Help your child reclaim their power
I’ve always been skinny. Kids can be cruel, and everyone called me chicken legs growing up. They’d peck at me, or cluck like a chicken when I walked past them in the halls. It hurt my feelings, but once school was out, it was over. Home was a safe space.
Times have changed. My daughter was being bullied by kids who body-shamed her for being thin, calling her ugly, stupid, and a lot of other nasty things. It didn’t stop when she got off the bus. Because of social media, that cruel behaviour followed her home, into her bedroom. Every time she opened Instagram or Snapchat, the abuse was waiting for her.
Getting off social media wasn’t enough. Kids at school still shared malicious comments and pictures online, then my daughter had it thrown in her face in class, in the lunchroom, or the halls. My husband and I knew she needed help beyond what we could do, so we set up an appointment with a professional psychotherapist who specialized in these situations.
The therapist not only helped my daughter set healthy boundaries with her bullies, but she also helped her find her self-worth and self-confidence again. My daughter now has the tools to face her bullies head on – she’s even developed empathy for her bullies, understanding that there’s unspoken, perhaps undefined, pain behind their cruelty.
Though the bullying hasn’t stopped, it is lessening because my daughter refuses to be their victim. The best part is my daughter is smiling again. She’s worked hard to get where she is – we are so proud of her.
Kids who are bullied are more likely to report a mental health condition and have a low level of trust, particularly those who experienced bullying both online and in person.
There are countless reasons why people are bullied. It can be something as simple as being in the wrong place at the wrong time or being perceived as “different.” Individuals with special needs are particularly vulnerable and often targeted because of their perceived weakness, but anyone can be bullied – even the so-called “popular” kids. It’s crucial to remember that this form of abuse is all about the harmful choices the bully makes – it’s never the victim’s fault, no matter what the bully says.
Sometimes kids are bullied because they get a lot of positive attention from adults or their peers. Kids who are great athletes or excellent students are often mocked for being “dumb jocks” or “nerds” by students who are jealous of that attention or acting out their own insecurities.
Another group often sought out by bullies are children or teens who are shy or submissive. Unlike their extroverted or assertive peers, these children seem like an “easy target” for abusers because of their meekness. Individuals who are depressed or anxious are often targets because they’re less likely to stand up to their abuser, making them vulnerable to abuse.
Popular students are often targets of bullies as they are a threat to the bully’s social standing. Bullies will resort to aggressive and demeaning behaviour to make themselves look better while humiliating the other student.
One of the cruellest forms of bullying is that which attacks an individual’s race, physical features, or disabilities. Bullies often target others with autism, ADHD, Down’s Syndrome, severe allergies or any other condition that allows the bully to identify them as an outsider or “other.” It can be something as simple as being “too thin,” “too fat,” “too tall,” or “too short.” Often the bullying takes the form of jokes at the victim’s expense. If it’s not funny for everyone, it’s not funny.
It’s not uncommon for bullies to target individuals of another sexual orientation or with different religious or cultural practices. Here, the bully is exploiting the individual’s freedom to be who they are or express themselves and are shaming them for their identity. This type of bullying generally stems from intolerance or a lack of understanding of the other person’s lifestyle and beliefs.
Regardless of why a bully has targeted someone, it’s critical to remind the individual that they are in no way to blame. If someone in your life is being bullied, reassure them there is nothing wrong with them and help them access the resources they need to move forward.
As a parent, there are few things more heartbreaking than finding your child is being bullied. However, if your child has been singled out for abuse, there are several things you can – and should – do.
First, do some homework. Gather pertinent and detailed information about what the bully is doing, dates it occurred, times, places, actions, and any other relevant details. If the abuse is online, take screenshots, print, or otherwise gather proof of what’s happening. If threats of harm have been made, contact the child’s school and the police. Do not take matters into your own hands.
Next, request a meeting with your child’s teacher and principal as well as a copy of the school’s anti-bullying policy. In the meeting, give them the documentation of the abuse and explain what’s been happening. Do not be accusatory or angry – they are on your side, and together, you can create an action plan. Document what is said in the meeting – you want them to be accountable, and should the abuse escalate, or legal action becomes necessary, you want to have all the documentation you can.
If the bullying continues, consider filing a Notice of Harassment, a free online kit designed to be used to help resolve bullying incidences in elementary and high schools in Canada. You may need to go above the principal and contact the superintendent of schools, Board of Education, or even provincial or federal authorities.
If your child is being cyberbullied, refer to the school’s anti-bullying policy to see if cyberbullying is under the aegis of the plan. You should also report cyberbullying to the police, as well as the ISP provider, and the social media platform where the abuse is happening.
A shocking 48% of children say they’ve been bullied at school and 38% say they’ve been cyberbullied. If you discover your child is the victim of cyberbullying, your first response may be to retaliate. Instead, work with your child to remedy the situation and protect themselves from future abuse.
Begin by thanking them for the courage to come forward. Reassure your child they are not to blame for what is happening and that you love them and want to support and protect them. Remain calm, be empathetic, but be as positive as possible to allow them to feel hopeful about a resolution.
Don’t immediately take away their phone or tablet as this may seem punitive to your child. Instead, recommend they take a break from social media until you’ve found a solution.
If you know who is responsible for the cyberbullying, consider reaching out to their parents, but be aware no one wants to hear their child is abusive. If you choose to talk to them, be sure you have proof of what’s been happening and be respectful and compassionate – think how you would feel in their situation.
You should also contact your child’s school. Often cyberbullying goes hand-in-hand with offline, in-person abuse. The school should be aware of what is happening not only to protect your child but so that they can watch out for changes in their behaviour or academic performance. Working together as a team can lead to greater and more immediate success.
Work with your child to create an action plan that includes blocking any abusive social media users or profiles, and deleting negative or offensive comments. However, be sure to grab a screenshot of any abuse before removing so you have documentation. They can also switch their profile to “Private” on many social media sites like Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter.
If there have been criminal offences such as threats, assault, or sexual exploitation, report these to the local police detachment immediately.
The RCMP has excellent resources for individuals being bullied that includes a list of how to report cyberbullying on many of the most popular social media sites.
In Canada, 1 in 3 adolescents have reported being bullied, and 47% of today’s parents were bullied as a child.
Canadian schools have a responsibility to prevent bullying, one they take seriously. Children are under the care and supervision of teachers, principals, and support staff from the moment they step on to school property.
Back in 2012, Ontario established the Accepting Schools Act, becoming the third province in Canada to implement anti-bullying legislation. Under the Act, schools are mandated to provide a safe and positive environment for all students, regardless of gender, race, background, sexual orientation, or culture.
The primary issue is the differing accountability of private vs. public schools. Private schools are exempt from the standards of the Accepting Schools Act; however, if they are competing in sports activities, academic competitions, or attending an event at a public school, they are legally required to follow the Act for the duration of their time on school property.
If a student is the victim of bullying, it is important the appropriate individual is held to account for their actions and their long-term effects.
If your child has been bullied online or offline, you have the right to take the child’s parents to court. Under federal law, parents are responsible for the actions of their children. Your child does not have to suffer at the hands of another, and making the bully take responsibility for their actions means they will be less likely to repeat their behaviour for fear of the consequences. You will need documentation of the abuse, and the parent of the bully will need to demonstrate that they provided adequate supervision of their child at the time of the incident as well as show that they tried to prevent such behaviour. They must prove that any harm caused by their child was unintentional if they cannot prove supervision.
Cyberbullying is more complicated. It is difficult to hold a school responsible as most cyberbullying occurs outside school hours, and administrators and teachers cannot control students’ actions outside of the classroom or off school property. Similarly, it is difficult to prove parent liability for cyberbullying as it is difficult to determine how much supervision the parent provided.
Knowing your child is being bullied is heartbreaking, but there are steps you and your child can take. Make sure their school is aware of what’s happening and that your child understands the importance of reporting abuse.
If appropriate actions are not taken by either the parent of the bully or the school where the bullying is taking place, it may be time to take legal action.
- One in three Canadian youth are bullied (Statistics in 3 Canada, 2012)
- 85% of bullying takes place in front of other people (Craig & Pepler, 1997)
- 40% of youth have been cyberbullied (Schneider et al., 2012)
- Cyberbullying victims are two times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010)
- LGBTQ+ students experience discrimination three times more frequently than their heterosexual peers (Canadian Institute of Health Research, 2012)
- Youth who are bullied suffer more headaches, stomachaches, depression, and anxiety. Mental health problems associated with bullying tend to last until later in life (PREVNet)
- 12% of Canadian students are bullied regularly (once or more a week)
- 13% bullied other students regularly (once or more a week)
- Only 40% of students tried to intervene when they saw someone being bullied
- 64% of Canadian students consider bullying a normal part of school life
- 20-50% of students said bullying can be a good thing (makes people tougher, is a good way to solve problems, etc.)
- 25-33% said bullying is sometimes OK and/or that it is OK to pick on losers.
- 61-80% said bullies are often popular and enjoy high status among their peers.
Source: Centre For Youth Social Development, UBC Faculty of Education
In any bullying situation, there are three principal characters: the bully, the victim, and the bystander. Whichever role your child is playing, there are things you can do as a parent to stop the abuse.
As a parent, your first line of defense is to model proper behaviour yourself. Be kind and considerate of others, do your best to resolve conflict peacefully, address angry feelings, learn appropriate ways to deal with negative emotions, treat others with respect, and be assertive without aggression when standing up for yourself.
Children need to understand reporting bullying is not the same as being a tattletale, a rat, or a snitch. Tattling is meant to get someone in trouble, ratting or snitching is a negative label used by the bully to discourage victims from reporting, which is an action intended to help someone – either themselves or someone else who is being bullied.
If you discover your child is being bullied, remember it’s likely your child has already tried to solve the problem on his/her own. Listen carefully, and include them in the plan to address the situation.
