Bullying seems to be a problem worldwide and Canada is no exception. Its adverse effects can be felt from primary school all the way through university. Although primary bullying may seem more innocent than middle or high school bullying, the negative effects on children can be the same. Knowing the serious problems that bullying can cause should prompt Canadian schools to act more decisively in trying to prevent bullying on school grounds. Schools that don’t take a united stance against bullying or educate their students on how to handle bullying contribute to this threat.
- 89% of Canadian teachers consider bullying a serious threat in public schools
- School bullying lowers the quality of education by prompting students to come late to school, skip classes or drop out altogether.
- Between 4 to 12% of kids in grades 6 – 10 said they’d been bullied at least once on a weekly basis
- Less than 50% of children who are bullied in school report abuse to teachers
- 71% of Canadian teachers say they intervene when they see bullying occurring in school; however, only 25% of students can concur to their taking action
- In over 80% of school bullying incidents, bystanders were present. In over half of those incidents, bullying stopped in less than 10 seconds when bystanders stood up to the crime.
- According to a 2010 survey involving 33 middle schools and high schools in Toronto, 49.5% of children and teens confessed to being victims of cyberbullying
- A study conducted in Alberta revealed that one student in four from grades 7-9 had experienced bullying online
School bullying is manifested in different ways at different levels of education. While primary bullying may consist mostly of teasing or name calling, middle school bullying and high school bullying may entail social isolation, threats or even physical violence. Students who connect with their peers regularly on social media run the risk of being targeted by bullies online.
Young students often don’t know how to deal with bullying, making it easier for bullies to overpower them. By definition, bullying has been described as “a form of aggression where there is a power imbalance; the person doing the bullying has power over the person being victimized.” The most common types of bullying are:
- Physical violence
- Verbal abuse
- Social or relational bullying (i.e. excluding others)
Bullying shares similar characteristics to harassment in that students are subjected to cruel and offensive behaviors. Harassment, however, is considered a type of discrimination where people are mistreated due to specific differences or traits such as age, race, ethnic background, gender, sexual orientation, family or marital status and physical or mental disability. Bullying behavior that discriminates others because of any one of these differences is considered harassment, a criminal offense according to Canada’s Human Rights Laws.
History of Bullying in Canada
Information about bullying has been collected from numerous sources over the years to keep teachers and parents abreast of bullying activity in Canadian schools. By studying bullying statistics from various sources such as the Canadian Red Cross, UNICEF, World Health Organization and PREVNet, (a major anti-bullying organization consisting of research scientists and national organizations serving Canadian youth), Canadian adults can get a clearer picture of the history of bullying in their area. This background information can be useful in developing anti-bullying programs for Canadian schools. Anti-bullying programs and policies give schools a means of combating bullying behavior among their students.
According to PREVNet studies, as many as 75% of Canadian people have at some time or other experienced bullying. Despite increased resources to improve education and prevent bullying in schools, Canada, to its discredit, continues to rate high in bullying activity for a “first-world” countries. In a 2013 UNICEF report comparing the state of “child well-being” in 29 well-off, industrialized countries, Canada came in 21st place due largely to a higher frequency of bullying activity.
Malanie Sharpe, spokeswoman for UNICEF Canada, states: “Bullying has been the subject of public and political attention over the past several years in Canada, with a growing evidence base pointing to the kinds of interventions at home, at school and in peer groups that are most likely to reduce bullying. But it is clear that our current efforts are not enough, since the rates of bullying have not diminished over the past decade.”
Clinical psychologist Neil Gottheil of Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario agrees that greater efforts need to be made to prevent bullying in Canadian schools. However, he disagrees with Canada’s high bullying rating as he feels the differences in how bullying is viewed in other countries can affect survey results. According to Gottheil, the definition of bullying varies from country to country, making it more difficult to get accurate survey readings. Nevertheless, Gottheil concedes that Canada does have a problem with bullying and believes teachers and parents play a key role in bullying prevention in school.
“Schools have a responsibility to create a safe environment, while parents need to build a relationship with their child so that they can communicate when they are being bullied,” he said. “When children reach out to an adult, the adult needs to listen ….”
According to bullying statistics gathered by PREVNet:
More than 50% of students in Canada say high school bullying is a problem.
Approximately 60% of male bullies in school wind up with a criminal record by the age of 24
78% of Canadian citizens think more can be done to prevent bullying in the community in which they live
PREVNet studies show that peers can have tremendous impact on bullying behavior, for good or bad, depending on their actions. Reports show that most bullying incidents stop almost immediately if peers step in to intervene. In contrast, if peers simply stand by and do nothing, bullying can intensify, as bullies get greater attention and increase their social standing.
