Efforts to combat school-aged bullying in Canada may be working – for boys.

Girls, on the other hand, are experiencing an increase in the amount they are bullied, and finding it more difficult to cope with everyday psychological stressors. Unfortunately, the gap in numbers continues to grow between boys and girls on all sorts of measures of health and well-being.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey, which sampled 9,288 students in grades 7 through 12 in Ontario, found that, increasingly, more girls than boys are facing school bullying (31% vs 26%). The survey also determined that the most prevalent form of bullying in schools is by verbal attack, with 25% of students reporting that they had been bullied in this manner. Additionally, 1 in 5 students who participated in the survey reported that they had been bullied over the internet in the past 12 months, and girls were nearly twice as likely as boys to be bullied in this way (28% vs. 15%).

So why is it that boys are bullying less and girls are bullying and getting bullied more? It has been suggested that because girls tend to engage in more verbal and relational bullying, that texting and social networking allows them to bully via relational aggression on a bigger scale. Another consideration is that many bullying prevention programs have focused on preventing the bullying style most commonly used by boys, that is — one-on-one, physically aggressive bullying. But, according to the survey, bullying isn’t the only thing that has become increasingly bad for girls.

In terms of psychological health, girls are also worse off than boys. Almost half, that is, 43% of girls surveyed reported experiencing psychological distress (defined by the survey as depression, anxiety, or social dysfunction), whereas the rate for males was 24%. Girls, more so than boys, report having poor body image with 31% believing today that they are too fat, which is a significant increase from their counterparts in 2001, of which 24% were dissatisfied with their weight.

Finally, the most common symptoms of psychological distress, as reported by the students were:

  • Feeling of constantly being under stress (41%)
  • Losing sleep because of worrying (30%)
  • Feeling unhappy and depressed (27%)

With pressure from parents, teachers, and coaches, etc., to achieve and succeed from a young age, it is not surprising that the stress levels of Canada’s children are rising. But, the levels of reported psychological distress experienced by girls is nearly double that of boys. Factors such as the increased levels of bullying experienced, more relational bullying through technological means, and access to media that purports a certain body image as being ideal are possible contributors to this dramatic split in distress levels between boys and girls.

It is important to recognize these differences, so that it is possible to work towards easing the psychological distress of young girls, and reducing the high rates of bullying, in school, and online, that they are experiencing. So, we are left with the question, what approaches can be taken to combat the issues that Canadian girls are facing?


Article courtesy BC Council for the Family
by Cara Hykawy


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