Your child’s teacher, guidance counsellor, and principal are also excellent resources to help you determine the facts of the situation and create an action plan. Reassure your child none of this is their fault – the fault lies with the poor choices the bully is making.
Teach your child nonviolent ways to stick up for themselves. Statements like “I want a turn now,” “Excuse me, I was here first,” or, “Hey, I don’t like this,” each empower your child to stand their ground and express themselves. And teach them to stick up for others. Bullying expert Michelle Borba says that when bystanders intervene correctly, they can stop bullying more than half the time and within 10 seconds.
Research has shown that most bullying starts with verbal threats or taunting. How the victim responds plays a big part in whether or not the abuse goes further or happens again.
Finally, if you discover that your child is the bully, take heart. Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabees, points out that children’s roles change just like adults. Today they may be the victim and tomorrow they may be the bully. Never forget, your children may act very differently at school or at play from how they behave at home. You are not a bad parent because your child misbehaves. Bad parenting is refusing to do anything about it.
If your child is the aggressor, talk to them about what has happened and why their behaviour is unacceptable. Allow explanations, but not excuses. Make them take responsibility their actions. Teach them empathy and reassure them you don’t think they’re a bad person. A lack of compassion or understanding in this situation can easily compound the negative feelings that are behind their behaviour.
You can also help prevent bullying by being actively involved in your child’s school and extra-curricular activities. Ultimately, the best way to prevent bullying is to raise kids who are kind, empathetic, and who understand the consequences of their actions.
Unfortunately, there have been bullies as long as humans have walked the earth. The good news is, if you are the target of a bully, there are ways to deal with their abusive behaviour and take back your power. The first and most important thing for you to remember is that this is not your fault. You are never to blame for another person’s negative or selfish actions or attitudes.
The most obvious way to defend yourself is to avoid the bully whenever possible. That’s easier said than done, especially if the abuse is online. But walk away whenever possible. Removing both the audience and the target of their abuse demonstrates you’re not interested in anything they’re saying and puts you in control of the situation.
Sometimes humour can defuse the situation, but never put yourself at risk for the sake of a punchline. It’s also wise, especially if your bully has threatened physical harm, to keep a friend with you whenever you can. Not only is it good to have a comforting presence, but you also have a witness should anything happen. Observers have found that having a friend with you is one of the most powerful protections, especially for boys on the playground.
If you are being bullied, tell a trusted adult. Explain to them what is happening and work with them on next steps, including creating an action plan for future bullying, and reporting to whatever authorities they deem necessary. Tell your teachers and school administration so they can help support and protect you. Bullying often impacts your ability to focus on academics, so it’s important for them to understand any changes in your classroom performance or behaviour. They cannot help or prevent the abuse if they are unaware of it. Ask to see the school’s anti-bullying policy, and ask them to follow through on stated policies and procedures. If you’re being cyberbullied, take screenshots of any abuse as documentation. You should also report cyberbullying to both local law enforcement and the ISP provider as well as to the social media website where you’ve been targeted.
As a student, you have the right to feel safe and respected in the classroom, and that includes feeling safe from and respected by your peers.
If you are being bullied, don’t hesitate to report the bullying to your teacher and school administration. As long as you keep silent, your bully will feel empowered to continue their abusive behaviour. Ask your teacher to move your seat or lunch table assignment and explain why you would like to be moved. Also, be mindful of your reaction. Many bullies will quit their abusive behaviour if it isn’t causing the shame or embarrassment they’re hoping to achieve. If you don’t react, both they and their intended audience will usually lose interest and move on. Sometimes the bully will move on to a new target, so that’s why it’s important to tell someone in authority what’s happening. You may be safe, but someone else may not be.
If you’re concerned that telling your teacher or parents will draw more negative attention from the bully, you can speak anonymously to an anti-bullying hotline for helpful advice and support. Programs like PrevNet and BullyingCanada can connect you with resources in your area as well as provide 24/7 support. Along with reporting, take steps to protect yourself, like avoiding going to the bathroom or eating lunch alone. Bullies like an audience, but only if they think the audience will be on their side.
Document every incident either by taking a screenshot or journaling what is happening. If the bullying escalates, you’ll want to provide documentation of the abuse to the relevant authorities. Talking to someone, whether it’s a trusted friend, guidance counsellor or peer counsellor at school, can often alleviate some of the anxiety and hurt that results from being bullied. If you find that’s not enough, you can speak to someone anonymously through a hotline or with a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping victims of bullying.
Finally, don’t be tempted to retaliate. Reducing yourself to aggressive behaviour online or offline may feel good at the moment, but it’s not a longterm solution. Often fighting back satisfies the bully because it shows them that they can get to you. If you “win,” you may begin to believe that aggression is an appropriate response in any situation, and eventually become a bully yourself.
- Canada Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
- Bullying Canada: 1-877-352-4497
- Bullying Canada: 1-877-352-4497