Expert Q&A on bullying prevention

Social Sciences

Image provided courtesy of CKNW Orphans' Fund for Pink Shirt Day 2018

As people in communities across BC wear pink on Feb. 28 for Pink Shirt Day to raise awareness about bullying prevention, University of Victoria psychologist Bonnie Leadbeater says children are still being victimized by their peers.

Leadbeater is the lead evaluator for the "WITS” (Walk away-Ignore-Talk it out-Seek help) programs developed through a community-university partnership to prevent peer victimization and bullying. WITS is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. 

Leadbeater is also an expert in mental health of children and adolescents and the role of peer victimization in the development of depression and problem behaviors.

Q: How has bullying changed over the last 20 years?

A: Research suggests bullying has declined but the numbers of children reporting being victimized by their peers has not. Also, the use of the term bullying has been used in relation to all types of peer conflict. It used to mean repeated victimization involving a power imbalance. It is also rarely just a two-person problem and the social roles of bystanders or people who can help to prevent or who support bullying are important to recognize.

Bullying through the use of cyber technology (cyber-bullying) is a concern that has developed in the last decade and is still not entirely resolved.

Q: Describe what strategies work and remain a constant?

A: Creating environments that enhance conflict resolution and caring and helping behaviors reduces bullying. The WITS program have contributed to reductions in bullying and victimization in Canada by changing school, community and family environments. Bullying can stop when adults believe their children’s reports of victimization and help them to solve the problem.

What does not typically work to reduce bullying is the approach of “zero tolerance” and punishment. Also working to increase social skills or empathy, without clearly addressing bullying and victimization, may not help.

Q: What specific material has WITS developed to address bullying in high schools?

A: Bullying, particularly in high school, is most likely to target individuals who are overweight and individuals from sexual minority groups or those who have some other “difference.” WITS has produced materials on ways to build more inclusive communities including adult modeling and opportunities for youth to work together in diverse groups on common goals and projects.


 Anti-Bullying Day as an idea originated in Nova Scotia in 2007 and, in 2008, as an inaugural event proclaimed by then Premier Gordon Campbell for the fourth Wednesday in February in BC. Since 2008, the CKNW Orphans’ Fund hosts an annual anti-bullying campaign, Pink Shirt Day, in Vancouver presented by Coast Capital Savings — with a focus on prevention and inclusion.


Media contacts

Bonnie Leadbeater (Dept. of Psychology) at 250-721-7523 or

Anne MacLaurin (Social Sciences Communications) at 250-217-4259 or

In this story

Keywords: bullying, psychology, youth, expert

People: Bonnie Leadbeater

Related stories