Bullying isn’t always obvious.

I appreciate that that is not a snappy, feel-good headline.

There’s a lot going on in the social lives of kids these days and not all of it’s pretty. Bullying is on the rise. Does your kid need the escape?

Do they know they are being bullied?

Attending public school as a kid meant that I became very familiar with the anti-bullying campaigns aimed at stopping kids from being mean to each other. 

Don’t hit. Don’t throw kids down or kick. Don’t punch, shove in lockers, trap or push another kid around on the playground. 

The posters and video clips all showed large, menacing older kids (always boys) physically handling a younger, smaller, kid. 

The message was the same: Bullying causes physical hurt and requires physical proof. If you aren’t scared to walk the halls, you aren’t being bullied. Got it. 

As a young girl, I never saw anyone ever being shoved into a locker or even threatened on the playground.

I started to wonder, is bullying really a thing? Or just something – like quicksand – that we see on screen but turns out is really not as frequent an issue as made out to be?

Clearly these anti-bullying message only applied to big scary boys who should learn not to hit. Maybe if they read the posters more clearly they would be nicer. What a great solution…

So when my friends subtly made fun of me or my ideas, when I was teased or mocked by them “in humour”, when I was “jokingly” excluded by others or my appearance was “helpfully” critiqued, I thought, “well these are my friends. They care about me. They must have a point. I’m just not as good as them and I should try harder”. 

I wasn’t thrown to the ground on the school yard or given a swirly in the washroom. I didn’t feel overtly threatened or physically intimidated. So how could it be that over the years as I moved from elementary, to middle, to high school, my self-esteem deteriorated to the point of non-existence? Why did I struggle to trust myself or feel safe around other people? And why, as an adult, did I start to accept toxic “love” (gaslighting, belittling, blame) as a “normal” part of a relationship?

What about the other kids who were suffering silently like me not realizing that what was happening was bullying. We now know that bullying truly is this insidious: it happens in almost every social interaction to the point it can be hard to tell what healthy social interactions are supposed to feel like.

Bullying isn’t what you see in the movies. It is a relationship issue. 

If your kid doesn’t realize that how they are being treated is harmful, they may not seek the interventions needed to ensure they develop strong self-worth and healthy relationships in life. 

Is your kid being bullied? Read on to find out. 

Have you ever felt patronized?

Have you ever been made to feel not good enough? 

Not stylish, or attractive, or put together enough? 

Have you ever had someone call you crazy or emotional or sensitive?

Have your ideas or suggestions been dismissed or ridiculed?

Were you ever jokingly teased about a choice you made, a product you bought, an outfit you wore, or something simple like a decor choice?

Are you compared to others around you then told, when you express hurt or upset, that they are just “trying to help”?

Have you ever felt a sense that you are walking on eggshells around people? Even people that you are supposedly close with and may even call a good friend?

Do you feel confused as to how you can have so much fun with someone yet they also make you feel like absolute crap about yourself?

Are you starting to question whether you are good enough?

This is bullying. 

Sadly, many of us adults experience these types of relationships. However, as adults, we have the life experience to know that when something doesn’t feel right and we don’t feel good around our friends, that maybe the relationships aren’t healthy. 

Tweens and teens do not have the same social radar. 

An adult can say “Wait a minute, this isn’t about me at all. This person is trying to make me feel bad for whatever self-serving reason or power-trip”.

A tween or teen however, who is at the developmental stage of trying to figure out who they are and the impact they have on those around them in order to fit in, will think, “there is something wrong with me. If there wasn’t, people would treat me better. I need to change.” 

Bullying rates in Canada among tweens and teens are HIGHER than 2/3 of the rest of the world. 

Bullying leads to damaged self-esteem, poor self-worth, troublesome future relationships, and even decreased overall health and wellbeing. 

Given times are tough enough for the mental health of our youth, we can’t afford to wait any longer to stop bullying in its tracks. 

The first step is to identify whether your kid is at risk. Especially because they may not be able to identify it themselves. 

Is your kid: 

Struggling socially?
Becoming sullen or withdrawn?
Following the lead of a crowd or social “leader” instead of making decisions for themselves?
Trying desperately to fit in?
Changing their clothes, hair, habits to be “cooler” or more “accepted”?
Coming home crying?
Feeling depressed?
Always in some fight or drama with their friends?
Complaining about their friends but then are back to buddy buddy the very next day?
Talking poorly about themselves?
Making fun of themselves more or putting themselves down in front of others?
Teasing or talking poorly about other people?
Apologizing before they speak or ask a question?
Clearly in need of a hug???

Your kid may be experiencing bullying. 

Here’s what makes this complicated: Their friends may not be meaning to bully them. And your kid definitely may not want to speak up and risk you stepping in and embarrassing them or making it worse. 

That’s why we need to look at bullying as a relationship issue. 

Forget the poster showing a kid with an atomic wedgie. We need actual guidance on how parents, teachers, coaches and kids can work together to build better, stronger, healthier relational foundations. 

Here’s what we know: Bullying is harmful and it is happening right under our noses. Studies show that the more a kid is bullied, the more their self-esteem suffers. And that it is a vicious cycle; lower self-esteem is related to increased bullying. 

But you can stop the cycle. Rad on about how to help them rebuild their self-esteem after they’ve experienced bullying here: Improving your kid’s self-esteem after being bullied