Many Canadians who were bullied as kids believe they would have benefited from having a volunteer adult mentor to help them cope. (iStock)
Half of Canadian adults polled say they were bullied as children or teenagers, according to survey results released by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada on Feb. 15.
Of the 1,034 adults surveyed:
- 62 per cent of those who were bullied believe they would have benefited from having a volunteer adult mentor to help them cope.
- A third of those bullied said they think the abuse they suffered had a lasting, harmful effect.
- 87 per cent of all respondents agreed that action to reduce bullying strengthens communities over time.
- 89 per cent of all respondents said bullying poses a serious threat to the long-term well-being of children and teens.
The survey results also hit a nerve with the CBC Community. Many readers sent us their own vivid memories of being mentally and physically abused while still in their formative years.
We would like to thank all the readers from across Canada who sent us their stories. We read and appreciated each one. Here are five stories that we selected.
Mark Goddard, 59.
Kelowna, British Columbia
"I leaped off my bike and ran home as fast as I could run." - Mark Goddard (iStock)
Mark Goddard, who grew up in Windsor, Ont. in the 1960s and 70s, was bullied in both elementary school and high school.
The bullying started when kids ganged up on him because he was smaller than they were.
"Someone would spot me in the school yard and yell [an expletive] and they would all run over and jump on me. I was at the bottom of the pile and as the pile of bullies grew, the weight would crush me to the point where I could not breathe," Goddard said.
He recalls being picked on by both boys and girls, who would hit him and humiliate him frequently.
As the bullying continued, he kept it a secret from the adults in his life. He didn't reach out for help, but gradually built up the nerve to try and fight back against an older and bigger female student who would steal things from him, hit him, and chase him if he ran away.
"Finally I could not take it any more, so one day I picked up a rock from the ground and threw it at her to try and scare her away. To my horror, the rock hit her directly in the mouth, breaking some of her front teeth."
He says he was shocked at the turn of events and ran home, where he was sure the police would find him and arrest him. Although the police never came, he learned that the girl's brother was threatening to kill him.
Mark had several close calls with the girl's brother, but always managed to outrun him.
"Once I did not spot him until the very last moment and he was almost upon me. I was on my bicycle. I leaped off my bike and ran home as fast as I could run . . . I was able to escape once more. But now he had my bicycle, which was the centre of my life at that time."
Such vivid memories remain fresh in Goddard's mind, who now has a son of his own. He remembers learning some basic self-defence - including how to do judo flips - that he used to ward off some of his bullies.
High school brought a different kind of bullying. Goddard says his self-confidence had plummeted as he dealt with severe acne and an unfashionable brush cut.
"I was so embarrassed to go to school, thinking everyone would think I was a monster."
Goddard was relieved when his own son graduated from high school unscathed. He was surprised to learn how many adults experienced bullying in their early years.
"You think it's just you. I guess it makes me feel a little better, but also sad . . . no child should have to suffer terror and fear."
Looking back, Goddard says he should have told an adult he trusted. He believes schools need better mechanisms to help kids report their bully's behaviour without repercussions.
Although he often thinks back to his difficult years, he is doing well in his new home in Kelowna - far from the deceptively picturesque Windsor neighbourhood where he grew up. He now works as a park ranger.
There is one positive thing that came out of his early years, he says.
"I'm a very compassionate person."
Gary Allen, 49.
Vancouver, British Columbia
"I started writing notes and forging my father's signature to excuse me from classes." - Gary Allen (iStock) Gary Allen was first targeted in grade seven, when students began calling him "Gary Fairy" and teasing him about being gay.
"I felt like these students were telling me I was something I didn't know I was," he said.
Although he felt that he was different, he was not expecting his classmates to be so cruel.
The bullying got worse at Killarney Secondary School in Vancouver, where some boys, who were in all his classes, began targeting him.
"Three male students that hung out together made it a point upon seeing me in the halls or in class to torment me both physically and verbally. They would push me and shove or, as one did, trip me in the halls."
He kept everything to himself, not wanting to tell his parents about what was happening at school.
"I started writing notes and forging my father's signature to excuse me from classes when the bullying got to be far too much to handle, or I just skipped classes. My marks were poor in most classes, not because I wasn't smart but because I constantly worried about what the bullies had in store for me next."
The bullies, who were in his cooking and art classes, would destroy everything he made. They put their fist in his food or spit on it. They threw clay balls at him in art class. They repeatedly threatened to kill him.
Allen still remembers his tormenters' faces and full names. He also remembers that his teacher, who was also a guidance counsellor, used to put on films and leave the class alone.
During one of those unsupervised classes, the bullying escalated to the point that Allen got up and said he was never coming back.
"I had a mental breakdown and was hospitalized for three months," he said. "I basically blew up."
Allen never returned to regular public schools, but later studied to become a long-term care aide at Camosun College in Victoria. He says he has been able to put the bad years to rest after two years of counselling.
He was surprised to find out how many other Canadians have been bullied.
"It makes me feel bad for anyone who had to go through any bullying."
His advice to kids is not to bottle it up and keep it all to themselves. He also believes that bullies who threaten to kill their peers should be reported to police.
"Talk to someone you can trust."
Carly Arkell, 30.
"One of the girls convinced my boyfriend to dump me. Then she started dating him and got him to spread lies about me." - Carly Arkell (iStock) Carly Arkell, who grew up in Calgary, was bullied by other girls from the age of nine until she was 15.
