What Is Bullying?

Bullying is a painful, damaging, and potentially life-threatening experience with effects that can last far beyond childhood and adolescence. Understanding bullying, what it is and how it affects all of our children and indeed all of us, is a necessary first step to preventing this behaviour, and to ensuring that each and every young person is safe, strong and free – a slogan that informs all aspects of COPA's work.

It can take many forms, and is sometimes subtle, sometimes overt. It is sometimes easy to detect, and sometimes hidden from view.

Typically, bullying is repetitive behaviour; it might also show up as a single event, often with the threat of repetition. It can take the form of social rejection, physical force or coercion, psychological intimidation or threats (overt or subtle).

Many different types of people are bullied. Many different types of people bully others. A good number of children and teens who bully others have been or are being bullied themselves.

Bullying can take many forms including but is not limited to:

Physical assault: For example, hitting shoving stealing, damaging property.

Verbal: For example, mocking, name-calling, sexist, racist, homophobic inferences or comments.

Sexual: For example, unwanted sexual inferences, comments, touching, assault.

Social: For example, excluding others, gossip, spreading rumours.

Bullying can take place in hallways, classrooms, schoolyards, gymnasiums, libraries, during assemblies and school outings, on school busses to and from school, and with cell phones and on the Internet.

People who bully others may do so alone, or with others. They may target one person, or two, or even several people. They rely heavily on secrecy, depending on other students to help them out, cheer them on, or at least to watch and do nothing.

THE DEFINITION OF BULLYING: The Education Act was amended by Bill 13 (called the Accepting Schools Act) and became effective September 1, 2012. This new law is designed to help reduce bullying in schools, and requires all school boards to take action on bullying and prevent it.

Here is an excerpt of the new definition:

Bullying refers to aggressive and typically repeated behaviour by a student where:

(a) the behaviour is intended to have the effect of, or the student ought to know that the behaviour would be likely to have the effect of: (i) causing harm, fear or distress to another, including physical, psychological, social or academic harm, harm to the individual’s reputation or harm to the individual’s property, or (ii) creating a negative environment at a school for another individual.

(b) the behaviour occurs in a context where there is a real or perceived power imbalance between the student and the individual based on factors such as size, strength, age, intelligence, peer group power, economic status, social status, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, family circumstances, gender, gender identity, gender expression, race, disability or the receipt of special education. Bullying behaviour includes the use of any physical, verbal, electronic, written or other means.

Electronic means (commonly known as cyber-bullying), includes:

(a) creating a web page or a blog in which the creator assumes the identity of another person;
(b) impersonating another person as the author of content or messages posted on the internet;
(c) communicating material electronically to more than one individual or posting material on a website that may be accessed by one or more individuals.

NB: Cyber-bullying includes spreading rumours, hurtful photos, ideas or comments using cell-phones, text messages, social media and websites.

We avoid using the words bully or victim. This way we allow people to change rather than being placed in a box with a harmful label. We believe that ‘the person doing the bullying,’ and ‘the person being bullied’, and those who witness it can all change with knowledge, skills and support.

How Widespread Is the Problem?

Unfortunately bullying is not uncommon in our schools. Les Parsons, a Canadian expert on bullying prevention, states that somewhere between 1/3 - 3/4 of all students have been involved in bullying situations. Research conducted by the University of Calgary showed that 1/2 of the students in their study had been bullied.

Unfortunately, an increase in the use of electronic media means that students have found new ways to bully others, a type of bullying known as cyber-bullying.

A study by York Region Health Services shows that among students who use chat rooms and instant messaging, 25% report receiving bullying messages, 14% have been threatened on the Internet and 16% admit to having themselves posted threatening messages.

Very little bullying is formally recorded, and a number of studies have found that a significant amount of bullying in schools is never disclosed or reported, perhaps up to 80%. Young people who are targeted by cyber-bullying are often reluctant to report the abuse – often because they fear their parents are likely to restrict their access to computers and the Internet.

Who Gets Bullied?

No logic or any common element explains why the child or teen who bullies chooses a particular person as a target. Young people who engage in bullying want power and choose to get it by intimidating others. No excuse is necessary.

In 2008, COPA conducted a survey of secondary schools in Ontario. The results showed that most of the students surveyed felt that the lack of respect for differences lay at the heart of the problem. The survey also revealed that the type of difference did not matter; if a person wants to intimidate another, they will find a pretext to do so.

A difference of speech, academic achievement, socioeconomic status or physical or mental difference or personality may be sufficient to identify a person. The behavior of a person's circle of friends, even the way she dresses or looks can attract the attention of the student who bullies.

The person being bullied is NEVER to blame!