Confronting the issue of bullying

Once relegated to playgrounds, cafeterias and the walk home, bullying has turned into a much more persistent problem than it ever was before. In particular, the Internet and the increased use of mobile phones by younger age groups have dramatically changed the bullying landscape, making it practically impossible for children to escape the misery and shame caused by bullies.Research indicates that 34 percent of Canadian students in Grades 7 to 11 report being bullied within the current school year, and 27 percent of those students have been bullied over the Internet.

Recently, the news has been rife with unsettling stories of students bullied—physically, verbally, or emotionally—for race, socioeconomic status or sexual orientation at an almost epidemic rate. Parents of some recent suicide victims have come forward in the media, as well, citing relentless bullying as the cause of, or a major contributor to, their child’s turmoil.

Experts have encouraged parents to become adept at monitoring the online activities of their children and building self-esteem through positive relationships outside of school in hopes of preventing negative behaviour. At the same time, many schools throughout the country have implemented strict anti-bullying rules and cell phone bans, restricted Internet access and increased adult supervision as means of preventing bullying on school property. But is that enough?

Consider one recent study that found while 70 percent of teachers believed they intervene “almost always” in bullying situations, only 25 percent of students agreed with this assessment. While this statistic is American, it highlights a problem that is also relevant in Canada: the school and the students aren’t on the same page.

Protect your students and your staff. Take a stand today to further prevent bullying in your school:

  1. Put your feelers out. Cues from hall monitors, counselors and detention halls are often the most obvious indicators of bullying in your school. But in the case of cyberbullying especially, there’s often more going on than what can be seen or heard in the hallways. Administer an anonymous student questionnaire to assess the nature, extent and location of any bullying incidences in your school and attempt to gauge students’ overall sense of safety.
  2. Conduct a situation analysis. Assess your school’s current prevention and intervention programs. Are there programs in place? What efforts are being taken to measure the effectiveness of these programs? Are they working? Could they be improved upon? Some schools have found the bullying problem to be too large to tackle on their own—consider working with outside anti-bullying programs and experts, like PREVNet, if need be.
  3. Have a conversation. Talk with staff members about their perceptions of bullying at your school and join forces with the parent-teacher association to solicit parent feedback and prevention ideas. A variety of tools and resources already exist, such as those from Public Safety Canada’s Bullying Prevention Online Resources, to educate administrators and parents about bullying. Provide parents with tip sheets and hand outs, packaged in a folder or an Urban Backpack.
  4. Form a bullying prevention coordinating committee. Recruit school administrators, educators, parents and students to explore the problem of bullying in your school while having ongoing conversations that lead to solutions.
  5. Develop clear rules and sanctions. Post and distribute these rules and discuss them at all-school rallies or meetings with students, at meetings with staff and educators and at conferences or special town-hall style sessions with parents. Strategically place banners or sandwich boards throughout the school imprinted with a student code of conduct or reminders to be respectful and appropriate.
  6. Develop strategies for positive reinforcement. Research suggests that positive attention and reinforcement, such as acknowledgement of a job well done or inclusive activities in the classroom, mitigate negative behaviour. Reward students with fun school spirit items like sport bottles or wristbands for teamwork and acknowledge those offering exceptional kindness or care to others.
  7. Use what you know. Leverage the information from school conversations and anonymous questionnaires to identify areas in the school that are “hot spots” for bullying. Then, ramp up the presence of hall monitors in these areas.
  8. Keep it confidential. Establish a reporting system for students that allows for them to come forward as victims and document incidents of bullying without fear of “tattling” and any subsequent retaliation.
  9. Handle incidences of bullying receptively and swiftly. Reports of bullying should be investigated and resolved as soon as possible. Doing so lets the students know that the staff cares and will not allow anyone to be mistreated.
  10. Ensure protection of victims. One of the most common reasons that victims of bullying choose not to report their harassers is fear of retaliation. Allowing for anonymous reporting helps, but your school can consider additional options of protection as well—changing the location of lockers or cubbies or altering student schedules, while extreme, may be necessary and appreciated in dire circumstances.

We all care deeply for our students—for their success and their safety. Take a stand against bullying today and implement anti-bullying programs or tactics, in addition to existing rules, in your school.

“All About Bullying.” Stop Bullying Now! Web. 19 Oct. 2010.

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