Signs suggest bullying may rise beyond pre-pandemic levels, says Brock researcher

Many aspects of life have returned to their pre-pandemic state — and school bullying is sadly no exception, says Brock University researcher Tony Volk.

As people prepare to don their pink shirts Feb. 22 in recognition of anti-bullying awareness, the Brock University Child and Youth Studies Professor is drawing attention to findings that suggest a further increase in bullying may be on the horizon.

Since the fall, Volk and his team have been surveying almost 1,000 Grade 8 to 12 students in Niagara, hoping to learn more about bullying trends before and after the most impactful days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While data from around the world has shown bullying rates were down during COVID, Volk’s data shows they have since returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“This rebound suggests that bullying is a deeply-rooted behaviour that doesn’t depend on short-term cues,” says Volk, a member of the Brock Research on Aggression and Victimization Experiences (BRAVE), one of Canada’s largest teams of child and youth bullying experts.

While bullying has returned to pre-pandemic rates, incivility has further increased, he says. This form of misbehaviour, which is more reliant on short-term learning, includes actions such as not lining up, talking out of turn, eating during class and being rude.

“That’s important, because a lack of civility can lead to future bullying,” Volk says. “We are monitoring the data to see if this rise in incivility is temporary or if it will also increase bullying moving forward.”

While Volk has heard parents say they believe bullying has already gotten worse than it was prior to the pandemic, he says that’s likely because it was absent during those restrictive times, along with many social relationships — both good and bad.

Volk’s research suggests that another consequence of the pandemic is that girls are now emerging from those unprecedented times with elevated levels of mental health challenges, including anxiety and depression.

“It’s a small, but noticeable difference,” Volk says, adding it may be due in part to the pandemic’s increase of sometimes problematic online behaviour.

“It appears boys were able to maintain more positive online relationships than girls were,” he says. “That’s a pretty common trend, as boys more often get together to play a game online, while girls more often use their online time to gossip and compare.”

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