BULLYING 101 -- HOW BIG A PROBLEM?

We start a four-part series about Bullying, written by Kirk Winter.

When people find out you are retired teacher it is amazing the conversations that naturally segue from that reality. Whether it is about curriculum, teaching, or the future of education, people want to know what you think as a long-time “insider”. I almost always enjoy those conversations and listen to what people have to say.

There is, however, one conversation that I dread, because I am not sure I have any of the answers. That conversation focuses around the questioner’s child or grandchild being bullied at school, the school’s apparent indifference to the situation, and their desperate need as a loved one to make the hurt go away.

Some of the scenarios described are nightmarish, with the bullied child dealing with insomnia, anxiety, depression, self-harm and, in extreme cases, suicidal tendencies.

In the last 10 years a number of highly respected studies on bullying have been released, and their findings are nothing short of shocking.

Bullying is defined by the RCMP as “when there is an imbalance of power; where someone purposely and repeatedly says and does hurtful things to someone else. Bullying can occur one on one or in a group(s) of people. There is physical bullying where you use your body or objects to cause harm, verbal bullying where you use your words to hurt someone or social bullying where you use your friends and relationships with others to hurt someone.”

The Canadian Institute of Health research reported that Canada ranks 9th out of 35 industrialized nations for the number of individuals who report bullying at school, in the community, or at the workplace. One in three adolescents reported being bullied at school. 38 percent of male adults and 30 percent of female adults said they were bullied growing up. Almost half of Canadian parents shared that they had at least one child who had been bullied. In the LGBTQ community, the level of bullying is three times higher than in the heterosexual community. Girls are far more likely to be bullied on line than boys. Forty percent of Canadian workers said that they faced bullying on a weekly basis at their place of work. The report concluded by stating that exposure to bullying in adolescence is directly tied to an uptick in the suicide rate later in life.

The Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health just delivered one of the most comprehensive long-term Canadian based studies on bullying in Canada in 2016. The Institute surveyed 10,000 Grade 7 to 12 students in Ontario. One in three reported that they felt “psychologically distressed” and that 72 percent of those students were being actively bullied at school. Sixty-six percent of the students reporting they were unwell and facing bullying reported that the primary source of their bullying was coming from social media.

An Ipsos-Reid poll reinforced the dire issues surrounding cyberbullying when it reported that 51 percent of all teens surveyed had reported a negative experience online. Sixteen percent stated that someone had posted embarrassing pictures of them online, while 12 percent said their various accounts had been hacked by someone for nefarious reasons.

The National Education Association, an American lobby group of concerned parents, commissioned a study that suggested that 19 percent of all U.S. elementary school students were bullied. They defined the act of bullying “as the act of willfully causing harm to others through teasing, name calling, physical assault or social exclusion.” The NEA report that 160,000 elementary aged students stay home every day because of illness brought on by bullying.

A Craig and Pepler study stated that one in seven American teens between 11 and 16 reported that they had been bullied. The report broke my heart when it shared that bullying on average occurs every seven minutes on the typical school playground, and every 25 minutes in the average school classroom. Craig and Pepler concluded their study by stating that bullying stops within 10 seconds if it is faced with peer push back. If there is no peer revulsion, the bullies now have the green light to continue their repulsive activities.

It is clear that bullying is endemic, and that its long-term consequences are potentially destructive.

The next article in our “Bullying 101” series will deal with some the strategies that you as a loved one might want to try to assist your child with in dealing with this very serious situation.