What is bullying?
Bullying is aggressive behaviour that is typically repeated over time. It is meant to cause harm, fear or distress or create a negative environment at school for another person. Bullying occurs in a situation where there is a real or perceived power imbalance.
Types of bullying
Bullying can take many forms. It can be:
- physical – hitting, shoving, damaging or stealing property
- verbal – name calling, mocking, or making sexist, racist or homophobic comments
- social – excluding others from a group or spreading gossip or rumours about them
- written – writing notes or signs that are hurtful or insulting
- electronic (commonly known as cyber-bullying) – spreading rumours and hurtful comments through the use of e-mail, cell phones (e.g., text messaging) and on social media sites.
Bullying takes place when there is an imbalance of power between people. An “imbalance” could mean one student is older, of a different race or has more friends than another.
Conflict VS. Bullying
Conflict occurs between two or more people who have a disagreement, a difference of opinion or different views. Conflict between students does not always mean it’s bullying. Children learn at a young age to understand that others can have a different perspective than their own, but developing the ability to gain perspective takes time and the process continues into early adulthood
Conflict becomes negative when an individual behaves aggressively by saying or doing hurtful things. Then the conflict is an aggressive interaction. Conflict only becomes bullying when it is repeated over and over again and there is a power imbalance. Over time, a pattern of behaviour may emerge where the person who behaves aggressively in the conflict may continue or even make it worse. The person who is the recipient of the aggressive conflict may feel less and less able to express his or her point of view and feel more and more powerless. That is when negative conflict may turn into bullying.
How serious a problem is bullying?
Bullying is never acceptable. It should not be considered just “part of growing up”. Research and experience consistently show that bullying is a serious issue, with far-reaching consequences for the students involved, their families and peers, and the community around them.
Those children who are victimized, bully other children, or both, are at risk for many emotional, behavioural, and relationship problems. They will require support from adults to help them develop healthy relationships, not only in school but throughout their lives.
Nearly one in three Ontario students (29%) report being bullied at school, according to a 2011 study from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).
Students who are bullied often experience social anxiety, loneliness, withdrawal, physical illnesses and low self-esteem. They can also develop phobias, take on aggressive behaviour or slide into depression. Some students miss school, see their marks drop or even leave school altogether because they have been bullied.
Children and teens who learn to use power and aggression to distress others may stop caring about the difference between right and wrong in general. Eventually, they may become abusive adults. Therefore, it is important to help them to stop bullying as early as possible.
How can I tell if my child or teenager is being bullied?
A young child may not know the word “bully”, but they know when someone is being mean, or making them feel sad or scared. They may not tell you because she may be worried she’ll make things worse if she “tells”, “tattles” or “snitch”
Tattling vs. Telling
Tattling is telling on someone to get that person in trouble.
Telling is getting help when you or someone you know is being hurt, or when your right or that person’s right to be safe is being taken away
Teenagers won’t necessarily tell you there’s a problem either. Teenagers often prefer to handle things on their own. They might think you’ll get upset, that you will take away their technology, such as their cell phones, or they might just find it embarrassing to have a parent involved.
Even if she doesn’t talk about it, you can watch for signs that your child is being bullied. Here are some signs to watch for:
- Children who are being bullied may not want to go to school or may cry or feel sick on school days.
- They may not want to take part in activities or social events with other students.
- They may act differently than they normally do.
- They might suddenly begin to lose money or personal items, or come home with torn clothes or broken possessions, and offer explanations that don’t make sense.
- Teens who are bullied and/or harassed may also start talking about dropping out of school and begin skipping activities that involve other students.
My child is being bullied. What should I do?
- Listen to your child and assure him that he has a right to be safe.
- Be clear on the facts. Make notes about what happened and when it happened.
- Help your child see that there is a difference between “ratting”, “tattling” or “telling” and reporting. It takes courage to report. Reporting is done not to cause trouble for another student, but to protect all students.
- Make an appointment to talk to your child/teenager’s teacher, another teacher that your child/teenager trusts or the principal or vice-principal of the school.
- Difficult as it may be, try to remain calm so that you can support your child and plan a course of action with him or her.
- Stay on course. Keep an eye on your child’s behaviour. If your meetings with school staff haven’t made the bullying stop, go back and talk to the principal. Follow up on the steps that were agreed to at the meeting.
- Speak to the instructor or coach if the bullying is taking place during after-school activities or sports events.
- Contact police if the bullying involves criminal behaviour, such as sexual assault or use of a weapon, or if the threat to your child’s safety is in the community rather than the school.
Is it possible that my child is bullying others?
Children who bully sometimes do so at home as well as at school. Look and listen within your own household. Are there signs that one of your children is bullying a sibling?
Children who bully may sometimes be aggressive and disruptive at home and may not show respect for household rules. If you are concerned that your child may be bullying others, watch how they interact with siblings, with you, and with friends when they come over to your home. If they seem to be aggressive, not getting along or don’t show empathy – these could also be signs that they are bullying others at school.
Children who physically bully other students may also come home with bruises, scrapes, and torn clothing. They may suddenly have more money to spend than usual or new possessions that they would normally not be able to afford.
Bullying behaviour can develop over a long period of time or as a result of major changes, losses or upsets in a child’s or teen’s life. Have any of your children recently had this kind of experience? Think about how problems and conflicts are dealt with in your home. Do you talk through issues positively as a family? An important way to discourage bullying is to be a good role model and show your child how to sort out difficulties without using power or aggression.
It is also important to tell your children what bullying is. You should describe the different types of bullying and explain it is hurtful and harmful. Let your child know that bullying is wrong and is not acceptable behaviour under any circumstances.
How do schools deal with bullying and other incidents?
Students who bully others, whether it happens in person or online, can face different consequences.
When addressing bullying, principals use a progressive discipline approach. Ontario’s progressive discipline policy allows a principal to choose from a range of options to address the behaviour and help the student learn from his or her choices. Some examples include:
- an apology for a hurtful or disrespectful comment
- a review of the expectations for the student
- a meeting with parents/guardians
- anger management counselling
- having the student suspended from school.
In more serious cases, the principal may recommend that the student be expelled from school if the student was previously suspended for bullying and continues to present an unacceptable risk to the safety of another person. These rules apply to both elementary and secondary students.
Nurturing healthy relationships can help stop bullying
Bullying prevention and intervention is about more than just eliminating bullying.
It also promotes the development of healthy relationships. Healthy relationships involve respectful interactions between people, whether face-to-face or online. The goal is to help ensure that all students have healthy, safe, respectful and caring relationships with everyone in their lives.
Teachers, parents, and other adults support and act as role models for children by showing them how healthy relationships can work. Children’s positive relationships with other children depend on positive relationships with adults.
Students who are able to have healthy relationships will be less likely to bully others, will be more likely to support students who are bullied, and will be better able to reach their educational goals. Promoting healthy relationships is a key way to prevent bullying and create a safe and accepting school climate.
Empathy is the capacity to recognize and share emotions that another person is experiencing. It develops late in adolescence and does not usually become fully developed until early adulthood. In childhood, a basic form of empathy emerges when children start to feel upset when they see other people are upset.