Studies from the organization Stop a Bully reveal the most common forms of school bullying are:
- Insults and name calling (63%)
- Pushing and hitting (40%)
- Threats and intimidation (31%)
- Cyberbullying (30%)
- Rumors and gossip (28%)
- Exclusion and fighting (both 20%)
- Sexual remarks and homophobic remarks (both 15%)
- Racist remarks (12%)
- Mean mobile phone messages or texts (10%)
Red Cross studies show that fighting among students in grades 6-8 has increased steadily since 2002. Bullying among boys took on a more aggressive form whereas bullying among girls was more indirect in nature. Incidents involving sexual harassment were higher among boys, grades 6-7; for girls, however, this behavior was higher in grades 9-10.
The circulation of bullying myths can be detrimental to curtailing bullying in Canada as myths tend to minimize the dangers that bullying can cause. If parents and teachers don’t view bullying as a serious risk to their children, they won’t take it as seriously as they should. By dispelling these myths, schools stand a better chance of tackling their bullying problem. The more teachers and parents understand bullying – what causes it, why people bully and how to deal with bullying behavior – the better prepared they will be to take action against bullying behavior as it arises. The following are some of the most common myths people hear about bullying.
Myth: Bullying teaches kids how to stand on their own two feet.
In reality, bullying only teaches kids how mean and unfair some of their peers can be. Rather than leaving kids to fend for themselves when bullied, teachers, parents and their peers should stand up on their behalf. For the most part, children need help and support in handling bullying situations. Adults can help by teaching kids how to resolve problems without resorting to violence. Children should also learn how to assert themselves when faced with challenges such as bullying in school.
Myth: Bullying builds character.
In truth, children and teens can lose confidence, trust in others and self-esteem by being bullied on a regular basis. Bullying hurts young people by making them feel of little worth or value. If anything, it destroys the character of both perpetrator and victim.
Myth: When bullied physically, children should fight back even harder.
As bullies almost always target students who are younger or weaker, trying to fight back could be harmful for those being bullied. Advocating that kids fight back also teaches them to resort to violence for resolving their problems. Students should be encouraged to report bullying to trustworthy adults who can help them sort out the problem.
Myth: “Sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you.”
Words can have devastating effects on young people as evidenced by tweens and teens committing suicide due to gossip, slander and defamation of character. Just as words can have a positive effect on people’s lives, they can also be used to tear down and hurt others, causing them to give up on life.
Myth: “There have always been bullies and there always will be.”
By taking a united stance against bullying, parents, schools and communities can change things for the better. As Dr. Shelley Hymel, bullying expert and professor at the University of British Columbia, said: “It takes a whole nation to change a culture.” By teaching kids moral values at home and in school, students can learn to treat their peers with kindness and respect. Children who have a strong foundation in moral values are more likely to shun bullying behavior even if their friends are involved in bullying acts.
Myth: “Kids will be kids.”
Like any other behavior, bullying is learned, not inherited. Kids learn how to bully at home, in school, in the park or any other social environment. If children experience sibling bullying at home or are bullied by parents, they may display that type of behavior at school. Children can also learn to be aggressive from watching violent TV shows or movies or playing violent video games. According to research studies, 93% of modern video games contain violence. Approximately 25% of Canadian boys age 12-17 visit “gore and hate” websites, which can adversely affect their mindsets and attitudes.
The negative repercussions of bullying can spread far and wide in a short amount of time. Bullying can also have ripple effects that can hurt victims and their families for years to come. The following bullying information helps clarify where Canada stands in the bullying arena:
- Bullying is a “learnt” behavior that can be unlearned through moral education
Rather than accepting kids’ aggressive behavior as normal, adults need to teach kids correct mindsets and attitudes that will help them adjust to society at large. Most bullying experts would agree that education is the best course of action to stop bullying in all its forms.
Long term Effects of Bullying
Bullying has cast a dark shadow over Canada for many years. The long term effects of bullying have been documented by counselors, psychologists and health officials across the country. The results of an August 2013 study printed in the flagship journal “Psychological Science” revealed that both bullies and victims were at greater risk of suffering from long-term health and social problems as adults. A young person’s experience with bullying behavior makes him or her more susceptible to having difficulty with completing high school or college, making friends and establishing a career.
Long-term bullies develop a habit of aggressive behavior that can be difficult to change as they enter adulthood. They often grow up with bad mindsets and attitudes that hinder their personal and professional lives. Bullies also have difficulty distinguishing between right and wrong. As a result, they’re at greater risk of committing crimes or using drugs as adults. Bullies may also have difficulties in establishing relationships due to their desire for control.
