Start bullying conversations early

Starting conversations with your children regarding bullying and keeping the lines of communication open with them are two important ways of preventing bullying, says Sandra Sellick, a board member with and former school principal.

“It’s hard to start the conversation about bullying when you suspect a child may already be being bullied,” she said. “So it’s better to start at a young age, perhaps with picture books on bullying.”

There are several books for different age groups regarding bullying and they are helpful because children can relate to them. The stories can be read aloud and followed up with discussion. Having these discussions is likely to lead to the children bringing up issues if they have them in the future, Sellick said.

As students age, they are less likely to discuss bullying with their parents and more likely to discuss it with peers. Having clear lines of communication is key so that parents are kept in the loop should any bullying arise. But if the discussion didn’t start at a young age, it’s never too late to start, according to Sellick.

Wendy Craig, founder of Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network (PREVNet), said that prevention starts with a culture that is open, understanding and will take action when it comes to bullying.

A major cultural issue that PREVNet has discovered is that very few youth seek out the help they require because they feel that adults aren’t very effective in helping them.
Craig, a psychology professor at Queen’s University, said it is critical for kids to report bullying when it happens, so this is a major area of concern. When youth do approach adults for help, it is very important for those adults to follow through and address their concerns effectively, she said.

Cyberbullying in particular is highly unreported, for the most part because youth think that if they report they are being bullied online, their parents will take away their access to social media, said Craig.

“If adults do take away access to social media, that only makes the youth become more isolated,” she said.

To help understand bullying better and to continue to develop policies to prevent it, PREVNet is currently working on a study that looks at the brain function of youth who have been bullied. It has found that when a youth is bullied, it activates the same part of the brain that is activated when there is physical pain in the body.

“Their brains are recognizing the pain of bullying with the pain of a physical injury,” she said.

As for youth who step in and support the victim or stand up to the bully, it was discovered the bullying has the same effect on their brain as it did to the victim. Those youth also believed they could make a difference in the situation, according to Craig.

“They have a deep empathy combined with the confidence that they would be able to help,” she said.

This article, written by Edmonton freelance writer Dave S. Clark was originally published by QMI Agency.