Bullying Part 1: Bullying Hurts Us All

(A version of this article first appeared in Kingston Neighbours Magazine, August, 2022.)

Before the kids head back to school, let’s take an in-depth look at bullying — in our schools, families, workplaces and communities. Here are some sobering Canadian statistics posted by Public Safety Canada and the Canadian Red Cross:

  • 47% of parents have one or more children who have been bullied
  • Approximately 1/3 of teens report being bullied recently 
  • Over half of bullied youth don’t report it
  • More than 40% of Canadians are bullied in the workplace every week 

BullyingCanada, a national anti-bullying charity offering 24/7 support, received 787,035 requests for help last year alone. Even more sobering, PREVNet (Promoting Relationships & Eliminating Violence Network: Canada’s Healthy Relationship Hub), a national research organization located in Kingston at Queen’s University, stresses that unless bullying is addressed early and effectively, children become adults who think control is gained through intimidation. Therefore, I’m devoting August and September’s Lisa’s Book Corner articles to the important topic. This month, we’ll focus on identification and support. Next month, we’ll examine how parents can help.

What is Bullying?

Bullying is aggression and can go by different names. In classrooms and on playgrounds it’s typically called bullying, in families and intimate partner relationships, it’s called abuse, and in the workplace, it’s usually referred to as harassment. Some additional definitions:

  1. Ontario Education Act 1(1)“aggressive and typically repeated behaviour … causing harm, fear or distress to another individual …. in a context where there is a real or perceived power imbalance …”
  2. BullyingCanada“Bullying happens when someone hurts or scares another person on purpose and the person being bullied has a hard time defending themselves.”
  3. PREVNet“Bullying is a form of abuse at the hands of peers that can take different forms at different ages. It is targeted and repeated. It involves power, aggression, intimidation and shame.”
  4. Canadian Red Cross “Bullying is mean, cruel, hurtful behaviour. It involves using power in a negative way to hurt others.”

The common themes are: 

  • the use of aggression
  • the intention to coerce/control, scare, hurt, isolate and/or humiliate 
  • usually more than one incident
  • real or perceived power imbalances

Depending on the environment, the power imbalance could be based on physical size, age, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, ethnicity/race, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, position of authority, level of employment (permanent vs. temporary, full-time vs. part-time), or seniority.

There are also different forms of bullying:

  1. Physical – Hitting, throwing things, damaging/stealing personal property and other physically intimidating behaviour. 
  2. Verbal – Yelling, swearing, name-calling, belittling or berating, speaking rudely/sarcastically, taunting, mocking and uttering threats, slurs or unwanted sexual comments.
  3. Social – Rolling eyes, deliberately excluding someone, the “silent treatment”, laughing behind someone’s back, gossiping, spreading rumours and other passive-aggressive behaviours. In the workplace, it also includes undermining someone’s work, withholding necessary information, scapegoating and/or blaming someone, setting others up to look incompetent and intruding on their privacy — all of which contributes to a toxic work environment.
  4. Cyber – Using social media, email or texts to humiliate, threaten, stalk, insult, deceive, exclude or spread hurtful rumours; it also includes posing as someone online.

Signs to watch for

Many people don’t come forward about bullying because of fear, embarrassment and/or shame. Here are some signs to watch for:

  • Injuries, bruises, torn clothing, broken or missing personal possessions
  • Appears anxious, wary, fearful, distracted, weepy and/or irritable
  • Makes negative comments about themselves
  • Reluctant to go to school/home/work or other activities 
  • Few/no friends; appears isolated 
  • Sleep difficulties, nightmares
  • Complains of headaches, stomachaches or other physical ailments
  • Decreased productivity, increased absenteeism

Strategies 

When faced with a bully, many people freeze. Here are some things to try instead:

  • Act confident — pretend the bully isn’t bothering you
  • Try humour to diffuse the situation
  • Stay calm and use words to defend yourself
  • If you are struggling to speak, walk away 
  • Stay close to people who will speak up for you; bullying usually ends within 10 seconds when peers intervene
  • Tell a trusted person: teacher, supervisor, co-worker, family member, friend
  • Remember, it’s not your fault

Support

BullyingCanada 24/7 support 

(877) 352-4497 (call or text)

Support@BullyingCanada.ca (email)

In addition to the above 24/7 support offered by BullyingCanada, you can also refer to previous articles I have written for further information on mental health and wellness:

Big Feelings, Little Strategies That Work

YA Novels About Mental Health

Let’s Talk About Mental Health: Resources for Youth

These books may also be helpful to address a bullying situation:

Books for Kids

Stand Up For Yourself & Your Friends, by Patti Kelley Criswell

Oddbird, by Derek Desierto

The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes

Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson

I Like Who I Am, by Tara White

Books for Adults

Hyacinth Girls, by Lauren Frankel (a novel)

The Bully At Work, by Gary Namie & Ruth Namie

The Asshole Survival Guide & The No Asshole Rule, by Robert I. Sutton

8 Keys To End Bullying: Strategies For Parents & Schools, by Signe Whitson

In next month’s article, we’ll look at the long-term effects of bullying and what parents can do to help if their children are being bullied. Until then, if you are a target of a bully, please reach out by phone or text to BullyngCanada’s 24/7 support line at at 1-877-352-4497. You are not alone.

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