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Cross-national Differences in Bullying Dynamics: Comparing Latinx Youths’ Experiences in Mexico and the USA

  • Tracy Evian WaasdorpEmail author
  • Amanda J. Nguyen
  • Mercedes Gabriela Orozco Solis
  • Catherine P. Bradshaw
Original Article

Abstract

Although bullying is increasingly researched in the USA, there remains a limited study of bullying among Mexican youth. To address this gap, the present study compared bullying dynamics across the two countries, with a specific focus on Latinx youth in the US and Mexican youth. Data come from a large school-based survey of 3030 US self-identified as Latinx/Hispanic and 2211 Mexican adolescents. The survey utilized the US-derived term “bullying” for the definition-based questions with the definitions and behaviors translated into the local Mexican Spanish dialect. Logistic regression results indicated that the prevalence of youth who bully is similar; however, more Mexican youth reported being a victim while more US Latinx youth reported witnessing bullying. US Latinx youths’ responses to bullying reflect behaviors emphasized in bullying prevention programs whereas Mexican youth reported more retaliatory responses. This study informs our understanding of similarities and differences in bullying dynamics across contexts, which is critical to informing intervention development and adaptation to target locally relevant bullying behaviors.

Keywords

Bullying Bystander response Cultural comparison Victimization 

Bullying is a form of peer aggression in which a person is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons—typically in situations where there is a power or status difference between the victim and the perpetrator (Gladden et al. 2014; Olweus 1993). In addition to physically aggressive acts, bullying includes actions such as threatening, teasing, name calling, ignoring, rumor spreading, sending hurtful emails and text messages, and leaving someone out on purpose. Involvement in bullying has serious psychosocial and health consequences for victims and bullies both in the short term (Card and Hodges 2008; Kim et al. 2006; Nansel et al. 2004) and over the life course (Bradshaw 2017; Copeland et al. 2013; Takizawa et al. 2014; Wolke et al. 2013). Exposure to bullying can also negatively impact bystanders and the broader school climate (Harel-Fisch et al. 2011; Rivers et al. 2009).

With an estimated one in three children bullied worldwide (Due and Holstein 2013), bullying is a major threat to the health and wellbeing of children and young people. Yet most research on bullying has been conducted in high-income countries such as the USA, Europe, and Australia; considerably, less is known about bullying in lower-resource countries, such as Mexico. This is the case even though there is data available suggesting that bullying may be even more prevalent in Mexico and other Latin American countries than the global average. For example, a comparative study conducted by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) across 16 Latin American countries showed that a full half of children surveyed had been the victim of peer aggression within the past month; in Mexico, this figure was 44.5%. In a public survey done by the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation, approximately two-thirds of students in Mexico are involved in bullying (OECD 2014). Among 688 middle school students assessed in Tamaulipas, Mexico, 20.5% were identified as victims, 13% as bullies, and 27.4% as bully/victims (Joffre-Velázquez et al. 2011). In Guadalajara, a study of 1091 students reported victimization prevalence of 17.6% (Vega et al. 2013). Of 1491 adolescents in Mexico City, 44.5% reported having been a victim of cyberbullying (Gámez-Guadix et al. 2014). Prevalence of bullying victimization may also be higher for certain at-risk groups; for example, among 912 LGBT young people from 32 Mexican states, two-thirds reported having been victims of bullying during their school years (Baruch-Dominguez et al. 2016).

However, given the limitations in extant research, the reasons for these differences are unclear. While these estimates from Mexico are generally higher than those usually reported in US studies, for example, where prevalence estimates of roughly 30% are closer to the global average (Nansel et al. 2001; Zhang et al. 2016), there are numerous potential explanations for this. On the one hand, bullying has long been a recognized issue with years of programming and policy in the USA, whereas the issue of bullying has only recently begun demanding more policy attention in Mexico (Perkins et al. 2016). On the other hand, potential differences in measurement approaches across studies make it difficult to directly compare these figures. Additionally, cultural and language differences may influence bullying dynamics as well as perception and reporting of bullying exposure (Smith et al. 2002). These issues make it difficult to tease apart the potential cultural, contextual, and methodological influences in observed differences—a differentiation that is particularly critical to understand is the extent to which lessons learned in the USA could apply in a country such as Mexico. As such, there is a need for additional cross-cultural research to understand the cultural and contextual dynamics contributing to extant research findings. Identifying important ways in which bullying involvement among Mexican youth may be similar or different to bullying involvement among Hispanic/Latinx youth in the USA would enhance our ability to develop culturally appropriate prevention programs or adapt existing programs that have been shown to be effective in the USA and elsewhere.

Current Study

The purpose of the current study was to compare bullying rates and other bullying-related correlates among Latinx youth in Mexico and the USA, using a standard assessment approach within a large-scale study of bullying and school safety. Specifically, we assessed and compared the general bullying climate, rates of bullying and victimization, high-risk locations for bullying activity, and potential differences in forms of bullying, as well as victim and bystander responses across these two samples. We were particularly interested in whether the rates of bullying and bullying-related concerns would be higher in Mexico, relative to US youth who self-identified as Hispanic or Latino/a on the survey. By restricting this study to two groups of youth with similar ethnic backgrounds and using similar methods in both sites, we sought to minimize potential cultural and methodological differences to examine more explicitly differences that may be attributable to contextual differences.

Method

Participants

Data were collected from 15,099 youth from the USA and 2211 youth from Mexico via an anonymous, online survey (Bradshaw et al. 2014a). In order to make a comparison between Hispanic/Latinx youth from the USA (hereby called Latinx US) and youth from Mexico, only the subsample of 3030 US respondents self-identifying as such (22.2% of the US sample) were included in this study. The data collected in the USA was a part of the Maryland Safe and Supportive Schools (MDS3) Initiative across the state of Maryland. Districts were approached for participation by the Maryland State Department of Education. All schools recruited for participation in this study agreed to participate. Approximately 15 classrooms (i.e., language arts classes) per school were selected in spring 2015 to participate in the online survey, and the classrooms selected were generally evenly distributed across the grade levels. The student response rate for the survey is estimated at 76%, including completions and partials (i.e., RR2 formula; American Association for Public Opinion Research 2016).

Through a partnership with researchers at the University of Guadalajara, a separate sample of youth was drawn from eight middle schools in the metropolitan areas of Guadalajara and Tlaquepaque in the west-central state of Jalisco, Mexico. The schools were selected by convenience and have similar socioeconomic characteristics to each other. All students in each school were eligible to participate if they were able to answer the survey online by themselves. Participation data provided by the schools indicated that response rates were on average 85.8% (see Table 1 for additional sample characteristics for the Latinx US and Mexican youth).
Table 1

Student demographic characteristics

Student characteristics

Latinx US, N (%)

Mexico, N (%)

Gender

  Male

1490 (49.2)

1021 (49.1)

  Female

1532 (50.6)

1059 (50.9)

Age (range 12–16)a

12.9 (0.88)

13.7 (1.04)

US = United States. Full sample N LatinxUS = 3030 students, NMexico = 2211

aNumbers represent mean and standard deviation

Measures

MDS3 Climate Survey

The Maryland Safe and Supportive Schools (MDS3) Climate Survey (Bradshaw et al. 2014a) was developed by the Johns Hopkins Center for Youth Violence Prevention in collaboration with project partners. In developing the Mexican version of the MDS3 survey, the survey content was translated and back translated into Spanish by native Spanish speakers from Mexico. A separate study of this sample has demonstrated measurement invariance of the MDS3 School Climate Survey across the USA and Mexico (Shukla et al. 2016).

Bullying Climate

Three individual items were examined to reflect the broader perception of the school bullying climate (Bradshaw et al. 2014a). The first item asked if “Bullying is a problem at this school,” participants responded using a 4-point Likert scale from 1 (not a problem) to 4 (a large problem). The next two items assess the perception of others intervening with bullying. Specifically, “Adults at this school try to stop bullying” and “Students at this school try to stop bullying.” Participants responded on a 4-point Likert scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree).

