“We are seizing your snacks for the next one week since you want to show us you have a better mum who buys you great snacks”, little 6-year-old Ifeoma in Nigeria was told. “If you report us to your parents or the teacher, we will kill your family”, John, a 10-year-old Canadian was threatened. “Why do you speak with an accent? Go back to where you come from!” an immigrant 15-year-old Karishma was told. “I don’t feel like going to school anymore.” – Hiromi, a teenage student in Japan, recalls her experience. These experiences are not isolated, bullying is real!
Whether in affluent or poverty-stricken countries, bullying has become a global pandemic. One of the many pain points of bullying is not the tears, anxiety, and pain of today rather, it is the trauma and other health challenges the kids might face in the future. According to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), bullying “is a global challenge, with numerous detrimental side effects that have broader societal implications.” In a study conducted by World Health Organization (WHO), bullying is manifested by repeated victimization and linked to increase in the risk of poor health, with social, and educational outcomes. In Canada, studies suggest that about 8 percent of students aged 12 to 19, report being bullied weekly. The bullied kids become withdrawn resulting in poor academic performance, fear of going to school, loss of appetite, aggression, truancy, and in extreme cases, suicide. This situation along with its implications will wrench the heart of any parent or guardian.
Bullying is the consistent, wilful, conscious desire to hurt another and put him/her under undue stress. Often, it involves aggressiveness, marked inequality in terms of power, constant criticism, insults, gossips, and in extreme cases, physical violence. The operating word is consistent; a victim would have to show that this is not an isolated case of childhood fights or insults but a repeated occurrence spanning a period. The actions must also be purposeful to cause pain, harm, or fear.
The reasons for bullying can be as flimsy as difference in age, skin colour, content of lunch pack, language, gender, physical appearance, and as complex as, nationality, race, and religion. Unfortunately, immigrant kids are an easy target for bullies. Their new environment might make them nervous, and bullies might perceive their nervousness as weakness and an opportunity to bully them.
As scary and rampant as bullying is, parents are not helpless, they have a role. They can proactively take some actions before bullying starts. First, parents must be friends with their kids. Know when your kid is happy, upset, anxious, or scared. This is important so you can spot the change in attitude when they occur. Be your kid’s confidant and friend. Also, become aware of what bullying is, the different types, and their manifestations. You need this knowledge to help your kid.
Patiently listen to your children when they complain. Do not make the mistake of shutting them down, telling them to “bulk up” or sweeping it away as unnecessary attention seeking attempt. Listen with an intent to understand what is happening, ask if it has been a repeated situation, and identify if it is targeted. It is important you give yourself some time to process the information and the flood of emotions that would naturally come through you.
Commence reassuring your children that they are loved and appreciated. Allow them express how the act of bullying is affecting them, get them involved in what they consider a solution, and thank them for sharing their experience. Acknowledge that it takes courage and effort to report a bully despite being threatened. Do not be tempted to preach retaliation because the vicious circle will continue. Instead, reassure the child that retaliation should not be an option and refusal to do same is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, the victim is refusing to be controlled by the bully.
If this repeated bullying incidents took place in school, reach out to the class teacher, and escalate it to the school board if necessary. If it happens at the park, cautiously visit the park to see either a parent or an adult who accompanies the kid to the park. Make sure to let the bully’s parents know what their kid has been up to. The aim is to collectively assist such a child desist from this dangerous path.
Together with the school management, work out a plan the bully, victim, and both parents would commit to. Determine boundaries for each party and accepted communication. Set periodic check-ins to ensure plan is working and no further incident has happened. It is not out of place for parents to search for support organizations. Here are a few to pick from:
- Kids Help Phone, a confidential non-judgmental service available to young people across Canada. Their team of professionals can be accessed for referrals to sources of assistance, and information via phone, text, or online.
- Stop a Bully is another haven for victims of bullying to speak up without fear of victimization from others in school. They also support schools with necessary information to proactively assist victims, witnesses, and bullies.
- Bullying Canada is a national organization that brings together all parties – victim, bully, parents, teachers, police, school board, and social services together with the aim of resolving and finding lasting solution.
In some serious situations, the bullying does not stop despite all attempts. So, what options are open to the parent? When all civil strategy fails, get the law enforcement agency involved. This is necessary when the incident(s) violates criminal laws, such as assaults (pushing, shoving, deliberate tripping, or spitting), serious substantiated threats of violence, mischief in relation to data and actual violence. There are relevant sections of the criminal code (section 264, 264.1, 423(1) and 430 (1.1) that authorizes law enforcement agencies to assist in investigating incidents.
This situation can be traumatizing for both the victim and their parents. Irrespective of the child’s age and type of bullying, treat each experience as unique. Ask your children what they think would work. Whatever choice a parent makes, assure your child of your support and willingness to nurse them back to good health in a safe environment.