Skip to main content Skip to local navigation

Professor Debra Pepler: Bullying is not a rite of passage

Professor Debra Pepler: Bullying is not a rite of passage

In last week’s Globe and Mail, there was a disturbing story about how passengers failed to help a 79-year-old man who was being mugged on a Toronto subway car, despite his cries for help, wrote Wendy Craig of Queen's University, Tracy Vaillancourt of the University of Ottawa and Debra Pepler, Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology in York's Faculty of Health, in a letter to The Globe and Mail May 7:

Why does this inaction surprise and shock us? After all, it happens to about 10 per cent of children every day at school. About 30 per cent of students are involved as witnesses or as fellow aggressors. Peers, teachers and other adults rarely intervene to help a child who is being victimized – they either fail to recognize the problem or they turn a blind eye.

For Yusuf Hizel, the poor man on the subway, this was a terrible, random act. For children who are bullied at school, it is sanctioned violence. They know who is going to bully them, when it is going to happen and where it is going to happen. They experience the equivalent of a mugging every day.

Bullying is a significant social problem. More than 1,100,000 school-aged Canadian children are victimized by bullying at least once a week, and more than 550,000 school-aged children report bullying others at least once a week. Bullying isn’t a normal or expected part of childhood. It is a hurtful and aggressive act with lasting consequences.

Being bullied can lead to physical and mental health problems – and in extreme cases, suicide. At its core, bullying is a relationship problem. It is about an imbalance of power with repeated aggression, with harm as its intent. It takes many forms – social, verbal, physical, cyber. This is not a rite of passage.

Pepler's research has changed the way we think about bullying, aggression and other forms of violence, especially among marginalized and alienated young people. She has has edited four volumes in the past four years on understanding and addressing children’s aggression, bullying, and victimization. Pepler is a member of the LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence and Conflict Resolution and Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence (PREVNet), a Web site that provides bullying resources for children, educators and parents.

Posted by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, research communications officer, with files courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin.