In his webinar Promoting Healthy Relationships and Preventing Racial Bullying, Samuel Kim, Queen’s University PhD candidate, examines racial bullying during the COVID-19 pandemic and how we can provide youth with evidence-based strategies to stand up to bullying. Here, his strategies for educators, parents, and youth are summarized.

Watch Promoting Healthy Relationships and Preventing Racial Bullying on YouTube

Racial Bullying is a problem in Canada. The 2010 Health Behaviours Among School Age Children Survey indicated about 1 in 5 boys reported experiencing racial bullying at least once or twice in the past two months. Ethnic minority youth in general are more likely to be racially bullied, compared to majority youth, especially for elementary school-aged children.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an environment where Chinese or other East Asian youth may be more easily targeted by racial bullying by negatively associating Chinese youth with the virus. This increase in discrimination and stigmatization may create feelings of exclusion and isolation for Asian youth. The long-term effects of being victimized by bullying include lower academic achievement, impaired stress regulation, and increased mental health problems. Racial bullying, in particular, harms victimized youth’s ethnic sense of self and self-worth.

Helping our Children Respond to Racial Bullying

Define and Identify – Bullying is aggressive behavior that is intended to harm another person in a relationship with a power imbalance. A power imbalance within a peer relationship can occur as a result of many factors, including group membership. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been an imbalance of power that has placed Chinese children, and East Asian children in general, in positions of lower power because of their perceived association with the coronavirus.
Review Strategies – Review with children strategies that they can use to identify and respond to bullying, how to seek help, and how to provide comfort to their friends.
Evaluate – Parents can provide kids with the skills and support to evaluate whether the strategy they used was effective. Follow up with how children feel about themselves, their school, their friends, their community, and their cultural identity, and consider how children might feel embarrassed or ashamed. It’s important that parents initiate these open discussions to make it easier for youth to share what they witness.

Peers Can be Part of the Solution

Victimized youth are more likely to tell a friend about bullying than a teacher or parent, and observational research shows that peers can be effective at stopping bullying when it happens.
But children might lack strategies to intervene when they witness racial bullying happen. We need to give children evidence-based strategies that they can use to support their friends and effectively respond to racial bullying when it occurs. All children can make a difference in the moment. We need to help our children safely use these different strategies that are effective in standing up for friends who are being targeted because of their cultural background.

Effective Strategies for Youth

  • Report the bullying to an adult on their own or with friend. Adults can be very effective in intervening or stopping bullying
  • Bystanders can support or comfort their friend who is being victimized by inviting them to play a game or by using comforting words. By supporting and comforting the victimized individual, bystanders can help reduce the negative stereotypes and in-group favouritism.
  • Bystanders can assertively label the racial bullying behaviour and tell the person who is engaging in it to stop in the moment. This signals to everyone that discrimination is not acceptable. This is an effective strategy, but children shouldn’t be asked to risk their own safety in the moment.

Tips for Parents

Start the Conversation – Parents should let their children know that they have a receptive audience who will listen to their concerns and talk openly and honestly about relationships and bullying. Parents can use resources like shows and books to have conversations about race, culture, stereotypes, and healthy relationships
Respond Sensitively and with Empathy – Children and youth often have difficulty reporting bullying because they are unsure of how adults will respond. Use statements that show empathy and care and thank them for having the courage to speak out about bullying. Remember that being angry or upset can make children feel less safe.
Praise and Practice Inclusive and Respectful Behaviour – Children learn relationship skills by watching their parent’s behaviours. Encourage positive relationships among children by praising positive and respectful behaviour whenever you see it.
Role Model Cultural Sensitivity – Children learn about their own culture and how to interact with people of different backgrounds by observing their parents. It’s important that parents model inclusivity and respect for people of other cultures.
Celebrate Own Culture – Having conversations about the positive aspects of your culture and why you should be proud of your culture, helps children understand what is okay and not okay when others talk about your cultural identity

Key Takeaways

  • Racial Bullying is an abuse of power that occurs due to biases and discrimination from the ingroup towards the outgroup
  • COVID-19 has increased the likelihood that Chinese youth are harmed by racial bullying and discrimination
  • Peers have the power to help the racially victimized youth
  • Parents play an important role in preventing and addressing bullying