Scott Watson is policy specialist at One Youth Canada for UNICEF Canada

Canadian children and youth face a myriad of complex and inter-related environmental factors that shape their opportunities and outcomes. One of the factors that unnecessarily limits their health and educational success is bullying. The number of kids who endure bullying in Canada is higher than in many peer countries, but it doesn’t have to be. As UNICEF Canada embarks on its annual support for bullying awareness and prevention campaigns including Pink Shirt Day, let’s focus on what it means to wear pink.

A lot of kids are bullied in Canada:

  • According to a 2015 report by the Government of Canada, approximately one in four Canadian youth reported being bullied as frequently as twice per week, and almost half of Canadian parents report having a child who has been a victim of bullying.
  • UNICEF’s report card on child wellbeing in wealthy countries found that Canada’s rate of bullying ranked 21 out of 29 countries, slightly higher than the average among industrialized nations.
  • According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, by the age of 25, approximately 20 per cent of Canadians will have developed mental illness. A 2018 study by the Canadian Medical Association Journal found a significant association between being bullied as a child and developing mental health problems as a teenager.

Why is the rate of bullying persistently high, after years of efforts to curb it?

Many Canadians worry that smart phones and related social media use are the main cause of bullying. While this is true for some kids, research tells us that technology has shifted the form of bullying more than increased the rate of bullying. There is mounting evidence that points to a bigger culprit: the impact of widening income and social inequality. UNICEF research is pointing to the role that inequality plays to create stress on children and families and disconnect people from each other, more than even technology does. Countries with wide inequality tend to have more violence and difficult relationships, including bullying.  It seems to work against the many good efforts underway in Canada to curb bullying through awareness, programs and policies.

UNICEF Canada staff on Pink Shirt Day

It’s more than just wearing pink

As we approach National Bullying Day, also known as Pink Shirt Day or Day of Pink, it is vital to keep spreading awareness – and kindness - to prevent bullying and create a safe environment for all our kids. So please, wear pink. But let’s also act pink:

  • Start a non-judgmental conversation with a child in your life. Ask them how they deal with mean acts online and in the community. Ask them how they spread kindness. Ask them if they need some help.
  • Ask your elected representatives what is next in their plans to deal with wide income inequality in Canada – such as increasing family income benefits.
  • Model kindness in your relationships with others – especially where there are power differences.

We can make Canada the healthiest place in the world for children and youth.

Photo by the Province of British Columbia via Flickr.