"I was emotionally and psychologically abused by my classmates, and even my close 'friends,'" she recalls.
Arkell says her so-called friends would prank call her on the phone, ostracize her and spread rumours about her.
In a mean-spirited reversal, they told a teacher that Arkell was the bully and accused her of doing to them what they actually did to her. They even cried.
"Girls can be incredibly vindictive . . . One of the girls convinced my boyfriend to dump me. Then she started dating him and got him to spread lies about me."
It got to the point that Arkell wanted to kill herself, but held on because she felt she could not hurt her loving parents.
"It wasn't until I was 19, and had moved to the other side of the country for university, that I finally felt comfortable in my own skin and truly happy for once."
Arkell, now a mother, was not surprised to learn that many Canadians have been victims of bullying. She worries about how the torment can spread these days on the internet and through social media.
"Bullying still affects me in my thirties. In spite of my career successes, I am easily shaken by aggressive people and my confidence is low at times. I still have difficulty standing up and being assertive."
She doesn't buy arguments that bullying is a part of growing up, or that it's not a big deal.
"The effects last a lifetime, and no one should ever be treated like that."
Arkell recommends a book she read called The Bully, The Bullied and The Bystander by Barbara Coloroso, who is critical of zero-tolerance policies that often backfire on the victims of bullying.
Shawn Lynch, 32
Saint John, New Brunswick
"I just bottled it all up inside me and stayed away from people." - Shawn Lynch (iStock) Shawn Lynch has never shared his story publicly before, but has been asked about his own experiences since starting an anti-bullying Facebook page.
When he was eight years old, Lynch was diagnosed with scoliosis - an abnormal curving of the spine.
"I was much shorter than kids my age, and my legs wouldn't bend out straight unless I forced them to. I tended to hunch over while standing still and one shoulder was lower than the other."
Lynch still remembers one bully who targeted him.
"Every day at recess I would try and hide indoors so he couldn't find me. He would throw rocks, call me names, punch, kick and shove me. He even knocked me off a six-foot climbing structure we had in the playground and punched me in the face on a school bus drive home."
Lynch's older brother stood up for him one day - ganging up on the bully with a group of older boys - but it didn't feel good to see someone else get beaten up.
Although he had some help from his older siblings and a kind principal, Lynch kept much of the pain inside.
"I just bottled it all up inside me and stayed away from people. Eventually I would turn to drugs as a way to help me escape what was going on."
Lynch especially remembers going out on a limb to ask a popular girl, who had been nice to him, out for a movie. It turns out she knew about his crush, and that her friends had encouraged her to lead him on then humiliate him publicly.
"I was devastated. I even thought of killing myself because I didn't want to have to go back to school and have to deal with it."
Lynch suffered depression and attempted suicide many times. He was medicated and hospitalized.
"The pills and the doctors were not magically going to erase the years of bullying, bottling up of negative emotions and hurt. If anyone was going to help me it was going to have to be myself."
Since then Lynch has become a passionate voice against bullying, and hopes that he can make even a small difference. In addition to his Facebook group, he has put together a petition, and written to politicians and educators calling for more positive school and work environments.
He has an appeal for aggressive people - young and old, in school and in the workplace - who are hurting those around them.
"I understand that you may not like everyone around you, but you do have to treat them with respect. Just because someone is different that doesn't mean that they are better or worse. Put yourself in other person's shoes. Would you want to be picked on, put down, or left out?"
Karen Anne, 47
"Usually the teasing lasted until the tears flowed and I would lash back." - Karen Anne (iStock) Karen, who asked that we not use her last name, had a suicide plan when she was just eight years old. She grew up a few blocks from Calgary's Glenmore Dam, where she planned to kill herself if the bullying became unbearable.
One of the worst incidents she remembers took place in the back seat of her band teacher's car as she returned from a competition with her peers. She thought she'd be safe, there, but she wasn't.
"Usually the teasing lasted until the tears flowed and I would lash back, at which point I was always scolded for acting inappropriately."
When Karen arrived home with puffy eyes, her mother intervened and later visited the school.
"Looking back, the teacher must have been defensive or guilty because I was kicked out of band. My parents grounded me for lying and I made up my first plan to disappear that day."
Karen endured years of bullying throughout elementary and junior high schools. Her tormenters focused on her weight and even teased her for playing a flute. She was pushed off her bike, robbed, lied to and ridiculed.
She needed therapy to heal after so many years of torment. She remembers her therapist saying it wasn't her fault, and that the only thing she had in common with her bullies were the four walls of the school.
Karen has since grown a thick skin. She is a working professional with "a wonderful family and treasured friends." But she does worry about kids who are bullied in the age of social media.
"It was nice to know that the bullying stopped at the front door. That kids still had some respect for the home and for the parents in it."
These days, she says, bullying permeates deeper into kids' lives; adults and parents must do much more to protect them.
And she calls on adults to evaluate their own behaviour. The nasty tone on internet comment boards, for example, are signs that even grown-ups need a reminder to be better, kinder people.
We would like to sincerely thank all those readers who came forward to share their personal stories with us. Please feel free to reflect on these stories and continue a respectful conversation below.
- A psychologist on kids who bully and what parents can do
- Depressed children targeted as bullies
- Can anything be done to stop cyberbullying?
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