Involvement in Bullying

To measure bullying/victimization in this study, both definition-based and behavior-based methods were used. Specifically for the definition-based measure of frequent victimization, consistent with previous studies (e.g., Sawyer et al. 2008; Solberg and Olweus 2003), the survey defined bullying as occurring when “A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons. Bullying often occurs in situations where there is a power or status difference. Bullying includes actions like threatening, teasing, name-calling, ignoring, rumor spreading, sending hurtful emails and text messages, and leaving someone out on purpose (see Gladden et al. 2014). The survey included one item to assess the frequency with which the participant had been bullied by others (how often have you been bullied during the last month?). Response options were not at all, once a month, two to three times during the month, once a week, and several times a week. Prior research indicates that being a victim two or more times a month is an important threshold for frequent victimization (Solberg and Olweus 2003); therefore, the participants’ original responses were dichotomized into frequently victimized (two or more times in the last month) or not frequently victimized. Similarly, they were asked “How often have you bullied someone else” (bully) using the same 5-point scale (several times a week, once a week, 2–3 times during the month, 1 time during the month, and not at all). These items were also coded as above to create a dichotomous indicator of 2–3 times or more during the month, who were identified as a victim and/or bully (e.g., Solberg and Olweus 2003). Participants were also asked, “During the past 30 days (month), have you seen someone else being bullied” (yes/no; witnessed bullying).

Forms of Bullying Victimization

A behavior-based measure of bullying was also used to specifically assess the form of victimization experienced; this item appeared after the definition above and participants read a list of behaviors and endorsed if they experienced that behavior. Specifically, participants responded to a multi-response format behavior-based question regarding the frequency with which they had experienced different forms of bullying within the last month (within the last month, has someone repeatedly tried to hurt you or make you feel bad by...). Students were able to check multiple response options concerning 11 possible forms of bullying (name calling, threatening, teasing, making sexual comments or gestures, making racial comments, pushing/shoving, hitting/slapping/kicking, stealing, emailing/blogging, leaving out/ignoring, or spreading rumors/lies) and an option to endorse an “other” form (Sawyer et al. 2008).

Location Bullied

Participants who were victims of bullying were asked a multi-response item “Where have you been bullied the past 30 days? (check all that apply)” and responded using a yes/no for each of 13 different locations and an option to endorse an “other” location (see Table 3 for the list of locations) (for additional details, see Bradshaw et al. 2007).

Responses to Being Bullied

Participants who were victims of bullying were asked “What did you do when you were bullied? (check all that apply)” and responded using a yes/no for each of nine behavioral responses to being victimized and an option to endorse an “other” response to their victimization (see Table 4 for the list of victims responses; also see Waasdorp and Bradshaw 2011).

Bystander Responses to Bullying

All participants were asked “What do you usually do if you see another student is being bullied” and responded using a yes/no for each of 9 bystander responses to witnessing bullying and an option to endorse an “other” response (see Table 4 for the list of bystander responses) (for additional details, see Waasdorp and Bradshaw 2018).

Youth Demographics

Participating adolescents responded to a series of self-reported demographic questions, including age and gender.

Procedure

Schools in Maryland were approached to participate in the MDS3 Initiative by the Maryland State Department of Education; participation was voluntary. The parents and guardians of students at participating schools received letters providing information about their child’s potential participation in the MDS3 School Climate Survey (Bradshaw et al. 2014a). A waiver of active parental consent process was used in the administration of the web-based MDS3 School Climate Survey and all student participation was anonymous and voluntary. The survey was administered by school staff who read aloud a written protocol for students and data was then accessed by the MDS3 research team. A similar data collection process (consent, survey administration) was used in Mexico. Mexican students enrolled in their school and able to navigate the computerized survey independently were eligible for inclusion in the study. The onsite data collection was overseen by researchers in Guadalajara, Mexico, with input and technical assistance provided by the US-based research team. The Institutional Review Boards at the researchers’ institutions have approved the analysis of these data. For additional information on the MDS3 project, see Bradshaw et al. (2014a).

