A study by The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in 2009 indicated that 29% – almost one in three – of students in Ontario admitted to being bullied at school. This isn’t just “kids being kids.”
Bullying is abuse. According to the Ontario Ministry of Education, “Bullying is a form of repeated, persistent, and aggressive behavior intended to cause fear, distress, or harm to another person’s body, feelings, self-esteem or reputation.” It includes insults, social exclusion, or physical violence (including damaging property).
According to PREVnet (Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence), the Canadian anti-bullying research network, “the common denominator is disrespect of another human being’s rights to physical and psychological safety and sense of dignity.”
The stress of bullying has a large impact on the victim. According to research, in addition to suicide, effects include headaches, stomach aches, physical illness, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and withdrawal, which can continue into adulthood.
And the Ministry indicates, “Students cannot be expected to reach their potential in an environment where they feel insecure and intimidated.” Both victim and bully are at risk for poor school functioning with respect to attitude, grades and absenteeism.
Students that bully are also at risk for using alcohol and drugs, and later criminality. “For example, 60% of boys who bully others in elementary school had criminal records by age 24,” according to PREVnet.
If your child is being bullied, you may notice changes in appetite, health, interest in school or activities, self-esteem, trouble sleeping, nightmares, damaged clothing and/or isolation.
Reporting bullying is essential. Children need adult support. Although, they may try to fix the problem, it’s likely to continue or get worse, due to the power imbalance. A support system including parents, schools and community resources can help correct this through encouragement of assertiveness (not aggressiveness) in children, in addition to an intervention of the situation.
If you suspect your child is engaging in aggressive behavior, they may need support learning relationship skills. According to the National Crime Prevention Center (NCPC), “Children who bully have not learned pro-social ways to resolve their interpersonal conflicts and frustrations. They need help to change their interpersonal patterns before they become deeply ingrained.” Intervention is essential to prevent escalation of bullying into adulthood, including destructive behaviors such as abuse of loved ones, sexual harassment and violence.
Families are an important foundation for learning about secure and healthy relationships. PREVnet indicates, “The family is the first context in which children learn about relationships, and lessons learned in the family provide the foundation for future relationships.” This includes setting positive examples, like the inclusion of others, and seeking support. Bullying programs can be a valuable resource for supporting the needs of children, regardless of their roles.
Bystanders can play an important role in bullying reduction and prevention, by being encouraged to support the victim, or to report what they see – verbally, written or anonymously. When nobody talks about bullying, it continues, either by perpetuating the problem or by not taking a stand.
NCPC indicates, “85% of bullying incidents are witnessed by other students, yet bystanders try to stop the bullying only 11% to 22% of the time.”
Everyone plays a valuable role in developing healthier relationships in society overall. Although academic skills are essential to our workforce, social skills are the mainstay of our society. As Education Minister Laurel Broten puts it, “We have taught our children three fundamental “R’s” in school – reading, writing, arithmetic – but now we need to focus on the fourth “R” – relationships.”
Cheryl Patterson has a B.A. in Psychology and has researched the area of stress for over ten years. For more on Cheryl visit www.cherylpatterson.ca.