Bullying victims also face their share of problems. Long-term bullying can cause victims to lose confidence and self-respect which can extend into adulthood. It’s not unusual for victims to continue to experience anxiety and loneliness long after bullying has stopped. Young people who are bullied are at greater risk of depression, isolation and suicide. As adults, bullying victims have greater risk of developing a serious illness or psychiatric disorder as well as experiencing a slower recovery.
Bullying: A Human Rights Issue in Canada
Bullying is an issue that affects the “safety and inclusion” of young people in Canadian society. As such, this abusive behavior is in violation of a child’s human rights. By signing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Canada is liable to protect children from human rights violations in its schools. According to Article 29 of this agreement, a country’s educational system must adhere to the following:
“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.”
Article 19 of this UN Convention addresses children’s rights in relation to bullying:
“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.”
Although the conventional focus of child abuse was to safeguard kids from adult misconduct, today young people need greater protection from their peers. For every child or teen worried about being the victim of sexual harassment from adults today, there are at least three who are concerned about being physically assaulted from bullies in school.
Ultimately, adults bear the responsibility of keeping kids safe from bullies and abusive behavior, whether at home, in school, in the workplace or social environment. The safety and welfare of Canadian youth should be the concern of caring adults in every community. By creating programs that help youth develop good social skills built on understanding, acceptance and respect, schools and communities do their part to help young people grow into caring and responsible members of society.
Anti-bullying organizations and charities such as PREVNet and Bullying Canada are also doing their part to promote bullying awareness and provide support to victims in need. Bullying Canada, the country’s first “youth-created” volunteer anti-bullying charity and website, was the brainchild of Katie Neu and Rob Benn-Frenette, two teens who had a vision to help young people take a stand against bullying. Launched in December of 2006, Bullying Canada offers valuable information and support to anyone associated with bullying, be it victims, parents, teachers, bystanders, communities or bullies themselves.
Inroads of Cyberbullying in Canadian Society
Cyberbullying has made tremendous inroads into Canadian society, mostly through young people’s use of the Internet and social sites. According to PREVNet studies, 1 out of 5 young people say they’ve been bullied online. Over a third of Canadian young people have witnessed cyberbully acts. Approximately 80% of young people interviewed reported seeing sexist or racist material online.
Young people are not the only ones affected by Internet bullying. Studies by Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing division show that 90% of Canadian parents are acquainted with online bullying; of this figure, approximately three quarters are concerned for their kids’ safety online. PREVNet cyberbullying stats further indicate that 2 out of 5 parents said their kids had been directly involved in a cyberattack. Educators have also experienced their share of online abuse with one in four confessing to being victimized. Three quarters of those interviewed felt Internet bullying was a major issue among today’s youth, comparable to smoking and drugs.
Cyberbullying can affect the entire family. The long term effects of Internet bullying can disrupt the lives of teens, parents and their siblings for years to come. Various news stories have been released over the years sharing how the lives of Canadian youth were destroyed through cyberattacks on Facebook or other social media sites.
By passing on malicious comments, emails and texts through the Internet, bullies can easily humiliate their victims in front of hundreds, if not thousands, of their peers. PREVNet studies show that girls are targeted for online bullying more than boys (38% vs 26%). Those who connect via social media regularly increase their risk of being a victim of cyberattacks. Approximately 39% of young people on social media networks say they’ve been targeted by bullies as compared to only 22% who aren’t active on social sites.
Exposing Cyberbullying Attacks
News reports of cyberbullying attacks help expose the seriousness of this problem and what it can lead to if no action is taken against those perpetrating these acts.
In 2014, two teens from Manitoba received a 16 month jail term for their cyberbullying activities against a 14 year old female student. The victim was apparently coerced into sending nude pictures of herself to a man she had befriended on Facebook, a friend of the teens. This friend passed on the photos to the boys who began bullying the girl and threatening to post the pictures online.
According to Judge Donald Slough, who handled the case, “The accused, acting in tandem, alternatively flattered and abused the victim, demanding progressively more explicit images; instructing the victim as to what sexual acts she was to perform and digitally record.” Eventually these explicit images were released on social media, destroying the girl’s reputation.
The abuse was discovered by the girl’s parents after they noticed major changes in her behavior. They reported the incident to police and the boys were arrested. The 17 year old boys entered guilty pleas to four counts of “possession and distribution of child pornography.” Despite justice being done, the negative impact of this incident continues to haunt the young victim wherever she goes.