Analyses

ANCOVAs were utilized for the continuous bullying climate items (perception that bullying is a problem and reports that adults/students try to stop bullying) to compare Latinx US and Mexican youth, controlling for age and gender. For all other the variables, logistic regressions were utilized to examine involvement in bullying, forms of bullying experienced, victim responses to bullying, bullying location, and bystander responses to bullying as the outcomes. Similar to the ANCOVAs, each model controlled for age and gender and included the dichotomous variable representing country status (i.e., coded Mexico = 1, USA = 0) as the predictors. Logistic regressions were adjusted for the nested nature of the data using a sandwich estimator (Huber-White).

Results

Mexican youth reported that bullying was more of a problem at their school than did US youth (Mus = 2.58, Mmex = 2.95, F 138.9, p < .001). Mexican youth agreed more strongly that adults (Mus = 3.09, Mmex = 3.15, F 37.5, p < .001) and students (Mus = 2.46, Mmex = 2.56, F 33.8, p < .001) at their school tried to stop bullying as compared to US youth.

The odds of reporting that they witnessed bullying in the past 30 days were slightly lower in Mexican youth as compared to US youth (AOR [adjusted odds ratios] = .80, p = .037). The odds of reporting being a victim 2 or more times in the past 30 days were 2.35 times higher for Mexican youth as compared to US youth; however, there were no significant differences in reports of being a bully. With regard to forms of bullying, in both the USA and Mexico, name calling and teasing were the most frequently endorsed (respectively) followed by spreading rumors or lies in the USA and pushing/shoving in Mexico (see Table 2 for all frequencies). US youth had higher odds of endorsing most forms of bullying, except there were no significant differences for name calling, pushing/shoving, and stealing (see Table 2).
Table 2

Logistic regression results for involvement and forms of bullying victimization

 

Percentage endorsed

 

Latinx US

Mexico

Odds ratio

Robust SE

p value

(95% confidence interval)

Involvement

  Bully

17.7

23.6

1.13

0.11

0.216

0.79

1.07

  Victim

13.3

31.4

2.35

0.33

0.000

1.81

3.05

  Witness/bystander

55.0

50.5

0.80

0.09

0.037

0.65

0.98

Victim form: verbal

  Name calling

19.0

17.2

0.87

0.11

0.266

0.67

1.11

  Making physical or verbal threats

8.2

6.1

0.63

0.09

0.001

0.48

0.83

  Teasing, picking on, or making fun of

16.7

12.8

0.67

0.07

0.000

0.54

0.83

  Making sexual comments or gestures

5.1

4.0

0.63

0.12

0.015

0.43

0.92

  Making racial comments

6.5

4.1

0.50

0.09

0.000

0.35

0.72

Victim form: physical

  Pushing or shoving

8.4

8.3

0.99

0.16

0.938

0.72

1.35

  Hitting, slapping, or kicking

6.5

3.7

0.58

0.11

0.003

0.40

0.84

  Stealing

5.6

5.2

0.86

0.14

0.346

0.63

1.18

Victim form: relational

  Spreading rumors or lies

12.0

7.1

0.53

0.07

0.000

0.42

0.68

  Ignoring or leaving a student out on purpose

6.9

3.0

0.41

0.07

0.000

0.29

0.56

Victim form: online (e.g., email, text, posting on social media)

4.2

3.1

0.65

0.10

0.005

0.48

0.88

“Other” form

1.7

0.6

0.29

0.11

0.002

0.13

0.63

US = United States, SE = standard error. Significant effects (p < .05) are italicized

