What You Should Know About Bullying

By: Miles Hector

When it comes to bullying, we need to understand what it is and the effects it can have before ever trying to stop it. This article aims to highlight what you should know about bullying. It will help you identify, define, and further understand what bullying is while clearing up common misconceptions surrounding its existence.

What is Bullying?

We all have different images of bullying; whether they are from cheesy movies, classic books, or personal experiences. But the truth is that any behaviour intended to make another person feel scared or bad about themselves can be considered bullying. 

Bullying happens when someone exercises power over another person in an attempt to harm or frighten them. Even if there is no actual power imbalance, the perception is often enough.

Is All Bullying the Same?

Bullying is commonly thought of as only acts of violence or verbal harassment. Nothing could be further from the truth. To fully understand the impact of bullying, we have to look at ALL types of bullying, not just physical or verbal. Here are the four most common types of bullying: 

Physical Bullying:  This is when someone tries to cause harm to another person or repeatedly touches them without consent. 

Verbal Bullying: Taunting, teasing, and name calling are all verbal bullying.

Psychological Bullying: Unlike verbal bullying, psychological bullying typically happens behind the victim’s back, not to their face. Exclusion from group activities, gossiping, and spreading rumours are all examples of psychological bullying. 

Cyberbullying: When someone tries to victimize another person by attacking them online via social media, they are cyberbullying.

Is Bullying Illegal? 

It’s complicated. Under Canada’s Criminal Code, only certain acts of bullying are illegal offences. These offences are typically ones that jeopardize another person’s safety. They include: 

Criminal Harassment: Texts, phone calls, and emails that cause the other person to fear for their safety.

Child Pornography: Intimate or sexual content of minors under the age of 18.

Uttering Threats: Using extortion to get what you want from someone.

Assault: Threats or acts of non-consensual force, violence, bodily harm, or destruction of personal property.

Identity Theft/Fraud: Ruining someone’s reputation by pretending to be them. 

Defamatory Libel: Ruining someone’s relationship by spreading lies or rumours.

Where Does Bullying Happen? 

Two common myths about bullying are that it only happens in schools and only happens to children. The reality, however, is that these harmful acts can take place everywhere and anyone can be bullied. 

At home, kids can be made victims of bullying by parents or siblings. While occasional conflict between siblings is not concerning, studies show that 40% of children are exposed to the conflict that could be described as bullying weekly. Parents who often fight or verbally abuse each other can teach their kids behavioural responses that turn into bullying.  

As for adults, they get bullied too. According to Statistics Canada, the cost of absenteeism due to bullying and harassment is roughly $19 billion per year. The statistics of bullying at work can be concerning:

  • 30% of Canadians feel like their workplace is not psychologically safe and healthy.
  • 55% of surveyed Canadians reported experiencing bullying in the workplace, including name-calling, physical aggression and online taunts. 
  • 40% of Canadians are bullied in the workplace every week.

There really are no limits as to where or when bullying can take place. It is a sad reality, but anywhere there is human interaction, you can likely find some form of bullying. 

On a positive note, when more people are empowered to stand up to bullying, change can happen quickly. On average, when bystanders intervene, bullying can be stopped within ten seconds. We all have the power to ensure bullying is no longer tolerated by working together and standing up for each other. 

What are the Side Effects of Bullying? 

Bullying is intended to make another person feel bad and that is usually what it does. Immediate feelings of self-doubt or a decrease in self-confidence are universal experiences regardless of age, gender or race. In the long term, the effects of bullying go much deeper, often having long-lasting effects on mental and physical health. Common effects include: 

  • Lack of trust
  • Withdrawal from social interactions
  • Thoughts and acts of self-harm
  • Sleep disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Bullying also has negative effects on bystanders, not just the target. At schools, bullies frequently disrupt the learning environment. At work, school, or the home, bystanders can be forced to live in fear of being the next target. 

The individual doing the bullying will also experience long-term effects. If bullies are allowed to continue bullying uncorrected, this pattern will likely continue. For young bullies, that means a higher likelihood of involvement with domestic abuse, sexual harassment and criminal behaviour later on in life.

Who is at the Most Risk?

There is no single factor that makes someone more likely to be bullied but minority groups face higher risks. This is because their perceived differences make them easy targets for the majority. An example of this can be found in the increased rates of Asian victimization during the COVID-19 pandemic. The following groups are at an increased risk:

  • Ethnic minorities
  • Religious minorities
  • Sexual minorities (i.e. members of the LGBTQ+ community)
  • People living with disabilities

What Can We Do?

Bullying can have lifelong consequences and lasting damage that can change the course of anyone’s life. With a greater understanding of what bullying is, and why it happens, we can work to stop bullying in all forms and prevent the negative effects associated with it. With greater awareness and compassion, we can stop bullies from forming and protect the victims from experiencing unnecessary pain.

Where Can You Learn More?

Government of Canada: For information on bullying prevention as well as anti-bullying programs 

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: For information about workplace bullying

Egale Canada: Tips on how to create virtual safe spaces for LGBTQ+ people 

Bullying Canada: 24/7 live-chat, text and email support for young victims of bullying