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Facts & Solutions

Knowledge is power - focusing on evidence-based research

Facts & Solutions

A number of myths about bullying continue to circulate, leading people to believe it's a normal part of childhood.

The facts tell us this is simply not the case. Bullying is a complex problem that requires a multitude of approaches. Here you will learn the facts we know about bullying, and the various solutions that must be implemented if we are ever to eradicate this problem for our children.

Fact: Bullying causes serious harm

Bullying causes a number of social, physical and mental health problems. Compared to children who do not report involvement in bullying problems:

  • Children who are bullied suffer more headaches, stomachaches, depression and anxiety. Mental health problems associated with bullying tend to last until later in life.
  • Children who bully, and those who are bullied, are at greater risk of suicide.
  • Children who bully, and those who are bullied, will be more likely to miss school, show little interest in their studies and suffer poor grades.
  • Children who bully are more likely to use drugs and alcohol and engage in criminal activity. According to one of the world’s leading researchers on bullying, 60% of boys who frequently bullied others in elementary school had criminal records by age 24.

Solution: Bullying is a disrespectful peer relationship problem. It is essential to identify and help children early - both those who bully others and those who are at risk of being bullied - in order to support the development of healthy relationships.

Fact: Children do not grow out of bullying

Without intervention, a significant number of youth who bully in childhood will continue to bully as they move through adolescence and into adulthood. As children mature, the nature of bullying changes. From early adolescence, new forms of aggression emerge. With developing thinking and social skills, children become aware of others’ vulnerabilities and of their own power relative to others. Bullying then diversifies into more sophisticated forms of verbal, social, homophobic, and sexually and racially based aggression. Over time, these new forms of aggression are carried forward into different relationships and environments. The destructive lessons learned in childhood about the negative use of power may translate into sexual harassment in the workplace, dating violence, marital abuse, child abuse, and elder abuse.

Solution: Early identification and intervention of bullying will prevent patterns of aggressive interactions from forming. Adults need to be aware that bullying changes with age and may become more difficult to detect.

Fact: Bullying affects the majority of our children

Approximately 12% of girls and 18% of boys reported bullying others at least twice in previous months. 15% of girls and 18% of boys reported being victimized at least twice over the same time period.

These figures suggest that in a classroom of 35 students, between 4 and 6 children are bullying and/or are being bullied. Many more children observe bullying and know that it is going on. At some point, the majority of children will engage in some form of bullying and experience some form of victimization. A small minority of children will have frequent, long-lasting, serious, and pervasive involvement in bullying and/or victimization.

Solution: To ensure that children have healthy and productive relationships, bullying prevention programs and strategies must include and support all children, whether they are bullying, are being bullied or are witnessing bullying.

Fact: We are not doing enough to protect Canadian youth

Canada’s low international ranking suggests that other countries have been preventing bullying problems more effectively than Canada. One of the reasons for this is our lack of a national campaign to address bullying problems. The high proportions of Canadian students who report bullying or being bullied confirm that this is an important social problem for Canada.

Solution: PREVNet’s vision is to stop bullying in Canada and to promote safe and healthy relationships for all Canadian children and youth. Led by Scientific Co-Directors, Dr. Debra Pepler of York University and Dr. Wendy Craig of Queen’s University, this national network is the first of its kind in Canada and provides an unprecedented opportunity for social innovation and social-cultural change.

Fact: Reporting bullying is an effective way to stop the violence

Bullying is a relationship problem. It is about power and the abuse of power and it is incredibly difficult for children who are being victimized to remove themselves from this destructive relationship. Once a bullying relationship is established, attempts to make the bullying stop on their own are usually unsuccessful and may make the bullying worse. Adult intervention is required to correct the power imbalance. Children and parents may have to report the bullying to more than one responsible adult before an effective intervention is implemented to stop the bullying.

We know that victimized children who told an adult about being bullied reported being less victimized the following year compared to children who did not report being bullied. When no one reports the bullying, children who bully feel they can carry on without consequences. Secrecy empowers children who bully.

Solution: Children need to be encouraged to report bullying and be given multiple strategies on how to make these reports. Responsible adults must convey the message that they want to know about children’s experiences and that it is an adult’s job to help make the bullying stop.

Fact: Fighting back makes the bullying worse

Encouraging children who are victimized to fight back can make the bullying interaction worse. Our research shows that when children use aggressive strategies to manage bullying situations, they tend to experience prolonged and more severe bullying interactions as a result.

Solution: Children should be encouraged to be assertive, not aggressive, and to tell a trusted adult about what has happened to them. To be assertive means that the child who feels bullied sends the message that the bullying behaviour is not OK and that he or she will report it to a responsible adult if it doesn't stop. An assertive message is clear and respectful. It does not put down or insult the person who is bullying. Coaching and role playing can help children learn assertive responses.

