Virtual Kids News

April 2021


Bullying: An Old Problem, but Newly Dangerous

Virtual Kids Update: A New Partnership

Bullying: An Old Problem, But Newly Dangerous

By Dr. Ed Les – Virtual Kids Physician

It isn’t big to make others feel small.

– Ed Sheeran

My kids, my wife and I are big fans of Ed Sheeran. We’re far from alone. His music draws people together, and his songs are loved by young and old across the world. It’s hard to imagine now, but when Ed was in primary school his life was hell — he cried almost every day. He was an easy target for classmates who made themselves feel bigger by belittling the odd-looking redhead with over-sized glasses and a debilitating stutter. He survived, obviously, and thrived. He had a rare talent, and with his distinctive looks he rapidly became the epitome of cool as he got older.

But it could just as easily have gone the other way; and for many kids tormented at school and in their social circles it does —and often horrifically so.

For too many kids, bullying is the start of a downward spiral from which they never recover.

Bullying is as old as the human race itself, and it cuts across all walks of life, across all social classes, and across all demographics. Alberta Education defines bullying as: “a conscious, willful, deliberate, repeated and hostile activity marked by an imbalance of power, intent to harm and/or threat of aggression. It can be verbal, social, physical, or cyber-bullying. Bullying is not a normal part of growing up, and does not build character.”

Bullying is stressful and harmful — victims often begin to believe the negative comments about them or think that they deserve the abuse. They can become caught in a deep pit of depression, hopelessness, anxiety and school and relationship problems — a dark place from which it seems impossible to escape.

The negative effects of bullying have always been with us. But the explosion of social media in all its forms have made them go nuclear.

Bullying delivered while hiding behind a screen doesn’t make it less spiteful; it makes it far, far worse. Social media allows cyberbullies to leverage hateful messages and pictures via Instagram, Snapchat, Tik Tok, and so on to an enormous audience. And cyberbullying is particularly venomous because it is so hidden, and because it’s so constant.

Unlike the bullying that occurs at school or in social circles or on sports teams — which is often on public display — abuse delivered by social media is like an invisible dagger to the hearts of its victims. A child or teenager can be viciously assaulted again and again by online attackers, unbeknownst to anyone, while trying to do homework quietly in her room.

When I was growing up young people who were bullied in school could at least go home to a safe place — they had some hours at home free from torment. Today, however, constant connection via social media leaves no breaks for the bullied.

This is nightmarish stuff, parents. So what can you do?

The first step is to be fully aware of the threat. It’s very, very real. Educate yourselves.

Secondly: arm yourselves, and your children, with the many resources that exist to fight back the cyberbullying epidemic. Here are a few excellent links/resources:

  • Five Strategies For Dealing With Cyberbullying
  • Tips To Help Stop Cyberbullying
  • Ten Strategies For Stopping Cyberbullying

One key strategy is to document the abuse. It’s critical that you and your children do so: after all, cyberbullying is a crime in most jurisdictions.

Third: teach your children to beware of contributing to the problem. Teach them to be mindful, always, of what they post about others on social media. Lisa Dixon-Wells, former member of the Canadian National Swim Team and founder of Dare to Care – Canada’s premiere bully prevention program — features an excellent approach on her website; a tactic termed the Three-Door-Challenge:

  • Could I say this to the person’s face?
  • How would I feel if someone sent this to me?
  • Could I stand up in front of everyone in this school, including all of my teachers, my peers, my parents, and the police, and read this out loud to everyone? Or show this picture to everyone?

Fourth: teach your children well:

  • Stand up for those who are being bullied.
  • Don’t join in.
  • Offer Support.
  • Speak up!

When other children intervene in bullying, it can stop the abuse in its tracks. Silence, on the other hand, is enabling —and it can truly be deadly.

Lead by example. Be inclusive. Be kind. Be empathetic. Treat others as you would like to be treated. And raise your children to do the same.

Help your children to understand, as a wise person once said, that strong people stand up for themselves, but the strongest people stand up for others.

Finally, be aware that bullies themselves need help; that their actions too often rise from a place of toxicity; that they themselves may have been (or are being) abused.

Yet if there are not consequences for their behaviour, they learn to justify that behaviour- which is why little bullies grow up to be big bullies in our communities and workplaces. Our job is to hold young bullies accountable for their actions

and to show them how to use their “power” for good, rather than to hurt others.

It’s important to know that bullies can change, that they can learn to behave differently, that they can begin to have healthy relationships with other people. Be understanding. Be supportive. As much as is possible, kill bullying with kindness.

In sum, as Lisa Dixon-Wells might put it, dare to care: Not only for the bullied — but also for the bullies.

Virtual Kids is allied with Kids Help Phone, which provides 24-hour support, seven days a week, for kids who are struggling with bullying: Call 1-800-668-6868.