Pink Shirt Day, otherwise known as Anti-Bullying Day, is a day when people wear a pink shirt to symbolize the unified stand against bullying. It’s an idea that originated in Canada and has since spread across the country. It’s a positive step in teaching children and youth not only about the importance of kindness, but also about the risks and repercussions of bullying itself.
Yes, being kind is so important. And equally important is paying attention to bullying. In recent years, there has been more attention drawn to the issue of bullying and in particular, public shaming those who take part in bullying. While the intention of very publically calling our bullies on the internet or in person may be rooted in the attempt to do good, the reality is that shaming bullies doesn’t get right down to the root of the cause. Similar to ensuring that abusers have the supports and counseling they need, we strongly believe there is a root cause to almost all bullying. Rather than shaming or ostracizing bullies by segregating them from the rest of their classmates or communities, we should be looking behind closed doors and going deeper.
For years now, experts have thought there was a link between bullies and household backgrounds. One of the first studies of its kind can finally back this up with evidence. Researchers from the University of Washington and Indiana University discovered that children who were exposed to violence in the home engaged in higher levels of physical bullying than children who did not witness this behaviour at home. Overall, 34% of the children studied engaged in bullying. Perhaps surprising was the find that 73% also reported being the victim of some form of bullying in the previous year. And almost all – 97% - of those who were bullies themselves said they were also victims of bullying. These statistics show us that there is a strong circle of correlation between behaviours children are exposed to and their resulting actions. Just as violence in the home can lead to violence at school and then later in life, victims of bullying are much more likely to then bully someone else. Getting to the initial cause and delving deeper into the bullying is necessary to end the cycle. When victims of bullying as well as the bullies are provided with the appropriate supports and counseling, we can then work on stopping the continuation of bullying.
Stopping the cycle likely begins at home, as many experts believe. Parents and caregivers are childrens’ greatest role models. Behaviour children witness or hear is often replicated. If they see their dad hitting their mom or yelling insults, they are more likely to feel that is okay to do the same to others. We cannot undervalue the powerful impact that parents’ have on their children, which is why it is so important we focus on key issues like domestic abuse. This type of violence – whether physical, emotional, psychological, sexual or financial – has long-lasting repercussions not only for those who experience it firsthand but also for those who witness it – mainly the children in the family. Bullying others is often the first step, although there are many other devastating side effects, such as internalizing behaviours like childhood depression, sadness and withdrawn behaviour.
Another recent study looking at the connection between bullying and family violence interviewed young men between the ages of 18-35 who were seeking services at urban community centres. Many of those not only indicated that they had that come from troubled backgrounds – exposed to parental violence, physical abuse, or sexual abuse – but 25% also admitted to having been a school bully. This cycle then continues, leading to abuse within intimate relationships. In fact, this same study show that the men who bullied their classmates as children were four times as likely to have engaged in violence against a female partner in the past year. This evidence suggests that after male bullies leave school, they may turn to bullying their girlfriends or spouses.
It is imperative that when we talk about raising awareness for bullying, we also offer solutions for this important issue. Showing up to school or work with a pink shirt is a great start for raising this awareness, but we must go further. We must look into why the bullying is occurring in the first place. If there is evidence the child is experiencing or witnessing some sort of bullying or even abuse at home, this is where we can intervene and hopefully stop the behaviour from escalating or continuing into adulthood and future intimate relationships. Physicians and teachers need to be sensitive when a child displays behaviour issues, that the possibility of domestic abuse in the family exists. Certainly, we know that not all bullies come from troubled households or violent families, but we cannot discount the importance of ensuring there is no history of family violence.
Thankfully, intimate partner violence and family violence is something that is, albeit slowly, becoming a less taboo subject. There is awareness that abuse comes in many forms and is not always obvious. Healthcare professionals, educators, and professionals are taking part in domestic abuse training, learning the signs (many of which are often not so obvious) as well as how to support and help. When we can all work together with no judgement toward bullies or abusers, we can then begin to help everyone who needs it and offer caring guidance and support to create safer families and communities. Remember: In a world where you can be anything, be kind.