The most frequently endorsed locations in the USA were the hallways and classrooms in the USA and classrooms, cafeterias, and online in Mexico (see Table 3 for all frequencies). US youth had higher odds of endorsing all locations, except walking to/from school, at home, neighborhood, and in the classroom (see Table 3).
Table 3

Logistic regression results for locations

 

Percentage endorsed

 

Latinx US

Mexico

Odds ratio

Robust SE

p value

(95% confidence interval)

Locations

  Bathroom

3.7

2.4

0.59

0.09

0.001

0.44

0.80

  Gym/PE

7.9

6.2

0.80

0.10

0.070

0.62

1.02

  Walking to/from school

3.6

3.8

0.95

0.16

0.783

0.69

1.33

  After school activities (e.g., athletic events, dances, clubs)

3.0

2.7

0.73

0.15

0.145

0.49

1.11

  Bus/bus stop

6.0

1.4

0.23

0.06

0.000

0.14

0.39

  Hallway/lockers

11.9

2.9

0.24

0.04

0.000

0.17

0.34

  Home

2.5

3.2

1.30

0.24

0.141

0.92

1.86

  Cafeteria/lunch

9.2

3.8

0.42

0.05

0.000

0.32

0.54

  Locker room

5.2

0.3

0.05

0.03

0.000

0.021

0.15

  Neighborhood

2.5

2.3

0.88

0.21

0.594

0.55

1.41

  Classroom/class

11.7

12.4

1.04

0.13

0.765

0.8166

1.34

  School grounds

8.2

2.6

0.29

0.05

0.000

0.21

0.41

  Online

5.0

3.9

0.77

0.09

0.001

0.96

1.27

  “Other” location

2.3

1.0

0.50

0.16

0.032

0.26

0.94

US = United States, SE = standard error. Significant effects (p < .05) are italicized

Victims of bullying in both the US and Mexican samples most frequently reported that they ignored/walked away as a response, followed by told a friend and got into an argument in the USA and bullied that person back, got into an argument, and hit, pushed or kicked the bully in Mexico (see Table 4 for all frequencies). Compared to Latinx US youth, Mexican youth had significantly higher odds of reporting that they hit, kicked, or pushed the bully (AOR = 1.55, p < .001), bullied that person back (AOR = 1.58, p < .05), and bullied someone else (AOR = 2.01, p < .001), and significantly lower odds of reporting telling an adult at school (AOR = .49, p < .001), telling a parent (AOR = .68, p < .001), telling a friend (AOR = .48, p < .001), or ignoring it or walking away (AOR = .47, p < .001) (Table 4).
Table 4

Logistic regression results for victims and bystander responses

 

Percentage endorsed

 

Latinx US

Mexico

Odds ratio

Robust SE

p value

(95% confidence interval)

