Everyone seems to be talking about bullying these days, and not just at school. From parents to politicians, many people have something to say about bullying. But have you ever stopped to think: what exactly is bullying? And why should all of us care about bullying?
On this page:
Bullying is any repeated behaviour meant to hurt someone else. People who bully may try to make it seem less harmful and say things like, ‘We were only kidding!” or “It’s just a joke!” But bullying is always serious and it is never acceptable. No one deserves to be bullied for any reason.
Bullying can happen in different ways.
Bullying can be verbal, such as using words to hurt:
Taunting, teasing, or making fun of another person
Spreading rumours or lies meant to hurt someone’s reputation
Making fun of another person’s sexual orientation or gender identity
Comments that are racist or discriminate against a person’s religion, culture, language, or ability
Bullying can be physical, such as using contact to hurt:
Hitting, kicking, or pushing someone
Touching someone’s stuff to bother them
Bullying can target social relationships, such as influencing others’ opinions of you to hurt:
Excluding someone from a group
Spreading gossip to damage friendships or relationships
New technologies like smartphones and social media have created new ways for a person to bully someone else. Cyberbullying might include:
Posting a tweet or Facebook status meant to hurt someone
Posting or sharing a photo or video meant to humiliate someone
Messaging someone directly to tease them, make fun of them, hurt them, or make them feel ashamed
Sending threatening text messages to someone
Bullying is a serious problem. While most young people can deal with one mean text or one episode of name-calling, no one should have to deal with ongoing bullying. Young people can feel like bullying will never end, and they may feel like they’re constantly in fear of what might happen next. Bullying makes people feel like they aren’t safe and feel like they aren’t included or valued.
Young people who are bullied may feel sad, anxious or worried, lonely, embarrassed, or ashamed of themselves. Many experience physical problems like headaches, stomach aches, or sleep problems. These are normal reactions to stressful situations like bullying, and they have a big impact on the way young people feel about themselves and enjoy their lives. They may avoid things that they used to enjoy, avoid going out or meeting new people, or avoid going to school. Some young people don’t do as well in their school work if they’re being bullied.
In some situations, bullying can add to a mental illness like depression or an anxiety disorder. Young people who are bullied are more likely to experience a mental illness later in life. While there is a small connection between bullying and suicide and a connection between bullying and thoughts of suicide, most people who are bullied don’t end their life. But everyone still needs to take any talk of suicide seriously.
How bullying affects young people depends on a lot of different things. It can depend on the bullying itself, like how long it’s been going on, or what exactly has been happening. Young people will also be affected by how others react and what kind of support others give. How a young person reacts to problems and the other difficult situations that they have already experienced will also have an impact. These kinds of differences help explain why two people can have very different reactions to the same thing.
In the moment
It can be really hard to deal with bullies when they’re upsetting you. Exactly what you do depends on the situation. Here are some ideas to think about:
Just walk away. Instead of responding or reacting to bullying—which is what bullies usually want you to do—just ignore them and leave.
Avoid physical violence. Fighting back can just get you into trouble.
Act confident. If someone bullies you, act like you’re calm and in control (even if you have to fake it).
Find a healthy way to deal with anger and fear. This could mean talking with friends or someone you trust. It could also mean working through these feelings on your own, like writing in a journal.
Talk it over with someone you trust. Bullying is tough, but you don’t have to deal with it on your own.
Bullying can damage your self-esteem badly so remember to keep people and activities in your life that make you feel good about yourself.
Next steps and staying safe
Get support from parents, school counsellors or other adults you trust. They can help you figure out what to do next. It’s particularly important to report bullying if you’re being physically threatened or feel like you’re in danger. You can also report bullying at school anonymously at www.reportbullyingbc.ca.
If you don’t want to talk to someone at school, trying calling a phone line—there are a few options listed at the end of this info sheet. They can help you take action, and they can also help you deal with the difficult thoughts and feelings that bullying can bring up.
Keep yourself safe. This could mean physically avoiding people who are causing harm, or blocking people on your social media accounts. If you’re being physically bullied, it may be safer to avoid being alone. You can find a Bullying Safety Planner to help you find ways to stay safe at www.kidshelpphone.ca.
If you are being bullied online or by phone, take screenshots or save the texts.
Call 911 if you are in physical danger or fear that someone will harm you.