Fact: Bullying happens wherever children gather to live, learn, or play

While the majority of bullying tends to occur in the classroom, on the school playground, and on the school bus where children are most often together, we know that bullying is a community problem, not just a school problem. As the primary institution in children’s lives, schools can play a leadership role in addressing bullying problems.

Solution: Adults are essential for children and youth’s healthy relationships. All adults are responsible for creating positive environments, promoting healthy relationships, and ending violence in the lives of children and youth. Adults can lead social activities in ways that protect and support children’s healthy relationships and stop bullying.

Fact: Bullying can occur within the family or the family home

Bullying is a relationship problem defined by the use of aggression by a person with greater power towards a person with lesser power. Aggression within family relationships is termed “child abuse”, "elder abuse" or “intimate partner violence”. Within peer relationships, it is called “bullying” or “harassment”. Abuse can occur in romantic relationships within couples (intimate partner violence, woman abuse), parents and children, (child abuse, elder abuse) and in other relationships in the extended family (grandparents, in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.). Bullying can occur within sibling relationships and between cousins.

The family is the first context in which children learn about relationships, and lessons learned in the family provide the foundation for future relationships. In relationships between parents, and between other adult family members, there may be an imbalance of power due to biological, cultural, psychological or economic factors. In relationships between parents (or other caregivers) and children, the adults have greater power due to children's immaturity, vulnerability and dependence. In relationships between siblings or cousins, there is often a power imbalance due to differences in age, ability or status within the family.

Despite these power differences within families, there is a universal expectation that those with more power have a responsibility to safeguard the well-being of those with less power. When there is a repeated pattern of the violation of this responsibility (either by neglect or by acts that cause distress), we use the term "abuse". Research shows that there is a developmental connection between experiencing or witnessing abuse in the family, and experiencing or perpetuating bullying and abuse in future relationships.

Solution: It is critically important that children see and experience secure and healthy relationships in the family. We must show through our actions and teach through our words that those with more power have a responsibility to protect and safeguard the well-being of those with less power. By modeling respectful relationships and taking responsibility for the well being of those who are dependent and vulnerable, both within and beyond the family, adults can help to promote healthy relationships and prevent bullying and abuse.

Fact: Peers play a major role in bullying – by either escalating or stopping it

In about 85-88% of bullying incidents observed on the school playground, peers were present and were watching the bullying happen. Peers spent 54% of the time watching the child who was bullying, 21% of the time joining in and only 25% of the time watching the victimized child. Children are drawn to bullying episodes, even though the majority of children say they don't like to see another child being hurt. Children who are bystanders learn about the negative use of power and aggression in relationships. Overtime, bullying behaviour becomes "normalized".

With a captive audience, a child who is bullying receives the attention of peers and this brings social status. Peer attention and status reinforces the bullying behaviour (making it more likely it will be repeated). Yet, when peers had the confidence and courage to intervene, the bullying ended within 10 seconds in the majority of playground episodes.

Solution: Change bystanders into heroes! Children need help understanding their social responsibility to do something when they know someone is being bullied. Adults can coach kids to collectively take a stand and step in assertively. When more than one child steps in, it helps to shift the power imbalance. Children will benefit from role-playing and need scripts for what to say and do to intervene in a positive way. When children do not feel safe or comfortable standing up to those who bully, they should be encouraged to report the bullying to an adult.

Fact: Bullying is a human rights issue – one of safety and inclusion

Many children endure bullying on a daily basis. This type of abuse is a violation of human rights. All children involved in bullying – those who are bullied, those who bully others, and those who know it is going on – require support to promote healthy development, positive relationships and to protect their welfare.

Canada has signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 29 of the Convention states that education must be directed to:

The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of the sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin.

As a society, therefore, we must educate children to ensure they develop positive attitudes and behaviours and avoid using their power to bully or harass others.

The UN Convention of the Rights of the Child also addresses the rights of children who are at the receiving end of bullying and harassment. Article 19 of the Convention states:

Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.

The traditional focus on child abuse has been protecting children from adults. Research on bullying shows us we need to protect children who experience “forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse” at the hands of their peers. For every one child concerned about being sexually abused by an adult, there are three children concerned about being beaten up by peers.

Solution: Protection starts with the adults in children’s lives

The responsibility to protect children from all forms of abuse, including bullying, is the responsibility of parents, teachers, and other adults in the community who are in contact with children and youth. At home, parents are responsible for their children's safety and well-being. Adults in school, on sports teams, and in community activities are all responsible for the safety and well-being of children and youth in their care.

By promoting healthy relationships, we can prevent bullying and support children and youth in developing social skills, understanding and respect, social responsibility, and citizenship. PREVNet recognizes these attributes as the foundation for a cohesive, productive, and peaceful society.

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