Victim response to bullying

  Bullied that person back

4.3

6.8

1.58

0.29

0.013

1.10

2.27

  Hit, pushed, or kicked the bully

4.1

6.5

1.55

0.28

0.016

1.08

2.22

  Bullied someone else

1.0

2.1

2.01

0.64

0.027

1.08

3.74

  Got into an argument

10.0

6.4

0.61

0.08

0.000

0.46

0.79

  Got into a physical fight

4.0

2.9

0.69

0.15

0.079

0.45

1.04

  Told an adult at school

7.3

3.3

0.49

0.07

0.000

0.37

0.66

  Told a parent

7.7

4.4

0.68

0.11

0.000

0.50

0.94

  Told a friend at school

10.1

4.6

0.48

0.07

0.000

0.36

0.65

  Ignored/walked away

16.0

8.1

0.47

0.07

0.000

0.36

0.62

  Other victim response

2.6

0.9

.30

0.13

0.006

0.125

0.70

Bystander responses

  Try to stop bullying

24.8

22.1

0.92

0.07

0.282

0.80

1.07

  Comfort the person being bullied

20.5

11.1

0.51

0.05

0.000

0.42

0.61

  Encourage the person being bullied to tell a teacher

19.5

19

1.04

0.10

0.683

0.86

1.27

  Tell an adult about the bullying

22.4

17.7

0.87

0.09

0.211

0.69

1.08

  Join in on the bullying

1.7

2.3

1.11

0.30

0.672

0.67

1.88

  Laugh at the bullying

2.8

3.6

1.05

0.16

0.739

0.78

1.40

  Watch the bullying but do nothing to stop it

7.2

10.9

1.51

0.19

0.000

1.18

1.93

  Stay out of the bullying

20.9

21.9

1.09

0.11

0.418

0.89

1.34

  Ignore the bullying

10.7

6.9

0.54

0.07

0.000

0.42

0.71

  “Other” bystander response

4.6

1.1

0.22

0.08

0.000

0.11

0.14

US = United States, SE = standard error. Significant effects (p < .05) are italicized

With regard to bystander responses to bullying, both US and Mexican youth most frequently endorsed try to stop the bullying (see Table 4 for all frequencies). Logistic regression results indicate the odds for reporting comfort the victim (AOR = .40, p < .001) and ignore the bullying (AOR = .54, p < .001) were lower for Mexican youth as compared to US youth. The odds for reporting watching bullying but do nothing to stop it were higher for Mexican youth as compared to US youth (AOR = 1.51, p < .001). There were no significant differences in other bystander responses (Table 4).

Discussion

Although the issue of bullying has also become of concern for Mexican educators, there is limited data available examining bullying among Mexican youth. Further, the comparison of Mexican youth with Latinx youth in the US adds to the burgeoning literature on the contextual influences on bullying involvement (Due and Holstein 2013; Ludin et al. in press; OECD 2014). The current study compared bullying rates and other bullying-related correlates in Mexican and Latinx youth in the USA aged 12–16, with the goal of determining if there were higher rates of bullying and bullying-related concerns in Mexico, where until recently, there has been less recognition of, or policy attention toward, these issues.

Our results suggested that when using a definition-based assessment approach, there were no significant differences in reports of being a bully across the two samples; however, Mexican youth reported higher odds of victimization than Latinx US youth. When using a behavior-based measure to assess exposure to various forms of victimization, however, Latinx US youth were significantly more likely to report any form of bullying. This is consistent with previous findings that ethnic minority US youth are more likely to report bullying victimization in behavior-based versus definition-based measures (see for example, Sawyer et al. 2008). Given the ethnically diverse context of the USA, it is possible that this distinction is more pronounced among Latinx US youth who may perceive alternative explanatory models for their victimization (e.g., discrimination, neighborhood violence) rather than viewing themselves as victims of bullying.

In both the USA and Mexico, verbal bullying behaviors were the most frequently endorsed (i.e., name calling, teasing), but in the USA, a relational form was next most frequently endorsed (i.e., spreading rumors or lies) whereas in Mexico, a physical form (i.e., pushing/shoving) followed. Over the past 20 years in the USA, there has been a strong emphasis on education about the various forms of bullying (e.g., Bradshaw et al. 2014b; Wang et al. 2012) specifically reinforcing to students and school staff that the more covert and relational behaviors, such as ignoring or spreading rumors (Crick and Grotpeter 1995), are in fact bullying and schools should treat them as such (Leff and Waasdorp 2013). This may not have been the case in Mexico; however, with lower reported prevalence of relational and cyber forms, it is not clear if this is due to these behaviors actually occurring less often or the perception that these behaviors may not constitute bullying. Again, it is unclear the extent to which this reflects the relative strength of definitional versus behavior-based assessment strategies; an area necessary for examination in future studies.

Taken together, these findings suggest that whereas the prevalence of youth who bullied was similar among Mexican and Latinx US youth, more Mexican youth reported being a victim and yet US youth were more likely to have witnessed bullying occur. Bullied US youth also had similar or higher odds of reporting victimization across all locations, and of experiencing all forms of victimization. This suggests that Mexican youth may consider some behaviors that were not assessed in the present study as bullying. Additionally, it may be that Mexican youth are also bullied in more isolated locations that were not assessed or that are of particular relevance for Mexican youth. Notably, in the survey, there was an “other” option for each question stem, and although we did not interpret any of the coefficients due to extremely small cell sizes, the frequencies do not reflect a large proportion of Mexican youth endorsing the “other” option. However, given the conflicting findings, improving our understanding of what bullying looks like and where it occurs in Mexico will be critical to informing intervention efforts that target locally relevant bullying dynamics. This would require that future studies take a more formative approach to developing local descriptions of bullying rather than relying on measures developed in the USA or elsewhere. For example, there is no direct translation for the term “bullying” in Mexican Spanish; instead, the same English word of “bullying” is used (Cambridge Dictionary 2017). This further complicates the behavior-based versus definition-based examination of bullying given the adoption of the US term bullying might have distinct connotations that are not captured in the present study. The lower odds of reporting witnessing bullying may highlight a lack of recognition of bullying among Mexican bystanders rather than an actual lack of other children present. In this case, interventions that increase bystander recognition and promote proactive responses may be particularly relevant.

With regard to bystander responses to bullying, while both US and Mexican youth most frequently endorsed proactive bystander responses such as trying to stop the bullying, Mexican youth had lower odds for endorsing all proactive responses. This suggests that school-based programming in Mexico could benefit from focusing on challenging retaliatory beliefs and increasing positive bystander behaviors. Given Mexican youth viewed bullying as more of a problem at their school as compared to US youth, an increased focus and awareness of the forms of bullying, examination of “hot spots” and increasing positive bystander behaviors could help decrease bullying and other aggressive behaviors. Currently, bystander programs implemented in the US have shown success at increasing positive bystander behaviors (Polanin et al. 2012). This suggests that programs focused on increasing positive bystander responses could be effective in Mexico and warrant exploration. These programs might need further adaptation to shift retaliatory behaviors; this could be done through the inclusion of the broader systems, such as parents, and early social emotional programming.

Notably, whereas Mexican youth self-reported being more likely than US youth to watch the bullying but do nothing to stop it, they also had stronger agreement for the statement that “students at this school try to stop bullying” than their US counterparts. It is unclear why this may be the case. It is possible that this represents a true discrepancy between a youth’s personal intent to act and their perceptions of their peers’ intent, although social psychology would generally suggest a youth would view himself more positively than his peers. On the other hand, US youth who are more exposed to anti-bullying messages may be more likely to respond in terms of what they know they “should” do rather than what they would actually do. These findings highlight the need for future research to help better understand this issue in Mexico. For example, if Mexican adults and youth are more likely to intervene in bullying situations, even in the absence of strong anti-bullying programs teaching these behaviors, there may be important lessons to share with US programs in terms of how to promote these positive behaviors.

For those youth who were victims of bullying, there were some similarities with both US and Mexican youth endorsing “ignored/walked away” as the most common response. However, while Mexican youth have higher odds for reporting aggressive responses (e.g., “hit, kicked, or pushed the bully”), Latinx US youth had higher odds of reporting proactive responses (e.g., “telling an adult at school”). The responses from US youth are behaviors that are emphasized in a typical school-based prevention program, whereas the Mexican youth are reporting more retaliatory responses that are often discouraged in school-based prevention programs. Although perceptions of being a victim are often culturally defined, the responses to being a victim are often determined by ones context, for youth in Mexico, it may be ingrained to retaliate when victimized especially for males (i.e., Machismo; Arciniega et al. 2008). Indeed, the Mexican youths’ higher reporting of retaliatory behaviors when they are victims of bullying may again call into question the equivalence of the Mexican concept of bullying. Typical definitions, including that provided in the questionnaire, specify that bullying often occurs within the context of a power imbalance in which the victim is unable to effectively defend him/herself. Perhaps in the cultural context of Mexico, where bravery and machismo is viewed as a traditional gendered role (e.g., Arciniega et al. 2008), this type of response is reported more readily either due to true higher likelihood of fighting back or because of certain social desirability for bravado. Future studies would benefit from examining how the traditional gender roles for Mexican youth are associated with bullying behaviors and responses to bullying (Machismo, Marianismo; e.g., Arciniega et al. 2008; Castillo et al. 2010). Alternatively, some studies and critiques of the Olweus definition do highlight that young people’s conceptualizations of bullying do not always agree with the scientific definition, particularly in regard to repetition and the imbalance of power (Finkelhor et al. 2012; Gladden et al. 2014; Ybarra et al. 2014). It is possible that these differences in local conceptualization of bullying are simply more pronounced among Mexican youth.

