Three-quarters of Canadians say they were bullied at school. I’m one of them

Three-quarters of Canadians say they were bullied at school. I’m one of them

February 25, 2015 – By Shachi Kurl

My life in polling often includes being asked by journalists for my own views on the opinions that other Canadians offer up. I don’t usually want to go there, because my work is not about me, it’s about all of us – what we as a country are thinking and feeling.

But the poll we’ve done about bullying at school, the one in which three-in-four Canadians say it’s happened to them … that’s a little different, because I am the 75 per cent.

It’s not so easy to lay yourself bare; to shed the calm and cool veneer that years and hard work plasters over you. My experience with bullying is as common as everyone else’s, but unique to me. From grade five until I finished high school, I was teased, bullied and made quite miserable.

There were the super-fun nicknames, like “poohead”. There were the rotting lunches left in my desk; and who can forget the first day of grade 11 at a new school when someone, (on the first day!) managed to find my locker and paint “bitch” in white-out onto the door.

Turns out, according to Canadian parents of kids in school today, nearly half (46%) of those children are experiencing some version of what so many of us went through all those years ago. Seven-in-ten of us think bullying at school is worse today than it was when we were young.

And then there are the lingering effects. For a lot of Canadians, it really does get better. But when you’re 13 years old, and tomorrow is a school day, those words are cold comfort. Believe me, I’ve been there. In our poll, respondents who were bullied regularly, often, or continuously say they still think about it sometimes (37%) or that it’s had a serious and lasting impact on them (19%).

So what can I say about the impact? I guess the bullying, the ostracization, it made me tougher, grittier, strengthened my mettle. At the time, it also made me lonely, sullen, and perpetually uncertain. I wish I’d been able to meet a genuinely happier teenaged Shachi, a girl who cried less, who felt less resentful and more supported.

At school, my teachers knew what was going on, but they either didn’t want to get involved or didn’t know how. Our data indicates that among adults who say they were bullied as kids, only 30 per cent think their school knew about it. Among those who were bullied most frequently, schools being aware of the toxic behavior didn’t mean an end to their troubles. For more than half (56%), it made no difference either way; only 16 per cent say the bullying actually stopped.

On the upside, our survey results show students now aren’t having to wait as long for the torment to stop. When it comes to kids today, their parents say schools are much more likely to be aware (87%) of the bullying. Less than one-third say teachers and administrators knowing makes no difference; 28 per cent say it’s resolved the problem.

I take comfort in this, the same way I take comfort in the fact that most Canadians (72%) reject the “suck it up” mentality that bullying is just a part of growing up; and in the same way I am heartened by the 89 per cent who say “kids who bully others should be dealt with much more severely.”

People find their own peace. When I was at university, I ran into one of my tormentors. She apologized. I wasn’t ready to hear it then. Today I’m proud of her, of the strength she showed in walking up to me and saying “I’m sorry.”

I am grateful for the life that I have. But who knows what a happier, more optimistic and confident Shachi might have done, where she might have ended up? I’ll never know that girl, and ultimately, we are who we are. That’s what bullying took from me, and it’s what’s being taken from little boys and girls today. A life of possibilities, of “what ifs”?

The bad news is we perceive bullying to be more prolific than it was when we were young. The good news is we seem to be more aware and less tolerant of its destructive effects. We’re split on how effectively our schools are dealing with the problem, to be sure. But the conversations are more open; the subject less beguiling. Nine-in-ten of us acknowledge that bullying in today’s schools is a serious problem. We’re also realists: most of us think bullying will never really go away, no matter what we try. That’s sad, but at minimum, Canadians appear to be committed to continuing to fight the fight.

And that is one statistic that buoys this once-bullied girl.

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