TORONTO - A report from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has found girls in Ontario are nearly twice as likely to be victims of cyber-bullying than boys.
The finding marks the first time the centre asked Ontario students about cyber-bullying in 35 years of surveying youth about their mental health and well-being — and one in five students said they were victimized online.
That broke down to 28 per cent of girls surveyed who identified themselves as victims of cyber-bullying, compared to 15 per cent of boys.
The report released Tuesday also found that girls are more likely than boys to be bullied in school.
"What's changed is who's doing it to whom and the girls are reporting more of it than the boys are," said Dr. David Wolfe, a lead researcher on the report who is CAMH's Chair in Children's Mental Health.
"It appears that boys are decreasing it. Maybe they're getting a new message about it, but girls are picking up the slack."
Researchers surveyed 9,288 students from Grades 7 through 12 in 181 schools across Ontario between October and June of last year.
They found that 29 per cent of students in Ontario — estimated at 288,000 adolescents — are affected by bullying. Of that figure, more girls reported being bullied at school and online.
"Girls bully with their social relationships and boys tend to do it more one on one and with more intimidation," said Wolfe, who also teaches at the University of Toronto.
"That's possibly why the cyber-bullying is increasing for girls, because it's easy for them to spread rumours and to do the same things that they were doing before, but even on a bigger scale."
When surveyed about their time spent at school, 31 per cent of girls reported being victimized, compared to 26 per cent of boys.
Those analysing the report said the numbers could shed new light on understanding bullying and measures to combat it.
"I suspect that the anti-bullying programs have been largely focused on boys, because that's what we knew about bullying," said Wolfe.
"But we've forgotten what girls need in this process and they're not totally innocent in this respect either."
Annie Kidder, executive director of the Toronto-based group People for Education, said the results of the report illustrated the differences in bullying between genders.
"I think there is quite a bit of evidence that girls bully differently than boys bully," she said. "Sometimes it's hard for girls to even understand that what they are doing is bullying."
Kidder said there is a need for different approaches to bullying based on highly visible cases in the classroom and less visible incidences online.
"That kind of bullying can even be embarrassing to talk about," she said of cyber-bullying. "That's why it's important to have studies like this and why it's important to have the legislation, because it recognizes all forms of bullying."
The Accepting Schools Act, which passed last month in the Ontario legislature and will come to schools in September, gives school administrators and teachers an opportunity to address not only victims of bullying, but the bullies themselves.
Some of the new policies included establishing a yearly anti-bullying awareness week, hiring special co-ordinators and ensuring that school principals report all incidents to board superintendents.
Dr. Claire Crooks, a clinical psychologist and associate director of the CAMH Centre for Prevention Science, said that it's important to ensure schools are addressing the root of the problem.
"The last several legislative shifts have been all about moving toward a whole school approach," she said.
"People have really stopped thinking about bullying as one specific problem behaviour ... and recognize that we have to have a much more comprehensive approach."
She added that previous legislation ensured schools had a bullying prevention program, but this could simply mean a single assembly or guest speaker, or having students wear certain colours to school to promote bullying prevention.
"The problem is that there's always a gap between what it says on paper and what actually happens in schools," she said.
"The legislation is just paper and what needs to happen is the training and all of these things to actually make it work."
If They're Happy And They Know It
From an early age, we teach children to identify and organize objects: A is for apple, B is for ball and so it goes. And we should also teach them to identify their emotions: "You must be happy the sun is shining, we can go to the playground." Or, conversely, "Maybe you are disappointed it's raining and we can't visit the park." In this way, the dialogue begins, as does the ability to take another's perspective. Kids can only talk about their feelings if we give them the vocabulary; so show them how and give them permission to express them.
Talking To The Boys
Parents sometimes don't give their sons the tools they need to properly express their feelings. Child psychologist Dan Kindlon, who co-authored Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, told us parents -- and society -- often protect boys from having to do the emotional work that will help them become whole people. He shared the story of a mother and daughter coming across a little boy crying in the park. When the daughter asks why the boy is crying, the mom helps her speculate. "Maybe he's lost." "Maybe he hurt himself." A mother with a son, however, may tell her son not to worry about the crying child. An encounter with a curt waiter at a restaurant might provide more food for thought: "Why do you suppose he's so angry?", parents could ask. Boys don't need special training, Kindlon says, they need opportunities to show off their natural capacity for caring for pets, siblings, grandparents, elderly neighbors and others in the neighbourhood.
Express Your Feelings
Parents can also show their children how to express their feelings by doing it themselves. Start by sharing the highs and lows in your day. If you are facing a moral dilemma, talk about it with your kids. They don't need to know every detail to try to get the gist. If you make a mistake, apologize. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it shows kids how it's done. As Mary Gordon, the famed founder of <a href="rootsofempathy.org" target="_hplink">Roots of Empathy</a>, an award-winning organization that offers empathy-based programming for children in their classrooms, told us: attentive, loving and empathetic parents are the best role models for children. Gordon should know. Independent studies have shown her program's graduates are more socially sensitive, less aggressive and more likely to challenge injustice than other youngsters.
How Would You Feel If...?
It's a question that's perfect for every occasion. Ask kids to put themselves in someone else's shoes -- happy or sad. From the playground to the grocery store to the living-room sofa, our day-to-days are filled with moments that could be considered from someone else's perspective. At the park, for example, a power struggle at the swing-set could evolve into a lesson in sharing and perspective taking: "How would you feel if you weren't allowed a turn?" A bedtime story or children's movie that ends happily-ever-after might merit a follow up: "What do you think you would have done in that situation?" It's a lesson some rather accomplished people have learned. In his video introduction at the Democratic Convention in August 2008, U.S. President Barack Obama spoke of the only time he saw his mother angry. It was upon witnessing an act of bullying on someone who appeared to be different. "She'd said to me, 'Imagine standing in that person's shoes. How would that make you feel?' That simple idea, I'm not sure I always understood it as a kid, but it stayed with me."