Can children be bully-proofed?
A Perspective from Miriam Granger, a Social Worker at SickKids.
Today is Pink Shirt Day, a day to raise awareness about bullying across the country. Bullying is such a difficult problem for children, teenagers, and adults. It is something that almost everyone experiences, and the damage it causes can last a lifetime. While we all may have slightly different ideas about what bullying is, we know when it’s happening to us, and most of us struggle to deal with it effectively. Parents want to help their children, and yet children and teenagers are generally reluctant to tell their parents about their experiences with bullying. There are many reasons for this, including resignation that nothing will change, fear that involving others will make the situation worse, and most frequently, the idea that telling adults about this problem is ‘ratting’, rather than ‘reporting’. In the adult world, bullying is also a significant problem, and adults rarely report bullying to management for the same reasons.
Bullying is purposeful behaviour with the intention to cause harm towards someone who finds it difficult to defend oneself. This harm can be physical or psychological. Research tells us that bullying reaches its peak in frequency when children are in seventh and eighth grade, and while the frequency of bullying drops off in high school, the bullying that does occur tends to be more severe in nature. Physical bullying (shoving, tripping, hitting etc.) usually takes place in areas where there is little adult supervision, or is done in a manner that can be claimed as ‘accidental’ if a bully is challenged. Relational bullying (leaving someone out of group activities, spreading hurtful rumours, etc.) can be the hardest type for adults to address. Cyberbullying is common, and many children and teens participate in bullying others without fully realizing the extent of the damage they are causing.
Can children be ‘bully-proofed’? No one is immune to being bullied, or to bullying others, but there are many steps all adults can take to reduce the risks of children and teenagers engaging in bullying behaviour, and handle a bullying situation well, whether it is directed toward them or toward someone else.
If a child or teen tells you that they are being bullied, stay calm and support them as you get more details on the incident. There is often great shame associated with being bullied, and reassurance from a caring adult makes a huge difference. “This isn’t your fault. We’ll figure this out together” is the first step to helping. There are multiple resources that can provide guidance and support.