Bullying in Canada - Books, Studies, Resources


From Public Safety Canada

Bullying in Canada

National Strategy on Community Safety and Crime Prevention

Canadians are concerned with the level of violence in today's society, the safety of their communities, and the welfare of their children. As we know, too many children are victims of violence and aggression in the schoolyard, the playground and elsewhere. Some studies indicate that violent behaviour of young people is increasing, that the violence is directed at other young people, and that the violence is committed by younger people than was the case in the past. To prevent youth violence and reduce the rate of violent crime, research indicates that focusing on the early signs of antisocial behaviour is effective. Bullying is one phenomenon that contributes to the development of such behaviour patterns.

Bullying is a serious problem for those who engage in it, for its victims, and for the communities in which it takes place. It is not a normal part of growing up. It can make children feel frightened, sick, lonely and unhappy. Unfortunately, these childhood bullies are also Read More .. likely to develop anti-social behaviours (Farrington, 1993). Studies indicate that 30% to 40% of children with aggression problems grow up to have problems with violence as adults (Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick).

Bullying changes its form with age:

  • Younger children's playground bullying often involves pushing, shoving, name calling teasing and isolation;

  • Teenage bullying may begin to include sexual harassment, gang attacks, dating violence; and

  • Adult bullying may become assaults, marital violence, child abuse, workplace harassment, and senior abuse (Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick).

For victims, repeated bullying can cause psychological distress and many related difficulties (Besag, 1989; Olweus, 1993). The impact of bullying extends beyond the bully and victim to the peer group, school, and community as a whole. It is important to stop bullying at a young age and strive to create a safe and peaceful environment for everyone.

With an understanding of factors related to bullying, we can design prevention and intervention efforts that decrease bullying and increase the likelihood that teachers, parents and other children will intervene when it does occur.

The Government of Canada's National Strategy on Community Safety and Crime Prevention was launched in 1998 to help Canadians deal with the difficult problems of crime and victimization. The National Strategy is built on the common sense principle that the surest way to reduce crime is to focus on the factors that put individuals at risk-factors such as family violence, school problems, and drug abuse - preventing crime before it starts. By providing tools, knowledge, and support, communities are able to address their unique issues of crime and victimization. In its work with communities, the National Strategy has placed a particular emphasis on children, youth, women, and Aboriginal people.

The National Strategy endeavours to intervene early in the lives of our young people, addressing issues of antisocial behaviour before they become Read More ..rious problems. Building resiliency and healthy environments for children and youth today will reap benefits far into the future. The Strategy supports communities and schools - working with students, parents, educators, and practitioners, and others in developing, and sharing, grass-roots initiatives to combat bullying.

What is Bullying?

Bullying is the assertion of power through aggression. Bullies acquire power over their victims physically, emotionally and socially. This can be done in many ways: by physical size and strength, by status within the peer group, by knowing the victim's weaknesses or by recruiting support from other children, as in group bullying. Emotional and social bullying may perhaps be the most frequent and harmful forms. Bullying can be physical or verbal. It can be direct (face-to-face) or indirect (gossip or exclusion) (Olweus, 1991). With repeated bullying, the bully's dominance over the victim is established and the victim becomes increasingly distressed and fearful.

How Widespread Is Bullying?

A 1997 survey of Canadians revealed that 6% of children admitted bullying others "more than once or twice" over a six-week span and 15% of children reported that they had been victimized at the same rate (Pepler, et al.). Researchers' observations of children on playgrounds and in classrooms confirm that bullying occurs frequently: once every 7 minutes on the playground and once every 25 minutes in class (Craig and Pepler, 1997). To understand the problem of bullying, we must consider the characteristics of everyone involved in the bullying scenario: the bully, the victim and the bystander. We must also examine the social contexts in which bullying occurs, such as the family, peer group, school, and community.

Who are the Bullies?

Children bully in many different ways-there is not a single type of bully. The following characteristics have been identified primarily through research on boys who bully.

  • Gender: Both boys and girls are involved in bullying as either bullies, victims or bystanders at approximately the same rate, although each gender expresses bullying in different ways. More boys report their bullying than girls; boys report more physical forms of bullying, while girls report indirect forms of bullying, such as gossiping and excluding (Craig and Pepler, 1997)
  • Age: Ages 4-10, aggression is mainly confined to same-sex peers, whereas ages 11-18 expand their aggression to involve opposite-sex peers as well. In addition, 11 to 12-year-old students reported bullying others more than did younger or older student groups (Pepler, et al.).
  • Temperament: Bullies tend to be hyperactive, disruptive, and impulsive (Lowenstein, 1978; Olweus, 1987).
  • Aggression: Bullies are generally aggressive toward their peers, teachers, parents, and siblings, and others (Olweus, 1991). Bullies tend to be assertive and easily provoked. They are attracted to situations with aggressive content and have positive attitudes about aggression (Stephenson and Smith, 1989).
  • Physical Strength: Boys who bully are physically stronger and have a need to dominate others (Olweus, 1987).
  • Lack of Empathy: Bullies have little empathy for their victims and show little or no remorse for bullying (Olweus, 1987).