In 2012, Amanda Todd, a young 15-year-old student from British Columbia, committed suicide after suffering through two years of sexual extortion that originated online. The ordeal began with Amanda unwisely exposing herself to a man she had met on a web chat site. This man later began blackmailing her by threatening to post her intimate photos if she didn’t put on more online “shows.” Before taking her life, Amanda posted a 9-minute video on the Internet sharing her ordeal with her peers. Her video clearly outlined the dangers of taking chances with inappropriate behavior online.
One year later, 17 year old Rehtaeh Parsons, a student from Halifax, Nova Scotia, became yet another cyberbullying victim to commit suicide due to abusive attacks online. Rehtaeh’s ordeal began after being sexually assaulted by a gang of boys in November of 2011. Afterwards a photo of her sexual encounter was circulated to her friends via their computers and cell phones. The bullying continued for over a year before Rehtaeh took her life.
These stories reveal the dangers that cyberbullying can pose to Canadian youth who are not careful in their online activities. As online bullying can be done anonymously, the Internet makes it easy for those who have never bullied before to give it a try. According to Brenda Simmonds, principal, Monterey Middle School, Victoria, “Because you have that layer (of anonymity), it makes the cyber-bully braver and less inhibited.”
Facts about Cyberbullying in Canada
Cyberbullying in Canada is on the rise, according to police officer and personal protection consultant Darren Laur of Victoria, British Columbia. “It’s the big thing now,” he says. “Back in our day, it used to be the bathroom wall,” referring to how students used to insult their peers in school. Mr. Laur’s private protection firm receives several calls monthly concerning cyberbullying cases. In one instance, a group of girl students had started their own website to target another girl in school they didn’t like.
According to Bonnie Leadbeater, professor of psychology at the University of Victoria, cyberbullying was practically non-existent 12 years back when she helped develop the anti-bullying program WITS for Canadian schools. Several years later, she and various graduate students had to expand their anti-bullying program to include material on Internet bullying as the problem began to escalate.
New technology to include smartphones, laptops and tablets has changed how kids communicate and interact. Today’s kids are not only better connected but are much more computer savvy than their parents. This connectivity places them at greater risk of cyber bullies. Although many schools don’t permit students to use their cellphones at school, students often manage to sidestep school rules to send and receive texts.
Texting has become a common and convenient means of communication between kids today with some tweens and teens sending and/or receiving as many as 3,000 text messages monthly. Unfortunately, it’s also a convenient means for bullies to infiltrate a young person’s life.
With so little control over texting, it’s no wonder parents worry about their kids bullying or being bullied via their cell phone. After learning about her kids’ phone texting habits, Sandra Hudson, mother to an 11 and 14 year old, commented about her teen: “He could be sitting next to me in the car and cyber-bullying someone and I wouldn’t know.”
Police officer Laur believes parents aren’t likely to discover their kids are cyber bullies unless they’re told by someone else. In like manner, parents may have difficulty finding out if their kids are being bullied online as most children won’t admit it to their parents. Parents can, however, keep an eye out for such bullying signs as fear of going to school, emotional instability, depression, decline in school grades, etc.
If students are being bullied by a classmate, Laur advises that the victim’s parents get in touch with the bully’s family to report the facts. Parents can also contact their child’s school and the police to report serious cyberattacks. Young people may not be aware of it but at the age of 12, bullies can be subject to criminal investigation for harassment or making threats online. By setting rules and guidelines to Internet use, parents can help protect their kids from Internet bullying. Parents should also keep tabs on what their children are doing online and to what extent they are on social sites.
There are a wide range of tactics people can use to bully others online. New electronic technologies only open up the field for different kinds of attacks. Young people should be aware of how bullies operate and what to do if bullied online. Here are a few ways that cyber bullies are currently hurting Canadian youth.
- Sending ugly emails and texts
- Making cruel comments on social sites
- Spreading malicious gossip or rumors via social networks, emails or texts
- Taking and posting embarrassing photos or videos of young people online, without their knowledge or consent
- Passing on nasty emails, texts, photos or videos to others via their smartphones, laptops or tablets
- Mocking or ridiculing young people online
- Hacking a young person’s email and sending cruel messages to others under the pretense of being that young person
- Deceiving young girls to take and send revealing photos or videos of themselves and posting these online
- Sexting or sexually harassing others
- Creating online surveys and rating peers in a negative way
- Posting threats online
Through personal experience, young people are discovering how quickly negativity can spread online. Once negative videos, photos or posts go on the Internet, they can be viewed almost instantly by people across the country or even around the world. Online posts are also very hard to take down, adding to the intensity of the problem. Young people who ‘like’ or ‘share’ a malicious post, even in jest, spread the negativity even further.
