Reality check: Bullying rates in Canada

TORONTO – A new report finds a high rate of children in Canada report being bullied in school, especially when compared to other industrialized nations. But one expert says the definition of bullying used in the report might be too broad to compare bullying rates across different nations.

“Bullying has been the subject of public and political attention over the past several years in Canada, with a growing evidence base pointing to the kinds of interventions at home, at school and in peer groups that are most likely to reduce bullying,” said UNICEF Canada spokeswoman Melanie Sharpe. “But it is clear that our current efforts are not enough, since the rates of bullying have not diminished over the past decade.”

The UNICEF report released Wednesday compares 29 of some of the world’s wealthiest countries on an index of child well-being. Ranking in 21st place, the prevalence of bullying among children in Canada was slightly higher than the average among industrialized countries.

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READ MORE: Overall well-being of Canadian children lags behind other countries: report

Children who took part in the survey were given the following definition of bullying:

“We say a student is being bullied when another student, or a group of students, say or do nasty and unpleasant things to him or her. It is also bullying when a student is teased repeatedly in a way he or she does not like or when he or she is deliberately left out of things. But it is not bullying when two students of about the same strength or power argue or fight. It is also not bullying when a student is teased in a friendly and playful way.”

Dr. Neil Gottheil, a clinical psychologist at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, however says that while bullying is indeed an issue, he cautions against claiming the bullying rates in Canada are high or higher than in other industrialized countries in the world because the definition of bullying in the report might be too broad.

In the report, children aged 11, 13 and 15 were asked if they were being bullied at school “at least once in the past couple of months.”  Gottheil says that in order for words or actions to be defined as bullying, it needs to happen more than once.

“A one time altercation does not constitute bullying,” said Gottheil.

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Gottheil explains children in different parts of the world can view the definition of bullying differently.

For example, according to Gottheil, in Italy—the country with the lowest rates of bullying— the percent reporting may be lower but those kids may be bullied more frequently. In Canada a high percentage may report being bullied but it may be made up of kids that are only bullied once every couple of months.

Either way, Gottheil says more needs to be done to prevent bullying in Canada and says schools and parents play a pivotal role.

“Schools have a responsibility to create a safe environment, while parents need to build a relationship with their child so that they can communicate when they are being bullied. When children do reach out to an adult, the adult needs to listen first before reacting.”


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