Who are the Victims?

Children become victimized for many different reasons - there is not a single victim type. For some children, the following characteristics are present before bullying occurs; for others, they develop as a result of bullying.

Gender: Boys and girls are equally likely to report being victimized (Charach et al., 1995; Pepler et al., 1977).

Age: Victimization decreases across grade levels: 26% of children in Grades 1-3 report victimization compared to 15% in Grades 4-6 and 12% in Grades 7-8 (Pepler et al.). Children in lower grades are more likely to be victims of older bullies, whereas children in higher grades are more likely to be victims of same-age bullies. Younger students experience more direct bullying, whereas older students experience more indirect bullying (Olweus, 1993).

Temperament: Victimized children have a tendency to be anxious and withdrawn. There is more evidence of this among preschool children than among school-aged children.

Physical Appearance: Research has not supported the popular stereotype that victims have unusual physical traits (Olweus, 1991).

Self-Esteem: Victims often report low self-esteem, likely because of repeated exposure to victimization (Besag, 1989).

Depression: Both boys and girls who are victimized report symptoms of depression, such as sadness, and loss of interest in activities (Slee, 1995; Craig, 1997).

Anxiety: Boys and girls who are victims report symptoms of anxiety, such as tension, fears and worries (Neary and Joseph, 1994; Slee, 1995).

What Role Do Peers Play?

Bullying usually involves more than the bully and victim-85% of bullying episodes occur in the context of a peer group (Atlas and Pepler, 1997; Craig and Pepler, 1997). Although 83% of students indicate that watching bullying makes them feel uncomfortable (Pepler et al., 1997), observations indicate that peers assume many roles in the bullying episode: joining in, cheering, passively watching and occasionally intervening.

  • Peers tend to give positive attention to the bully, rather than the victim. Their reinforcement of the bully may serve to maintain the bully's power over the victim and within the peer group. The bully may also affect the peers who are watching.
  • Peers who watch bullying may become excited and more likely to join in.
  • Compared to girls, boys are more likely to be actively drawn into bullying episodes (Craig and Pepler, 1997; Salmivalli et al., 1996).
  • In playground observations, peers intervened in significantly more episodes than did adults: 11% of episodes versus 4% (Craig and Pepler, 1997).

What Role Does the Family Play?

Children's behaviour patterns are first established at home. It is important that parents create a home environment that discourages bullying behaviour and supports children who are victimized.

  • Bullies often come from homes that are neglectful, hostile and that use harsh punishment (Olweus, 1993). Bullying may be learned by observing conflict between parents. Care needs to be taken by parents so that they do not model bullying for their children.
  • Fighting amongst siblings to solve problems can inadvertently support bullying when it is accepted as a normal part of growing up.
  • Victims often keep their problems a secret because they feel that they should handle bullying themselves. Often they worry about the bully's revenge or other children's disapproval, and/or they think adults can do little to help them (Garfalo et al., 1987; Olweus, 1991).
  • When they are courageous enough to tell, victims talk more often to parents than to teachers. As their children's most important advocates, parents must support their victimized children by working with the school to ensure their children's safety.

What Role Does the School Play?

Schools play an important role in shaping children's development. As with families, schools must strike a balance between clear, consistent discipline and warm, supportive relationships.

  • Principals: Principals set the tone for their schools. Bullying is reduced if the principal is committed to addressing bullying (Charach et al., 1995). Strategies used by principals include: consistent and formative consequences for bullies; an open-door policy for victims, with empathetic responses to their concerns; and working together with teachers on classroom management, and strategies for troubled children.
  • Student-Staff Relations: Bullying is less prevalent in schools where there are supportive relations among school staff, warm relations between staff and students, shared decision-making among staff and students, and where the adults do not model bullying for the students (Olweus, 1987).
  • School Policy: They key to reducing bullying in schools is a clear policy regarding bullying with consistently applied consequences (Olweus, 1991).
  • School Organization: Schools which emphasize academic success without respecting children's individual strengths and weaknesses tend to have more bullying (Tattum, 1982).
  • Playground Supervision: Students report that the majority of bullying occurs on the playground (Olweus, 1991; Pepler et al., 1997). Bullying occurs where there is little supervision or when large groups of children engage in rough-and-tumble play or competitive sports (Murphy et al., 1983).

