Anti-bullying Week 2016 is starting in my community’s school boards. This is a very important time and it reflects a cause that I am extremely passionate about. So, as I prepare to educate the students at my children’s school for the second year in a row, I am dedicating time to share significant information for children, youth, parents, and educators about the severity of bullying and its implications on the victims, perpetrators, bystanders and communities.
The term “bullying” has gradually lost its true meaning and has been used to describe isolated incidents of abuse, violence and other inappropriate behaviours between peers. “Bullying” refers to a chronic victimization that is based on a perceived power imbalance and is meant to make the victim feel hurt and pain, both physically and emotionally. As much as we believe that bullies are confined to the schoolyard, it is a behaviour that presents itself across the lifespan, from children to the elderly.
Anti-bullying initiatives in the schools evolved from the research that focused on the long-term effects of bullying, such as increased anxiety and depression, low self-esteem, social isolation or withdrawal, and unhealthy relationships.
According to the statistics provided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (For more information, click on the following link: http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/cycp-cpcj/bull-inti/index-eng.htm):
- Canadian 13 year olds have the 9th highest rate of bullying compared to 35 other countries;
- 47% of Canadian parents have a child who has been bullied;
- Between 6 to 8% of victims avoid school due to bullying;
- 49.5% of middle and high school students in Toronto reported being cyberbullied and most did not report it
- 85% of bullying occurs in the presence of others
Similarly, in a study conducted by PrevNet.ca, 75% of university students reported being affected by bullying. (For more information, download the following pdf: Bullying Statistics – Prevnet.ca.
What does this all mean?
Many adults can acknowledge that bullying is something that seems to have been around forever. It is almost considered to be a normative rite of passage. However, we are now seeing bullying behaviours that extend past the schoolyard and into our children’s bedrooms through technology.
In my practice with youth and families, I have counselled many victims, as well as, individuals who admitted to bullying others. One thing I have learned about this experience is that everyone has a story. While the victims can recall and describe experiences of trauma and ongoing issues with trust, social anxiety and depression (to name a few), those who bully have also reflected on feelings of anger, loneliness and trauma. Throw in the dangers of social media and the result is a large population of young people who are experiencing an overwhelming amount of emotions but may not have the capacity or maturity to understand the permanency of their online and in-person behaviours.
However, since we have seen bullying and its many faces for so long, we focus on the same messages. Punish the bullying behaviours. Teach the victims about social skills and coping. Tell the victims to ignore the hurtful comments and actions of others. Encourage them to hug and shake hands. Yet, these messages are not being received. We have young children who are retaliating or defending themselves, who are now being told that they will also be suspended or expelled from their schools due to zero tolerance policy. Some are bullying other children in order to feel powerful or validated. And most, but not all, do not feel comfortable telling an adult about what is happening to them because of fear that the bullying will continue and possibly escalate.
Other lessons that may be more beneficial should encompass providing valuable skills to bullies, victims and bystanders. Not only is it important to educate young ones about what bullying can do to people, but it is also essential to teach them valuable skills and lessons on empowerment, empathy, responsibility, respect, self-esteem, kindness, compassion, and leadership. Teach them about friendship, acceptance, tolerance, recognizing their strengths, and resiliency. Remind both those who are victimized and those who are victimizing of their worth and value. Believe them when they say they are in pain instead of minimizing it by telling them that “it happens” and emphasizing the need to “get over it”. Encourage them to care about one another and be role models.
Love them. Embrace them. Tell them they matter. All of them.
There shouldn’t just be one week in a year to teach our young ones these important life lessons. We need to emphasize this at all times. Yet here we are. I am wishing everyone a successful and powerful Anti-Bullying Week.