Bullying is about physical or social power meant to cause harm, fear or distress, including emotional harm or damage or ruin a person’s reputation. About 1 in 5 children are bullied regularly in Canada. Bullying can lead to mental health issues, poor school success, and can 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 cause long-term physical problems and mental health issues.
- 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 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, and by supporting the person who’s being bullied. Support can be:
- talking to the victim to help them feel better
- recording evidence of what’s happening so they can help the victim report it later
- reporting it to the game or social media network if it happened online
- 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 face-to-face bullying. It’s constant, public and at the same time you may not know who’s doing the bullying (anonymous). Cyberbullying can include publicly sharing content, such as photos, videos or messages that was intended to be private. It’s no longer only the ‘tough kids’ who may act aggressively—it can just as easily be the shy, quiet kids hidden behind their computers. Because this type of bullying is public, victims aren’t sure who knows about the bullying and who they should fear.
- It’s not just teasing. Relationships are important in healthy development and well-being. Bullying can affect a child for life. They may bring their pain and fear into their adult relationships. Children whose bullying behaviours are not addressed can also carry this behaviour into adulthood. They may keep using bullying behaviours such as sexual harassment, dating violence, domestic violence and work 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 using social media networks, instant messaging, texts, websites, blogs and gaming sites. 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.
- verbal: name-calling, put-downs, threats, spreading rumours, making rude or stereotypical comments about one’s culture, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, race, and/or religion
- sexual harassment: uninvited and unwanted sexual touching, making sexual remarks about someone’s body, spreading rumours about someone’s sexual reputation
- social: excluding someone, gossiping, ganging up, mobbing, scapegoating, humiliating others, coercing, gestures or graffiti meant to put others down or break up friendships on purpose
- racial: treating someone badly because of their skin colour, cultural or religious background or ethnic origin. This includes making fun of someone’s accent or speech, clothing, food and/or 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 or non-belief
- homophobic, biphobic and transphobic: treating someone badly because they identify as LGTBQ2S+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual)
Social media networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Snapchat and Tumblr, as well as texting and instant messaging (IM) have become the major way youth communicate and socialize. Because of this, cyberbullying has become a concerning reality.
Cyberbullying takes place on digital devices using platforms such as social media, instant messaging, texts, websites, blogs and gaming sites to intimidate, impersonate, harass or spread rumours about someone. It also includes publicly sharing content, such as photos, videos or messages that was intended to be private. Sexting also exposes kids to cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying increases the risk of anxiety, depression and suicide. Cyberbullying is traumatic and may even be more harmful than face-to face bullying. The ability to communicate immediately and continuously 24 hours a day makes it difficult to escape. There is potential for many invisible witnesses and collaborators, making it hard for those being bullied to know who is involved. Information shared digitally and posted online is often permanent and public, unless it is reported and removed.
Cyberbullies may feel safe or anonymous as they can hide behind their computer or phone and be more secretive about what they’re doing. This is a very complex type of bullying as it can involve direct bullying or using others to bully. It comes in many different forms. The only limits to the type of bullying are the bully’s imagination and access to technology.
What you as a parent can do about cyberbullying:
- Talk to your child often about their online activities and behaviours.
- Check in with your child often to make sure everything’s OK.
- Watch for changes in your child’s behaviour when using their phone or computer.
- Make sure your child feels comfortable coming to you with any issues.
- If a photo of your child was shared without their consent, first make sure they know you support them—don’t blame your child for sending a photo in the first place. Next your child 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 to keep track of the bullying by saving the texts or instant messages or taking screenshots
- Report online bullying. Report to the social media site and block the person responsible.
Homophobic, Biphobic, and Transphobic Bullying
Treating someone poorly (e.g., threats, name calling, pushing, hitting, using violence, making sexual remarks, leaving them out) because they identify as LGTBQ2S+, are forms of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying. Research shows that youth who identify as LGBTQ* are more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. For more information on homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, see Sexual and Gender Diversity.
Everyone deserves the right to be who they are, without being afraid of verbal or physical abuse or violence. Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, just like other forms of bullying, are not a normal part of growing up and are never okay.
What You Can Do about Homophobic, Biphobic or Transphobic Bullying
This is a tough and emotional time for both the child and the parents. If your child’s being bullied:
- Offer support. Tell your child you believe them and that their feelings and emotions are normal.
- Listen. Don’t judge them or blame them for what happened.
- Educate yourself. Find information on sexual and gender minority issues and child and teen development.
- Work with your school. Tell the school right away about any bullying issues. Document everything. If the bullying continues, ask to speak to your school district’s administration team to develop a safety plan.
- Contact the police. If your child is threatened, physically hurt, sexually assaulted, or if their property is damaged or stolen, contact the police or RCMP right away.
- Communicate and help build self-esteem. Help your child 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 children may not tell anyone they’re being bullied. They could be ashamed, embarrassed or afraid it could make things even worse. Children may feel they have to stay quiet to keep their friends. Your child’s behaviour may be a clue to bullying even before they’re ready to talk about it.
Here are some warning signs your child may be being bullied. They may have cuts and bruises they can’t explain or they’re:
- afraid to go to school, are skipping school, or say 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 are beginning to bully other children
- talking about or attempting suicide
If you think your child is being bullied, ask them up front. 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 is Being Bullied
- Be there to comfort and listen. Let your child know you’re there to support them and to help keep them safe.
- Work with the school. Contact your child’s school right away, so the situation can be monitored. Ask about anti-bullying programs. If there isn’t one in place at your child’s school maybe you could help set one up.
- Make sure your child knows where to go for help. Make sure your child has a safe and trusted adult they can go to and a safe place at school.
- Help your child develop social skills. Encourage them to keep doing the things they enjoy and help make them feel good about themselves. Bullies like to pick on kids who are alone or have few friends.
- Practice with your child how to respond to bullies. Teach your child to respond without anger as this may make things worse.
- Communicate. Encourage your child to talk about their feelings and ideas. This may take time but will help with problem-solving skills and being strong enough to tell on someone.
- Think about your own actions. As a role model, your actions and reactions can have an influence how your child relates to others. This includes how you treat others and how you let others to treat you.
- Don’t make light or excuse the bully’s behaviour. This may make your child think that the bullying is their fault. If this happens, they may not see you as someone they can go to for help.
- Try not to rush in to solve the problem for your child. Instead, let your child come up with ideas and help them figure out if these ideas will make the problem better or worse.
- Don’t tell your child to fight back—violence doesn’t solve problems. Work on non-violent ways for your child to talk about how they feel, what they think about things and to solve problems.
- Don’t face the bully or the bully’s parents alone.
Is My Child a Bully?
People become bullies for various reasons. Often they want to have power over others or feel the need to control. Some warning signs that your child may be involved in 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
If Your Child is Bullying
If you think your child is bullying:
- Stay calm. Get as much information as possible from teachers and other people about the situation and your child’s behaviour.
- Be firm. Stop bullying behaviour when it happens. Let your child know that bullying is NOT okay. Talk about how bullying can be hurtful.
- Ask why. Talk about how bullying affects others and how your child 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. 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 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 positive behaviour change.
- Know what they’re watching on TV and doing on the Internet. 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. Remember that you’re a powerful role model in your child’s life. Practice healthy relationships in your family and in the community.
For more information, visit our Additional Resources.