What Role Does Broader Society Play?

Bullying problems may reflect Canada's cultural tolerance of aggression. Much of this tolerance is created through the popular media, including television, movies, music and video games. The consistent message presented by these media is that aggression is an effective solution to social problems. Aggressive children are more likely than non-aggressive children to be drawn to and imitate media violence (Huesmann et al., 1984).

Because Canada is culturally diverse, children may be bullied due to their race or ethnicity. Within schools, anti-racism and anti-sexism initiatives are often considered together with anti-bullying programs to promote positive social behaviour.

As children enter adolescence, bullying declines somewhat and sexual harassment, both between boys and girls and within same-gender groups, increases. Unwanted sexual harassment, including comments, looks, gestures, and name-calling, is reported by 48% of 12-year-old children (McMaster et al., 1997). Although equal numbers of boys and girls report experiencing this form of bullying, more boys than girls acknowledge that they have sexually harassed other students.

What Can We Do To Reduce Bullying?

To be effective, bullying interventions must focus beyond the aggressive child and the victim to include peers, school staff, parents and the broader community. Although there are substantial differences among schools, comprehensive anti-bullying initiatives can help reduce occurrences of bullying (Olweus, 1991; Pepler et al., 1996). The central feature of the intervention must be a clearly stated code of behaviour, such as respect for one another, and enforced by consistent and supportive follow-through. It takes considerable time to bring about both attitudinal and behavioural changes among the staff, students, and parents in the school community. The following sections provide a brief overview of components of an anti-bullying program.

  • School Staff: Motivation and support from the school staff are essential. All school staff should be included in educational sessions. Staff, together with parent and student representatives, should be responsible for updating the code of behaviour and its consequences. Teachers' attitudes are reflected in their behaviour. When adults recognize the problem of bullying and their central role in reducing it, they supervise actively and intervene to stop bullying.
  • Parents: Parent meetings and newsletters should inform parents about the problems of bullying. Parents should talk to their children about bullying and be aware of signs of potential victimization. Communication between parents and the school is essential, as parents are often the first to know that their children are being victimized.
  • Peers: Peers play a critical role in bullying. Interventions must aim to change attitudes, behaviours and norms around bullying for all children in a school. Under teachers' guidance, students can recognize the problem of bullying and their potential contributions. With teachers' support, they can develop strategies for intervening themselves, or seeking adult assistance to stop bullying. Promoting attitudes in the peer group which support empathy for the victim and condemn aggression will reduce bullying.
  • Bullies and Victims: Children involved as bullies or victims require individual attention. Talks with bullies should emphasize that bullying is not acceptable and point out the consequences established in the code of behaviour. If a group of children is involved in bullying, the bully and bystanders are made to understand their role and responsibility. Talks with victims encourage them to speak up and confirm the school's intention to ensure that they are protected from further harassment. Talks with parents inform them of their children's difficulties and enlist their cooperation in disciplining bullying behaviour and/or monitoring for further occurrences of bullying or victimization.


This review is not a comprehensive description of all factors related to bullying and victimization, but it does attempt to capture those most frequently addressed in the literature. Children involved in bullying, whether as bullies or victims, may have negative attitudes, poor social skills and emotional difficulties which begin at home. These problems are transferred to the school and peer contexts, where they may be reinforced. The development of antisocial behaviour problems depends on the interaction of individual characteristics and exposure to risk factors at critical developmental periods.

The National Strategy on Community Safety and Crime Prevention supports community initiatives that strive to create better opportunities for children. High-quality and consistent nurturing, combined with a secure, physically and emotionally safe environment through childhood will improve each child's prospects of success in life and make it less likely that they will later be victimized or become offenders. Programs that teach children resilience, empathy and social skills can help protect children from negative experiences.

Interventions for the issue of bullying should extend to all those involved: bullies, victims, peers, school staff, parents, and the broader community. We all have a role to play in declaring bullying is not a rite of passage for Canadian children.

This fact sheet was developed by the National Strategy on Community Safety and Crime Prevention in cooperation with Debra J. Pepler of the LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence and Conflict Resolution and Department of Psychology, York University, and Wendy M. Craig of the Department of Psychology, Queen's University.


Atlas, R., and Pepler, D. (1997). Observations of bullying in the classroom. LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence and Conflict Resolution, York University, Submitted for publication.

Bentley, K.M., and Li, A. (1995). "Bully and victim problems in elementary schools and students' beliefs about aggression." Canadian journal of School Psychology, 11, 153-165.