Something can happen when a group of people sees someone in trouble—they don’t do anything at all. Some people may even get caught up and start to encourage the bully, though they wouldn’t think of acting that way on their own. When you see someone being bullied, you may think that it doesn’t involve you or worry that you may get hurt or get into trouble if you don’t go along with the group. But doing nothing is doing something. It makes bullying seem okay or acceptable.
All of this applies online, too. Bullying someone online is just as hurtful as bullying someone in person.
If you see bullying, take a stand:
Speak up when you see bullying
Talk with someone who is being bullied to see if they need help
Refuse to join in—don’t share, like, or repost something that was intended to hurt another person, and speak up in comments or posts
Report bullying to a teacher, school staff member, parent, or caregiver
Seek support for yourself
If you aren’t sure what to do, trying calling a help line—you’ll find a few different options at the end of this sheet.
A lot of people don’t want others to know that they are being bullied, but talking about bullying is a good way to deal with the situation. If a friend is having a hard time taking about their experiences in person, they might feel more comfortable talking to someone on the phone or online. (A few different options for support are listed at the end of this info sheet.) Bullying can have a big impact on how people feel about themselves, and bringing in someone like a parent or school counsellor can really help
It’s important to speak up if a friend is in trouble. Talk to a parent or someone at school. Your friend may be a bit angry, but their safety is most important.
Bullying isn’t a problem between individuals. It’s a problem that affects every single person in a community. Involving the entire community—like an entire school—and building good resiliency skills are two ways to combat bullying.
A healthy community plays a big role in supporting everyone’s well-being. A community can be the people at your school, the people who share your activities or interests, or simply the place you live. Here are three ways that a healthy community takes a stand against bullying:
The culture or attitudes of the community can discourage bullying. If a community says that bullying really isn’t a big deal, others may feel like it’s okay to bully. But when communities do not tolerate bullying, individuals are less likely to tolerate bullying.
Communities can encourage healthy relationships. They can encourage people to treat others with respect and show everyone that they should expect to be treated fairly.
Bullying makes people feel like they aren’t included or don’t belong. Communities do the opposite: they bring people together offer support to everyone.
Building good resiliency skills is one way stand up to bullying behaviour and make positive changes in your school or community. Resiliency means that you feel capable and confident in your life. You can handle problems as they come up without feeling overwhelmed. Resiliency can help you stand up for yourself and your values, solve problems, respond to stress in healthy ways, and connect with others. Resiliency can also help people who bully others. Bullying can be a sign that someone is experiencing some problems. Acting out might be a way for them to cope. Learning resiliency skills can help people learn how to handle problems or hard situations without harming others. It’s an important skill for everyone, and it’s a skill that can make a big difference over the course of your entire life. Visit www.heretohelp.bc.ca for resiliency tools like our wellness modules and mental well-being screening self-tests.
If you or a friend is being bullied, here are good places to look for help:
Visit www.erasebullying.ca to learn more about bullying and how to deal with bully. Parents can find tips for working with schools. You’ll find BC resources for young people and parents, and you can learn more about the anonymous reporting tool.
Youth Against Violence
Call 1-800-680-4264 at any time to talk with a support worker. This phone line is for young people and any adult who is concerned about a young person. They can help if you’re concerned about a young person’s safety and they can connect you to the police anonymously, if needed. To learn more, visit www.youthagainstviolenceline.com.
Kids Help Phone
Call 1-800-668-6868 to talk with a counsellor at any time. It’s free, confidential, and anonymous. You can also visit www.kidshelpphone.ca to talk with someone online through a web form or live chat or find more information. Kids Help Phone is for people up to the age of 20.
If you want to learn more about preventing bulling, check out these resources:
Healthy Schools BC
This resource lists different programs or services that support healthy schools. You’ll find lots of resources for bullying and many other issues that affect your life at school, like relationships and school connectedness. You can learn more at www.healthyschoolsbc.ca.
Pink Shirt Day
If you want to see changes at your school, ask if your school can take part in Pink Shirt Day. On Pink Shirt Day, people wear a pink shirt to raise awareness of bullying and pledge to take a stand against bullying. You can learn more at www.pinkshirtday.ca.
Visit www.youthinbc.com to chat online with a volunteer (every day from 12:00 pm to 1:00 am). You can also talk with someone at any time at 1-866-661-3311 or 604-872-3311 (in the Lower Mainland). You’ll find information on bullying and BC resources on their website.
About the author
The Canadian Mental Health Association promotes the mental health of all and supports the resilience and recovery of people experiencing a mental illness through public education, community-based research, advocacy, and direct services. Visit www.cmha.bc.ca.