009). There are lower scores of SWB in boys because boys experienced being bullied more frequently at home and school, both physically (being hit) and verbally (being called unkind names) (see Table 2 and Table 4). This is in line with the study from Juvonen et al. (2003), which showed that boys were almost twice as likely to be classified as victims of bullying than girls. Boys are involved more often in physical bullying, because they are often encouraged to be more physical, such as with hitting and kicking (Rivers and Smith 1994). Using Cummins’ theory of homeostasis (2014), girls display higher scores in SWB because they may have good relationships in which they can seek help from others and are more likely to share their bullying experience with other friends. This can be understood since, among girls, it is socially acceptable to seek interpersonal support from others, while boys have to be independent and have social limitations to seek for help from others (Due et al. 2005). In line with Cummins’ theory of homeostasis (2104), which stated the importance of good relationships as a buffer for maintaining the level of SWB, some studies revealed that receiving social support relates to a higher level of well-being (Cowie 2000; Cowie and Hutson 2005; Goswami 2012). In line with Cummins (2014), Stadler et al. (2010) stated that parental support buffered girls from being maladaptive by being bullied.

In contrast with being hit by other children at school, being left out by children in a class is the kind of bullying that displays the highest negative effects on SWB among Indonesian children, followed by being called unkind names by siblings. These results show that psychological and verbal bullying has a more significant impact on children’s SWB, even more than physical bullying. These results are in line with previous studies (Smith and Sharp 1994; Smith and Madsen 1999; Wolke et al. 2000) that explained the most commonly identified types of bullying, including verbal or name calling, followed by physical bullying. In terms of explaining the SWB, this current study’s results are in line with Savahl et al. (2019), which demonstrated that being left out was negatively associated with SWB. Using Cummins’ theory of homeostasis (2014), we can hypothesize that Indonesian children’s homeostatic control appears to be less effective when left out by other children in a class.

Teachers shall take this into account to help children in their future lives. In Indonesian cases, teachers were not aware of bullying actions occurring in schools. Most teachers thought that children were only playing or joking around when they were hitting other children at school or calling them unkind names. In many cases in Indonesia, teachers realised this later when the bullying cases escalated and became more serious, such as when children were injured or the cases went viral on social media. Therefore, this article hopefully raises awareness among teachers and schools about how seriously bullying affects children’s SWB and how teachers should help teach children to stop bullying at school.

Conclusion

Bullying is a very serious problem that affects the level of SWB of Indonesian children. The incidence of verbal and psychological bullying both in school and at home is very worrying. Physical bullying seems to happen often among Indonesian children, both in school and at home, and apparently many of the bullied children adapt to this situation because of habituation. According to the homeostasis theory of well-being (Cummins 2014), most children were probably able to adapt to the bullying situation and maintain their level of SWB through buffers, mainly behaviour, and good relationships. However, it must be taken into account for parents and teachers that these children may be at risk by hiding their problems. Therefore, parents and teachers need to be aware to support children in need. Parents and teachers also need to collaborate to stop bullying at school and at home.

This study has some limitations. It only focuses on the consequences of bullying actions on children’s SWB, and only in three age groups (8, 10, and 12-year-olds). Therefore, it cannot explain bullying effects on SWB for ages younger than 8 and older than 12. Samples of this study were children who go to school; therefore the results cannot explain bullying and SWB for children who do not go to school and might experience being bullied in their daily life, e.g., children who live on the street and away from family.

In the future it will be interesting to investigate separately these children who were bullied by siblings at home and also by other children at school, in order to get a better understanding of the altogether effects on SWB and whether they also seem to adapt to this situation, even though only being hit by other children at school does not display a significant effect on children’s SWB in Indonesia. It is also recommended to explore the study of SWB in perpetrators to have a better understanding of their motives so that we can stop and prevent bullying actions.

Change history

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Correspondence to Ihsana Sabriani Borualogo.

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Borualogo, I.S., Casas, F. Subjective Well-Being of Bullied Children in Indonesia. Applied Research Quality Life (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11482-019-09778-1

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Keywords

  • Bullying
  • Children
  • Subjective well-being
  • Life satisfaction
  • School
  • Siblings
  • Adaptation