Bullying & Harassment at Every Age and How To Handle It

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Were you bullied as a teenager? What about as an adult? Have you witnessed harassment? Chances are you answered yes to one of these questions. 

Bullying and harassment can affect you at any age. However, despite what society may lead us to believe, bullying is not a normal part of growing up. The problem with bullying is that it’s rampant, it’s not always easy to spot, and it’s on the rise. To reduce the impact of bullying, we must first understand what it is, where it comes from, how to spot it at any age, and what to do about it. 

November 20-26, 2022, is National Bullying Prevention Week in Canada. In honor of this week, I felt it was the perfect time to discuss bullying at every age, how to spot it, and what you can do to reduce bullying and harassment.

What are bullying and harassment?

Bullying is a form of behavior that intends to cause hurt, harm, or distress. Harassment is considered aggressive pressure or intimidation towards an individual. At their heart, bullying and harassment are born out of fear and inequality. One or more people in a perceived position of power will use aggression or other emotionally manipulative tactics to hold a position of power over another individual or group. 

Three key elements characterize bullying and harassment:
  • Unbalanced power dynamics
  • Harmful actions or words, either indirectly or directly
  • Repetitive behavior

Some examples of bullying include hitting, kicking, stealing, insulting, threatening, sexual harassment, gossiping, rumor spreading, ignoring, and cyberbullying. Cyberbullying can be even worse for the victim as the anonymous nature of online bullying can leave them even more frightened. 

Why do people bully?

People bully others about differences such as race, gender, religion, culture, orientation, and even fashion choices. It’s not always clear why people choose the people they choose to bully, but it’s almost always because someone is seeking to feel in control or more powerful. 

Research shows that bullies have some underlying commonalities.  
  • They have experienced periods of significant stress or trauma
  • They have low self-esteem
  • They have been bullied themselves
  • They were socialized to show aggression
  • They have a difficult home life
  • They lack access to education
  • They do not feel like they have a secure support system.

Bullying in School

When we think about bullying, many think of the grade school years. Estimates predict that 200 million children globally are victims of bullying. These numbers peak in middle school-aged children and begin to decline in highschool aged children (grades 10-12). Male youth are more commonly involved in physical forms of bullying, while female-identifying students typically employ verbal, social, and cyberbullying tactics. Non-binary and transgender youth experience both physical and verbal, social, and cyberbullying tactics.

Bullied children are often perceived as having different qualities than most of their peers, coupled with a lack of assertiveness. Children and youth experiencing bullying may appear withdrawn, anxious, or depressed. They may have trouble sleeping, do poorly in school or decline academically, and begin to believe that aggression and violence are the only answers. Helping your child with self-confidence, learning how to set boundaries and communicating when someone goes too far are the first steps in reducing the risk of your child being bullied. 

Bullying in the workplace

Workplace bullying is a significant issue. 30% of professionals claim to have experienced bullying at work, and one out of five has witnessed a co-worker being bullied. Workplace bullying and harassment negatively impact the mental well-being of the employee being bullied and harms workplace morale and productivity. Bullies can be supervisors, co-workers, and clients/customers.

Workplace bullying can be berating employees, lacking professional boundaries, spreading rumors, excluding people, or threatening individuals. Bullies may also embarrass or belittle individuals in front of employers, co-workers, and clients. Remember, bullying is not always blatant. Workplace bullying and harassment can be subtle, such as gaslighting

Many employees may be unaware that they are being bullied because this is not commonly discussed. Suppose they do recognize harassment and bullying in the workplace. In that case, they may be afraid to report it for fear of lack of support or even losing their job—especially if there is no dedicated department for dealing with bullying or if the bullying is coming from the employer or manager. 

What to do:

Bullying is not something that should be expected to “work itself out.” Having a clear bullying and harassment plan and procedure in place is crucial. Human resources and focused initiatives are necessary for workplace bullying and other forms of bullying among adults. For youth, adult intervention is required. 

Here are just some of the ways to reduce bullying:
  • Create a space where people feel safe coming forward to ask for help.
  • Build a relationship with your workplace team/students/youth in your life. Discuss steps they should take if they experience or witnesses bullying.
  • Talk to someone! Never go through bullying in silence.
  • Assure them that something can be done and develop a bullying and harassment plan that is public knowledge.
  • Believe the victim if they tell you they’re being bullied or have witnessed bullying. 
  • Run educational programs related to bullying prevention and available resources.
  • If you’re being bullied at work or online, keep records or copies of digital communication that show the bullying behavior.
  • Involve the entire community in bullying prevention.
  • Is the behavior a crime? Some actions are criminal offences, such as sexual harassment, hate speech, and cyberbullying. Report these events.

Are you looking for more resources?

If you or someone you know is being bullied, there are support lines to call. Bullying Canada is an excellent resource for youth. Bringing in guest speakers and running workshops if you’re an employer can help reduce workplace harassment and bullying. An outside source can also help you notice holes in your bullying prevention plan.

Do you want to empower and unite your team to prevent workplace bullying or harassment? I would love to speak with you about your company and team's professional and mental well-being goals. I work as a guest speaker with many organizations running workshops and providing educational talks. Get in touch with me today.

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