Bullying is about physical or social power. It intends to cause harm, fear or distress. Often, its point is to ruin a victim’s reputation. About 1 in 5 kids are bullied regularly in Canada. Bullying can lead to mental health issues, poor school success, and can also lead to deadly violence and suicide.
Facts About Bullying
- Bullying is not a normal part of growing up. Bullying does NOT build character. Bullying is a learned behaviour; it’s not something all kids go through. Bullying can lead to long-term physical and mental health concerns.
- Bullying has negative consequences for the person bullying and the bullied person. Bullying has been linked to lower grades and increased risk-taking behaviour.
- Your child isn’t just a bystander. Even if they aren’t directly involved, they can do something. Those who stand by and do nothing (bystanders) make bullying worse. Remind your child or teen that it’s important to tell an adult they trust, whether it’s happening to them or to someone else. Bystanders can help stop bullying by not encouraging or cheering on the bully. They also help by supporting the person who’s being bullied. This includes showing their support by:
- taking a stand
- standing with the bullied child when the bullying child is nearby
- talking to the person bullying to let them know that they don’t agree
- Online, it can mean
- speaking up in a group chat to support the targeted child
- refusing to share bullying messages
- messaging the bullying person to try and get them to stop their actions
- talking to the victim to help them feel better
- reporting it to a trusted adult, whether that be a teacher, a parent, or another adult
- reporting it to the game or social media network if it happened online
- recording what’s happening (proof) so they can help the bullied person report it later
- taking a stand
- It’s not just a few comments or photos on Facebook or Snapchat…they can’t easily be erased. Cyberbullying is not the same as bullying in person. It’s constant and public. At the same time, you may not know who’s doing the bullying (it’s anonymous). Anyone can bully online–age, size, and gender don’t matter.
- It’s not just teasing. Relationships are important to healthy growth and well-being. Bullying can affect a child for the rest of their life. The pain and fear may follow them into their adult relationships. Kids whose bullying hasn’t been stopped can also carry this behaviour into adulthood. As an adult, it may look like sexual harassment, dating violence, domestic violence or workplace harassment.
Different Types of Bullying
There are many types of bullying. These include:
- physical: hitting, poking, pinching, chasing, shoving, damaging personal property
- cyberbullying: any type of bullying that takes place on digital devices. Cyberbullying can include any of the types of bullying listed below, since it’s based on how the bullying is done, rather than the content of the bullying. It may also happen along with physical bullying.
- verbal: this includes name-calling, put-downs, threats, or spreading rumours. It may also include making rude or prejudiced comments about the culture, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, race, and/or religion of their target.
- sexual harassment: includes uninvited and unwanted sexual touching. It also includes making remarks about the target’s body and spreading rumours about their sexual reputation.
- social: This involves attacking the bullied person’s social standing. It may mean:
- leaving them out
- ganging up on them
- gossiping about them
- blaming them
- forcing them to do things they don’t want to do
- humiliating them
- using gestures or graffiti to put them down
- breaking up friendships on purpose
- racial: treating someone badly because of their skin colour, their cultural or religious background, or their ethnic origin. This could include making fun of someone’s accent or speech, clothing, or their food. It may also mean leaving people out because of their race or culture.
- religious: making fun of someone’s religion, beliefs and rituals. This includes leaving people out because of their religion. It may also mean leaving them out because they don’t believe.
- homophobic, biphobic and transphobic: treating someone badly because they identify as LGTBQ2S+( (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, 2–spirit, + intersex, or asexual).
Social media networks have become the main way youth connect and socialize. This includes apps like Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat. Texting and instant or direct messaging (IM/DM) through gaming or on their own are also common. Because of this, cyberbullying has increased.
Cyberbullying takes place through social media, instant messaging, texts, websites, blogs and gaming sites. It’s intended to intimidate, impersonate, harass or spread rumours about someone. It also includes sharing private content like photos, videos or messages publicly. Sexting also puts kids at risk for cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying increases a person’s risk of anxiety, depression and suicide. It’s traumatic, and it may even be more harmful than face-to-face bullying. The ability to communicate instantly and nonstop for 24 hours a day makes it difficult to escape. It can be especially hard because ‘bystanders’ and the bullies are invisible. The bullied person often doesn’t know who is involved and who they can trust. Content shared and posted online is often long-lasting and public. If reported, it may be removed but it can be difficult to do so.
Cyberbullies may feel safe because they can hide behind their computer or phone. They can keep what they’re doing secret. This is a very complex type of bullying because the person bullying may act directly or use others to bully. It can take many different forms. The only limits to this type of bullying are the imagination of the person bullying and their access to technology.
What you as a parent can do about cyberbullying:
- Talk to your child or teen often about their online activities and behaviours.
- Check in with them often to make sure everything is OK.
- Watch for changes in your child or teen’s behaviour when, or after, using their phone or computer.
- Let your child or teen know they can come to you with any issue. Continue to be an askable adult whom they know they can trust.
- If a photo of your child or teen was shared without their consent, first make sure they know you support them. Don’t blame them for sending a photo in the first place. Next, they can ask the person who shared it to stop sharing or take it down. For more on what to do if intimate photos were shared without consent see the Technology & Media information.
- Save the evidence. Encourage your child or teen to send you the texts or messages (or screenshots). You can then keep the evidence and they don’t need to look at it again.
- Report online bullying. Report to the social media site and block the person responsible.
Homophobic, Biphobic, and Transphobic Bullying
Treating someone poorly because they identify as LGBTQ2S+ is a distinct type of bullying. It’s called homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. Research shows that youth who identify as LGBTQ2S+ are more likely to attempt suicide than other youth. For more information on homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, see Sexual and Gender Diversity.
Everyone deserves the right to be who they are, and to live without fear of verbal or physical abuse or violence. Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, like other forms of bullying, are never okay.
What you can do about Homophobic, Biphobic or Transphobic Bullying
This is a tough and emotional time for both the child or teen and the parents. If your child or teen is being bullied:
- Offer support. Tell your child or teen you believe them and that their feelings and emotions are valid and normal.
- Listen. Don’t judge them or blame them for what happened.
- Educate yourself. Find information on sexual and gender minority issues. Learn how to support a child or teen dealing with those issues.
- Work with the school. Tell the school right away about any bullying. Document everything. If the bullying continues, ask to speak to your school district’s administrators to develop a safety plan.
- Contact the police if your child or teen is threatened, physically hurt, sexually assaulted, or their property is damaged or stolen.
- Communicate and help build self-esteem. Help your child or teen to develop their strengths by making sure they keep doing the things they enjoy or that they’re good at.
How to Recognize Bullying
There are many reasons kids may not tell anyone they’re being bullied. They could be ashamed, embarrassed or afraid it could make things even worse. Kids may feel they have to stay quiet to keep their friends. Your child or teen’s behaviour may be a clue to bullying even before they’re ready to talk about it.
Here are some warning signs your child or teen may be being bullied:
- having cuts and bruises they can’t explain
- being afraid to go to school, skipping school, or saying they’re feeling sick on school days
- starting to do poorly in school
- ‘losing’ their belongings or coming home with clothes or books that have been vandalized or destroyed
- having nightmares
- becoming withdrawn or they’re beginning to bully other children
- talking about or attempting suicide
If you think your child or teen is being bullied, ask them directly. “Are there any bullies in your school or class? What are some of the things they say or do? Who do they pick on? Do they ever bully you?”
If Your Child or Teen is Being Bullied
- Be there to comfort and listen. Let your child or teen know you’re there to support them and to help keep them safe.
- Work with the school. Contact the school right away, so the situation can be monitored. Ask about anti-bullying programs. If there isn’t one in place at the school, ask about setting one up.
- Make sure your child or teen knows where to go for help. Make sure they have a safe and trusted adult they can go to and a safe place at school.
- Help your child or teen develop social skills. Encourage them to keep doing the things they enjoy and help make them feel good about themselves. Kids who bully like to pick on kids who are alone or have few friends.
- Practice how to respond to bullying with your child or teen. Teach them to respond without anger as this may make things worse.
- Encourage your child or teen to talk about their feelings and ideas. This may take time but will help them improve their problem-solving skills. It may also help them be strong enough to report someone.
- Think about your own actions. Because you’re a role model, your actions and reactions can affect how your child relates to others. This includes how you treat others and how you let others to treat you.
- Consider getting your child or teen counselling, either through the school or community, if you think they’re struggling with bullying. If they are withdrawing or seem depressed, counselling may help.
- Make light of or excuse the bullying behaviour. This may make your child or teen think that the bullying is their fault. If this happens, they may not see you as someone they can go to for help.
- Rush in to solve the problem for your child or teen. Instead, let them come up with ideas and help them figure out if these ideas will make the problem better or worse.
- Tell your child or teen to fight back – violence doesn’t solve problems. Work on non-violent ways for them to talk about how they feel, what they think about things, and to solve problems.
- Face the bullying child or teen, or their grown-ups, alone.
Does My Child Bully?
People bully for several reasons. Often, they want to have power over others or feel the need to control. Some hints that your child or teen may be bullying are if they:
- have extra money or clothes
- talk about taunting someone, or pass off teasing as a joke
- laugh or don’t care when other kids get hurt
- are aggressive with others their age
- leave other kids out
- name call with friends or family members
- are aggressive towards parents, teachers or other adults
- have a history of bullying or were bullied themselves
- avoid talking with you about what they’re doing on their computer or phone
- switch screens or close programs when you’re nearby
- are using their device (phone, tablet, or computer) much more than usual
If Your Child or Teen is Bullying
If you think your child or teen is bullying:
- Stay calm. Get as much information as possible from teachers and other people about the situation and your child or teen’s behaviour.
- Be firm. Stop bullying behaviour when it happens. Let them know that bullying is NOT okay. Talk about how bullying can be hurtful.
- Ask why. Talk about how bullying affects others and how they would feel if they were being bullied.
- Encourage positive non-violent ways for them to say what they feel and what they think. Teach them to use positive problem-solving skills.
- Talk to your child or teen. Ask about how they’re feeling and if anything is bothering them.
Other things you can do are to:
- Use non-violent consequences. Make sure it suits their actions and age. For example, take away a privilege such as TV or cell phone.
- Set clear and reasonable rules. If a rule is broken, tell your child or teen what they’ve done and how they should respond if there is a next time.
- Get help. Work with the school, counsellors and other family members to support a behaviour change.
- Know what they’re watching on TV and doing online. There’s a lot of violence in the media. Point out positive behaviours in the media and talk about good role models and heroes.
- Think about your own behaviour. Keep in mind that you’re a powerful role model in their life. Make sure you have healthy relationships in your family and in the community.
For more information, visit our Additional Resources.