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Childhood Bullying – Definition

No one deserves to be bullied. A power imbalance is found at the heart of the bullying dynamic. Children and youth who are marginalized in our society may be at high risk for victimization, which can lead to involvement in bullying. Adults responsible for children and youth need to be aware of these power imbalances so they can work to ensure that all children are respected and included. Children who are victimized become increasingly powerless and find themselves trapped in relationships in which they are being abused. These children and youth include those who are:

  • Children with exceptionalities
  • Economically disadvantaged
  • Racial, ethnic, and religious minorities
  • Sexual minorities
  • The victimized child loses power in the relationship. In such a relationship, children who are being bullied become increasingly powerless to defend themselves.
Victims tend to be timid and, in the case of boys, tend to be physically weaker and less skilled than bullies. Victims tend not to retaliate or make any assertive responses to peer aggression, and they tend to be low on skills for making friends. They generally do not retaliate to the initial aggression or when they are picked on, so that they come to be seen as “safe” targets for bullying, which are then repeated by the bully. Children who become victims typically lack friends and social support at school, and they are often not confident in their physical abilities and strength. Children and youth who are victimized often lack relationships in which they can experience positive identity, power, and independence:
  • Few friends at school or in neighbourhood
  • Few opportunities to shine and show talents at home, school, or in the community (positive power)
  • Lonely and isolated at school
  • Parents may be overprotective, restrictive
  • Siblings may bully child at home
  • Teachers may be unaware of child’s strengths and challenges and therefore unresponsive to needs

Most students who are bullied either do not report the bullying to adults or they wait a very long time before doing so. The reasons include feelings of shame, fear of retaliation for reporting, and fear that adults cannot or will not protect the victim in the settings where bullying usually takes place: the playground, the hallway of the school, or on the way to and from school.  Many students who are bullied have trouble sleeping, focusing on school work and are afraid to go to school.

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