Besag, V.E. (1989). Bullies and victims in schools. A guide to understanding and management. England: Open University Press.

Boulton, M.J., and Underwood, K. (1992). "Bully/ victim problems among middle school children." British journal of Educational Psychology, 62, 73-87.

Charach, A., Pepler, D., and Ziegler, S. (1995). "Bullying at School: A Canadian perspective." Education Canada, 35, 12-18.

Craig, W. (1997). "The relationship among aggression types, depression, and anxiety in bullies, victims, and bully/victims." Personality and Individual Differences, in press.

Craig, W., and Pepler, D. (1997). Naturalistic observations of bullying and victimization on the playground. LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence and Conflict Resolution, York University. Unpublished report.

Craig, W.M., and Pepler, D.J. (1995). "Aggression and victimization: Are they related?" Paper presented at the Biennial Meeting of the Society for Research on Child Development, Indianapolis, March 1995.

Cunningham, C.E. (1997). The effects of primary division, student-mediated conflict resolution programs on playground aggression. Department of Psychology, Chedoke-McMaster Hospitals, Hamilton, Ontario L8N 3Z5.

Farrington, D. P. (1993). "Understanding and preventing bullying." In M. Tonry (ed.), Crime and Justice, 17, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Fine, E.S., Lacey, A., and Baer, J. (1995). Children as Peacemakers. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann.

Garfalo, J., Siegel, L., and Laub, M. (1987). "School-related victimization among adolescents: An analysis of National Crime Survey narratives." Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 3, 321-337.

Huesmann, L.R., Lagerspetz, K., and Eron, L.D. (1984). "Intervening variables in the TV violence-aggression relation: Evidence from two countries." Developmental Psychology, 20, 746-775.

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Maines, B., and Robinson, G. (1992). The No Blame Approach. Bristol: Lame Duck Publishing.

McMaster, L., Connolly, J., Craig, W., and Pepler, D. (1997). "Sexual harassment and dating violence among early adolescents." Paper presented at the Biennial Meetings of the Society for Research in Child Development, Washington, D.C., March 1997.

Murphy, H.A., Hutchinson, J.M., and Bailey, J.S. (1983). "Behavioral school psychology goes outdoors: The effect of organized games on playground aggression." Journal of Applied Behavioral Analyses, 16, 29-35.

Neary, A., and Joseph, S. (1994). "Peer victimization and its relationship to self-concept and depression among schoolgirls." Personality and Individual Differences, 16,183-186.

Olweus, D. (1993) Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do. Oxford: Blackwell.

Olweus, D. (1991). "Bully/victim problems among school children: Some basic facts and effects of a school-based intervention program." In D. Pepler and K. Rubin (eds.), The Development and Treatment of Childhood Aggression, Hillsdale, 411-448.

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Pepler, D.J., Craig, W.M., Ziegler, S., and Charach, A. (1993). "A school-based antibullying intervention: Preliminary evaluation." In D. Tattum (ed.), Understanding and managing bullying. Oxford: Heinemann Books, 76-91

Pepler, D.J., Craig, W., Ziegler, S., and Charach, A. (1994). "An Evaluation of an Anti-Bullying Intervention in Toronto Schools. "Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health, 13, 95-100.

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Pepler, D.J., Craig, W., O'Connell, R, Connolly, J., Atlas, R., Sedigdeilami, F., Smith, C., and Kent, D. (1997). "Prevalence of bullying and victimization among Canadian elementary and middle school children." Manuscript in preparation.

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Public Legal Education and Information Service of New Brunswick, 2001, Let's Stop Bullying! A Guide for Parents and Other Adults.

Salmivalli, C. Lagerspetz, K., Bjorkqvist, K., Osterman, K., and Kaukiainen, A. (1996). "Bullying as a group process: Participant roles and their relation to social status within the group." Aggressive Behavior, 22,1-15.

Slee, P. (1995). "Peer victimization and its relationship to depression among Australian primary school students." Personality and Individual Differences, 18, 57-62.

Smith, P.K. and Sharpe, S. (1994). Tackling Bullying in Your School: A Practical Handbook for Teachers. London: Routledge.

Stephenson, P,. and Smith, D. (1989). "Bullying in two English comprehensive schools. " In E. Roland and E. Munthe (eds.), Bullying: An International Perspective. London: Fulton.

Straus, M.A., Gelles, RJ., and Steinmetz, S.K. (1981). Behind closed doors: Violence in the American family. Garden City, N.Y: Anchor Books.

Tattum, D. (1982). Disruptive Behaviour in Schools. John Wiley.


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