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What is bullying?

Bullying is any negative, aggressive action that hurts, humiliates, demeans, frightens, or excludes someone.

Bullying comes in many forms, including name-calling, rumour-spreading, pushing and shoving. At its worst it can escalate to full-fledged assault. Bullying is anything but a “normal” part of growing up; it can leave its targets not only with permanent injuries but also with long-lasting emotional scars as well. Many young people who are bullied are too afraid or too embarrassed to ask for help.


What are the signs?

If a child is being physically bullied, you might see bruises on their body. But other forms — verbal, social, racial, sexual, or homophobic bullying — can be more difficult to spot. Young people targeted by bullying might become angry or withdrawn; any change in their behaviour — spending more time alone, seeming unhappy or irritable, talking less, or even having nightmares — should be taken seriously.


Types of bullying

  • Physical bullying includes pushing, shoving, kicking or pinching.
  • Verbal bullying includes insults or derogatory comments.
  • Social bullying includes ganging up on someone, spreading rumours, or manipulating friendships to make someone feel left out.
  • Cyberbullying includes spreading hateful text messages or emails, or creating websites to make fun of someone.
  • Racial bullying includes making racist jokes or making fun of someone’s cultural dress or diet.
  • Sexual harassment is also a form of bullying and involves sexual intimidation.
  • Relationship violence includes forcing a boyfriend/girlfriend to have sex or making fun of a boyfriend/girlfriend in public.
  • Homophobic bullying includes making fun of the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirited, or queer/questioning (LGBTQ) individuals.


If you know a child who is being bullied

It’s important to remember that young people who are bullied are usually embarrassed about it and may not want you to get involved; you should adjust your response according to the situation, what’s happening and how it’s affecting that child. If the child’s safety is at risk, contact the necessary authorities — the school principal for example or, in more serious cases, the police.

The most important things to tell a child who is being bullied are:

  • It’s not your fault.
  • It can be stopped.
  • It’s okay to ask for help.
  • Don’t fight back — more violence or hurtful words will not solve the problem.
  • You have a right to protect yourself — find ways to stay safe and get the support you need.
  • I will help you, or find someone who can.


If you know a child who is bullying

Kids who bully other kids might be trying to deal with problems of their own that they need to work out. Many young people who bully are also the targets of bullying themselves. If you discover a child has been bullying other children, try to talk to them about it.

Here are some things you can ask:

  • Is something going on at school?
  • Are you upset about something?
  • Did something happen with your friends?
  • Do you want to talk?

You can also suggest the child gets in touch with a professional counsellor at Kids Help Phone — either online or by phone. They can learn more about bullying at kidshelpphone.ca.

Bullying is often about control and manipulation and can take a toll on a young person’s self-esteem.


Help is out there

Bullying can be difficult to deal with because it can be very persistent. Young people who bully may not give up easily, so it’s important to check in with a child who is being bullied to make sure the problem is being resolved. Make sure they feel safe and supported.

If you know a young person who is struggling with a problem, big or small, encourage them to contact us. We’re free, anonymous, confidential, and available 24/7/365.

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