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.
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.
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.
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.