500 years ago “bully” (thought to be derived from the Dutch “boel” for brother, and the German “buhle” for lover) was a term of endearment. “Bully for you” also meant “bravo”, a positive, encouraging message. Later the meaning evolved into “bluster” or “harasser of the weak”, and today describes someone who abuses another.
There’s a growing movement (Anti-Bullying) to change bullying behaviour, and its widespread social consequences. Perhaps, over time, the meaning of the word can change again, too.
Whether at school or home, in the workplace or a senior’s centre, bullying—the act of intimidating a weaker person—happens when there is a real or perceived imbalance of power. It can be:
- Physical: hitting, kicking, punching, pushing
- Psychological: isolating, gossiping, spreading rumours, name calling, commenting about someone’s looks, speech, ethnicity (culture, colour, religion), or gender
- Extortion: stealing money or belongings
- Direct or indirect: in person, behind someone’s back, by phone, or online (cyberbullying)
- Repetitive, sustained, and creating a feeling of no escape
The social, physical, and mental health consequences of bullying can be profound—on those who are bullied, and those who bully.
Youth who are bullied commonly experience:
- More headaches and stomach aches
- Depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem
- Aggressive behaviour
- Academic problems and absenteeism
- Contemplate, attempt or commit suicide
Youth who bully commonly experience:
- Substance use and delinquency
- Academic problems, and are more likely to drop out of school
- Aggression and sexual harassment
- Gang involvement and criminal behaviour in adulthood
- Difficulties in relationships with others
- Bullying from others
While peer intervention is known to stop and prevent bullying, only a small number of students actually try. But interventions are effective when supported by a “whole school” or “whole community” approach, and can decrease bullying incidence by 20 to 70 percent. These formal and enforced programs—which include parents, coaches, and the community at large—provide policies and initiatives to address the attitudes and interpersonal and emotional skills of students, as well as early intervention in bullying and victimization behaviours. These programs can make a huge difference to not just those who are bullied.
Growing Up Doesn’t Mean Growing Out of It
Without intervention and support, many youth who bully others continue it as adults, when the bullying takes on more social, homophobic, sexual, and racist forms. It is brought into the workplace, into peer and family relationships, dating, and marriage. Children in particular are vulnerable when they grow up in an environment that doesn’t model respectful, healthy relationships.
No Age Limit
Seniors often have challenges with bullying, particularly when they find themselves living with others in a group setting for the first time in their lives, having to share resources, meals, and activities. The adjustment can be very difficult if they have moved away from their community, or lost their spouse, their health, or their independence. In a University of Saskatchewan study, nearly one third of seniors reported being bullied, which included verbal abuse, social exclusion, and gossip.
Did you know? Bullying
- Girls tend to engage in social forms of bullying more often than boys, while boys tend to engage in physical forms of bullying (although either do both).
- Canadian teachers ranked cyberbullying as their issue of highest concern, and 8% said bullying and violence are serious problems in schools.
- Over half of bullied children do not report it to a teacher.
- 1 in 5 children report having been bullied at least once a week.
- The rate of discrimination experienced among students who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans-identified, Two-Spirited, Queer, or Questioning (LGBTQ) is three times higher than heterosexual youth.
- Girls are more likely to be bullied on the Internet than boys.
- 7% of adult Internet users in Canada, age 18 years and older, self-reported having been a victim of cyberbullying at some point in their life.
- 40% of Canadian workers experience bullying on a weekly basis.
If You Are Bullied
- Be assertive but not aggressive. Fighting back can make the situation worse.
- Walk away or leave the online conversation.
- Document it. Write it down or save a screenshot of the online message.
- Tell someone you trust.
- Report the bullying to administrators, managers, or human resources. When no one reports bullying, those who bully feel they can do so without consequences.
- Report criminal offences (threats, assaults, sexual exploitation) to the police.
- Report unwanted text messages to your telephone service provider.
- Report online bullying to the social media site, and block the person responsible.
Pink Shirt Day—started by Grade 9 students in Nova Scotia in support of a bullied friend—is now a worldwide movement recognized by the United Nations. Wear a pink shirt to show that those who are bullied have support, and that bullies will not be tolerated.
Article was published in The Good Life magazine.