Bullying is about physical or social power and control. Bullying is a deliberate, repeated and hostile behaviour meant to cause fear, distress, or harm to a less dominant individual or group (including physical and verbal actions and social exclusions). About 1 in 5 children are bullied regularly in Canada. Bullying and victimization of children and youth can have long-lasting effects, including physical, social and mental health problems, and poor school outcomes. In extreme cases, they may lead to deadly violence and suicide. Among children who bully, bullying behaviour often continues outside of the school environment and throughout the lifespan. Children who bully need support in resolving interpersonal conflict to prevent patterns of aggressive interactions and behaviours forming.
Facts about Bullying
- Bullying isn’t a normal part of growing up. Bullying does NOT build character. Bullying is a learned behaviour and not something all kids go through. Bullying can cause long-term physical problems and mental health issues.
- Even if other students aren’t directly involved, they can do something. Those who stand by and do nothing (bystanders) make bullying worse. Remind your students that it’s important to report bullying to a trusted adult, 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 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 different than face-to-face bullying because it’s relentless, public, yet at the same time, 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 types 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 an important part of healthy development and well-being. Children who are bullied can be affected for life. They may carry their pain and fear into their adult relationships. Those who get their way by bullying can carry this behaviour into adulthood. They may continue bullying behaviours such as sexual harassment, dating violence, domestic violence and workplace harassment.
Types of Bullying
- Cyberbullying: any type of bullying that takes place on digital devices using social media, 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
- Physical: hitting, kicking, poking, pinching, chasing, shoving, damaging personal property
- Sexual harassment: uninvited and unwanted sexual touching, making sexual remarks about someone’s body, spreading rumours about someone’s sexual reputation
- Social: exclusion, gossip, ganging up, mobbing, scapegoating, humiliating others, coercing, gestures or graffiti intended 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, or leaving people out because of their religion or non-belief
- Homophobic, biphobic and transphobic: treating someone poorly because they identify as LGTBQ2S+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual)
Social media platforms 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 for anxiety, depression and suicide.
Cyberbullies may feel safer or anonymous as they can hide behind their computer or phone and be more secretive about what they’re doing.
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 countless invisible witnesses and collaborators, making it difficult 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.
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 young people who identify as LGBTQ2S+ are more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. To learn more about homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, see Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity & Expression.
Everyone deserves the right to be themselves without fear 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 acceptable.
For tips on how to prevent homophobic and transphobic bullying and what to do if it’s already happening, see Transphobic Bullying.
How to Recognize Bullying
There are many reasons why a child may not speak up about being bullied. They could be ashamed, embarrassed or afraid their bully will treat them even worse. Children may feel they can’t say anything if they want to belong to a peer group. A child’s behaviour may be a clue to bullying even before they’re ready to talk about it.
Some warning signs a child may be being bullied include:
- skipping school
- starting to do poorly in school
- ‘losing’ their belongings or coming to school with clothes or books that have been vandalized or destroyed
- having unexplained bruises or cuts
- becoming withdrawn or begin bullying other children
- attempting or talking about suicide
If you think a child is being bullied, ask them directly. Assure them that anything they say is confidential: Are there any bullies in our school or class? What are some of the things they say or do? Who do they pick on? Do they ever bully you?
If A Student is Being Bullied
- Offer comfort and be ready to listen. Let your student know you’re there to support them.
- Work with the parents and the school administrators, so the situation can be watched or controlled.
- Help your student make arrangements for safety. Be sure they know where to go for help. Have your student identify other safe and trusted adults and safe places at school.
- Help your student develop social skills. Encourage them to take part in activities they enjoy and help build self-esteem. Bullies like to pick on kids who are alone or have few friends.
- Think about your own actions. Think about how you treat others and how you let others treat you. As a role model, your actions and reactions can influence how your students relate to others.
- Minimize or excuse the bully’s behaviour. This may make your student think that the bullying is their fault, or they may not see you as someone they can go to for help.
- Rush in to solve the problem for your student. Instead, let them come up with solutions and help them figure out if these solutions will make the problem better or worse.
- Tell your student to fight back. Violence does NOT solve problems. Encourage non-violent ways to express feelings, opinions and to solve problems.
- Confront the bully or the bully’s parents alone.
Is My Student a Bully?
People become bullies for different reasons. Often, they want to have power over others or feel the need to dominate. Some warning signs that your student may be involved in bullying are that they:
- talk about taunting someone, or pass off teasing as a joke
- laugh or don’t care when other kids get hurt
- are aggressive with peers
- leave other kids out
- name call with friends or family members
- show aggressive behaviour towards parents, teachers or other adults
If Your Student is Bullying
- Stay calm. Get as much information as possible from other teachers and people about the situation and the student’s behaviour.
- Be firm. Stop bullying behaviour when it happens. Let the student know that bullying is NOT acceptable.
- Talk about how bullying affects others and how your student would feel if they were being bullied.
- Encourage the student to use positive, non-violent ways to express their feelings and opinions.
- Use non-violent consequences. Make sure it suits their actions and age.
- Set clear and reasonable rules. If a rule is broken, tell the student what they’ve done and how they should respond in the future.
- Get help. Work with the parents, school administration, and counsellors to support positive behaviour change.
- Think about your own behaviour. Remember that you’re a powerful role model in your students’ lives. Model healthy relationships in your classroom.
For more help or information, see Additional Resources.
Call the 24 hour Bullying Prevention Helpline at 1-888-456-2323 (toll-free in Alberta) for advice and strategies on bullying prevention and building healthy relationships