This study contributes to the literature on cross-national differences in bullying involvement by using a standard questionnaire with demonstrated measurement equivalence across the two settings (Shukla et al. 2017). However, it is important to consider some limitations of the current study. Although the use of cross-sectional data is helpful to paint an exploratory picture of bullying in each of the two samples, a repeated measures design for future studies would enable us to expand on this picture to understand how bullying dynamics change across time. This would particularly be helpful for the Mexican context, where longitudinal bullying data is lacking. Additionally, we referred in general terms to Latinx US and Mexican youth; however, the data come from the metropolitan areas of Guadalajara and Tlaquepaque in the west-central state of Jalisco, Mexico, and one state in the USA. Therefore, these data cannot be assumed to represent the entirety of youth from each country. Implementation of the questionnaire required that schools have access to computers, which may result in a bias toward schools with greater institutional resources. We also relied on self-report data in this study, which is subject to the limitations in all self-report data (e.g., social desirability bias). Future studies drawing from multiple informants or using a peer nomination approach would be highly valuable in expanding on our current understanding. Although the study instrument underwent a standard process of translation and back translation, we emphasize that the construct measured in the present study was bullying as defined and described in the US context. Previous research has described how differences in language can impact youth’s understandings of what constitutes bullying (Smith et al. 2002), and this could have also impacted our results. As noted above, the term used for bullying in Mexico is borrowed from English, rather than a historical Mexican term used to describe a similar phenomenon (Cambridge Dictionary 2017). Finally, this study did not examine the different bullying participant roles (e.g., bystander, bully, victim); however, it is likely that one’s role could influence perceptions of the climate, responses to bullying and bystander behaviors. Future studies could examine if individuals in differing participant roles varied in perceptions and other behaviors comparing those youth in Mexico to Latinx US youth.

The findings from the current suggest several significant differences between Latinx US and Mexican middle schoolers with regard to their overall risk for involvement in bullying and norms related to intervention and retaliation in response to bullying. Given Mexican youth reported that bullying and harassment were more of a problem at their school than did Latinx US youth, this may be a strong indication of the widespread mandates for US schools to address bullying (Cornell and Limber 2015). Recent studies of US-based youth showing a decrease in rates of bullying and related behaviors over the past decade have highlighted the likely positive impact of policy changes and increased awareness (Waasdorp et al. 2017). As studies of bullying steadily increase in Mexico (e.g., Baruch-Dominguez et al. 2016; Ramos-Jiménez et al. 2017; Romo and Kelvin 2016), this may result in additional policy and school-based prevention efforts to address bullying. On the other hand, that Latinx US youth actually reported higher rates of victimization exposure than Mexican youth highlights a need to ensure US-based prevention programming is adequately addressing the risk posed to Latinx youth; a risk that may be on the rise given growing racial tensions in the current US political climate (Huang and Cornell 2019).

Notes

Funding information

This work was funded in part by grants from the US Department of Education, the Institute of Education Sciences partnership grant, and the National Institute of Justice awarded to the last author.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

The research involved analysis of secondary data, the Institutional Review Board at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of Virginia approved this study, and we complied with APA ethical guidelines in the treatment of the sample and the writing of the paper.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Mental Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public HealthJohns Hopkins UniversityBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Children’s Hospital of PhiladelphiaPhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.University of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA
  4. 4.University of GuadalajaraGuadalajaraMexico

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