By using wisdom and behaving in an ethical manner online, Canadian youth reduce the risk of being targeted by online bullies. Rather than contributing to the problem, they can then become part of the solution.
How Teens Can Safeguard Themselves Online
There are various ways Canadian youth can safeguard themselves online. Recognizing the dangers of cyberbullying is just the beginning. From there young people need to take steps to protect their communications, character and reputation. Smart teens will become familiar with online safety rules and procedures as these could one day save their lives. Here are some safety measures young people can take to protect themselves from cyberattacks.
- Use privacy settings when using social sites. Personal information (home address, phone numbers, birthday, credit card numbers) should never be posted on social sites.
- Avoid pressure to share provocative photos online. Young girls, in particular, should be leery of sharing revealing photos or videos that can be used against them later on. Intimate, sexy photos can easily go viral when teens least expect it, causing them a great deal of embarrassment.
- Password protect laptops, smartphones and tablets. In addition to protecting their gadgets with passwords, teens should keep passwords to themselves as opposed to sharing them with friends.
- Log out of Internet accounts when they’re not in use. Young people should develop the habit of logging out of their accounts once they’re done. They also should avoid saving passwords for personal accounts as it gives others access to these accounts when they’re not around.
- Don’t tolerate or participate in bullying online. Young people should take a stance against cyberbullying by not tolerating it among their friends. They should also help and support those who have been targeted. Positive peer pressure can do much to change online behavior for the better.
Bullying experts caution young people to think before they post anything at all online. Negative posts can destroy a young person’s life. By considering the repercussions of a cruel comment or critical text, teens have a chance to change their minds. In addition to hurting others, malicious comments, texts or photos could one day come back to cause them harm in suffering the legal consequences of their actions.
Due to the tragic circumstances surrounding student suicides over recent years, Canada has updated its cyberbullying legislation to cover the cyber offense of sharing sexual images online. Advances in digital technology have made it easier for cyber bullies to post or share provocative images or videos of others without their consent. In an effort to counter bullying of this nature, Canada passed a new law in March of 2015 making this activity a criminal offense. This new law, which applies to people of all ages, is specifically designed to protect the privacy of people in their nude state or in sexual acts.
Cyberbullying activity involving sexual content can be extremely devastating to a person’s character and reputation. New laws against cyberbullying have given Canadian judges greater power to prosecute cyber cases that violate people’s sexual privacy. Judges also have authority to take intimate photos and videos off the Internet if these were placed there without consent from people in the images.
Bullies who are convicted of posting and/or distributing intimate images of others online without their consent face one or more of the following consequences:
- Imprisonment of up to 5 years
- Seizure of cell phone, computer or other electronic device used in the posting or distribution of images
- Reimbursement of money spent by victims to remove said material from the Internet or other locations where posts were made
For legal purposes, an intimate image was defined as “an image that depicts a person engaged in explicit sexual activity or that depicts a sexual organ, anal region or breast. Furthermore, the image would have to be one where the person depicted had a reasonable expectation of privacy at the time of the recording and had not relinquished his or her privacy interest at the time of the offence.”
Examples of other bullying and cyberbullying offenses covered by Canada’s Criminal Code include:
- Verbal or physical harassment
- Mischief relating to information
- Unauthorized computer use
- Identify fraud or theft
- Blackmail and extortion
- Incitement of hatred
Bullying in all its forms should not be tolerated in Canadian society. The best solution to bullying lies in promoting healthy values and relationships among all generations. Children should be taught to treat others with kindness, consideration and respect from an early age in their homes. Canadian schools can reinforce good character traits and values in their classrooms by teachers setting the example for kids to follow. Even Canada’s cultural norms should reflect the kind of conduct the country expects from its people. Changing an entire culture, however, is much more complex than merely adopting new policies and laws.
Bullying behavior lowers both the educational and moral standard of a society. By combating bullying at home and in schools, Canadian parents and educators help build a culture that’s free from the intimidation and fear caused by bullies. Canadian children deserve to live and study in a safe and secure bully-free environment. The combined efforts of parents, schools, local communities and political agencies can make a difference in creating a society where bullying is no longer a threat to the health and welfare of Canadian youth.
Who to Contact for Help with Bullying in Canada
People who would like to learn more about how to stop bullying in their local area can contact the following organizations:
• Canadian Red Cross (http://www.redcross.ca/how-we-help/violence–bullying-and-abuse-prevention)
• PREVNet (phone 613-533-2632; http://www.prevnet.ca/)
• The Society for Safe and Caring Schools and Communities (phone: 780-822-1500; Email: [email protected]
• Kids Help Phone: (1-800-668-6868) for free, confidential, anonymous, 24-hour counseling services
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