Children across Canada live with victimization daily

Four-eyes.

Weirdo.

Freak.

Loser.

I can still remember, vividly, what it felt like — walking back to my seat after lunch.

Trying to get there as quickly as possible.

I was wearing a pink shirt — my favourite colour. I thought it looked OK, but as I felt their eyes staring into my back, and the whispers uttered through 10-year-old lips, I began to doubt my choice.

I took my seat, facing forward and praying for the teacher to start class. I self-consciously straightened my glasses.

Giggling echoed from the other side of the room.

I’ll never know if those girls meant to make me feel like that — nervous, hurt and sad.

Maybe they just thought they were being cool. Something I apparently was not.

Maybe it was because I liked to play outside and they liked makeup. Maybe it was because I still thought boys were gross and they always bragged about whom they had been “kissing.”

What I do know is how those girls made me feel.

I’ll never forget that feeling.

And neither will the estimated 64 per cent of kids who have also been bullied at school.

The numbers on bullying

Although I was lucky — I managed to escape my unfortunate Grade 5 situation and made some wonderful new friends — there are an estimated 12 per cent of children who are bullied regularly, according to Stop a Bully.

Stop a Bully is a Canadian non-profit organization which enables children who are victims or witnesses to bullying to be able to safely report what happened to school leaders.

According to the organizations website, some 13 per cent of school aged children have bullied other children, and 64 per cent consider bullying as a regular part of school life.

I wonder how many of that 64 per cent are also part of the 64 per cent that are being bullied.

Today it feels like anti-bullying awareness is everywhere. Campaigns, weeks dedicated to anti-bullying, posters on public transit… the list goes on.

So you may ask yourself, as I did, why is bullying still an issue?

What did those girls in my Grade 5 home-room gain from making me feel less than two feet tall?

Bullies bully for a reason

Teila Reynolds, a research assistant at Mount Royal University, says, “It is very difficult to point to the direct cause of all bullying behaviour. There are a variety of different personal and social reasons why children may act out this way.”

Reynolds works in affiliation with Start Smart Stay Safe, an anti-bullying initiative that aims to prevent bullying through a “strengths-based approach.” She says this process addresses issues such as bullying by assuming that children, families and communities already have the skills and abilities to overcome challenges.

Reynolds adds: “Some research also shows that young people who bully lack a sense of belonging at home, school, or in the community. A lack of positive, supportive relationships may cause children to seek alternative ways to gain recognition among their peers.”

Reynolds also says that children who are being bullied live in a constant state of fear — resulting in lower grades in school, physical health issues, behavioural concerns and impaired social functioning.

“We also know that some children who act out through bullying others may lack emotional regulation skills, making it difficult for them to effectively manage strong emotions.”

Bullying hurts everybody

Although each child is different, Reynolds adds that some long-term effects of bullying on children can include a greater risk for developing:

  • depressive disorders
  • anxiety disorders
  • other psychiatric conditions as they get older

However, she says that research also shows that adults who were “bullies,” as children face similar risks for also developing these conditions.

Bullying is not OK

It’s not easy to think about the fact that how we treat each other as children can lead to severe repercussions as adults. It makes me wonder what inner-demons those girls who bullied me could be facing me now.

Maybe at the time they didn’t realize how their actions affected me, or maybe they did.

Regardless, nothing about bullying is OK.

Reynolds agrees, saying “…I can confidently say no child who is experiencing bullying is thinking that it is just a normal aspect of life at school.”

Yet, 72 per cent of children have witnessed bullying, and only 40 per cent have tried to intervene, says Stop a Bully.

According to Bully Free Alberta — a government initiative that offers tips for adults on how to prevent bullying – when that 40 per cent get involved bullying generally stops within 10 seconds.

Although my experience with bullying was verbal intimidation, bullying can also take the form of, physical abuse, cyber abuse and social exclusion.

Bully Free Alberta also says that bullying happens in many places:

  • at school — once every 25 minutes
  • at the playground — once every seven minutes

Bullying can also occur at home, on sport teams and during extracurricular activities.

Bullying can affect anyone, anywhere.

However, as my 10-year-old self, I had no idea that there were so many different “kinds” of bullying: bullying was just bullying.
And sitting in that chair, questioning my choice of pink, why I had to wear glasses, and why I couldn’t be “cool” like the other girls… bullying really just made me hate who I was.

Thankfully, I had a loving support team, consisting of my amazing parents and very kind teachers who made sure that I never disliked who I was again.

But not everyone is so lucky.

Hope for the future

Sometimes I still wear my glasses, and pink is still my favourite colour. And on this Wednesday I might just whip out the brightest pink tee I can find in honour of Pink Shirt Day/Anti Bullying Day.

Pink Shirt Day started in Nova Scotia 6 years ago when two Grade 12 boys, David Shepherd and Travis Price, witnessed a Grade 9 student being bullied for wearing a pink shirt. In response, the boys organized a protest against the bullies through distributing pink shirts out to their fellow peers.

scomber@cjournal.ca