Stopping bullying requires support

The most successful way for schools to prevent bullying is by using a whole school approach, according to Wendy Craig, founder of Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network (PREVNet).

“The first thing we know is that the most effective way to prevent bullying is by the whole school approach, not just by dealing with individual students,” said Craig, a psychology professor at Queens University who has been researching bullying issues for the past 25 years. “Bullying education needs to involve the classrooms, individuals, parents and the community.”

She said community involvement is crucial, as bullying isn’t confined to schools. It happens on the way to and from school, at activities outside of school and online.

According to Craig, research that has been facilitated by PREVNet has found that a punitive response to bullying doesn’t work. Instead, it is more effective to help the individuals build relationship skills. For example, bullies often victimize others because of a need for a power imbalance.

“We need to create a way for those students to use that power in a positive way,” she said.

Sandra Sellick, a former school principal and current board member with StopABully.ca, said many schools in Canada have taken a progressive and proactive approach to anti-bullying, which usually starts on the first day of school addressing bullying in back to school assemblies and putting information in students’ agendas and course outlines.

Following up on that are lessons, classes, guest speakers and discussion sessions on bullying throughout the year.

“Fundamentally, the message has to be that bullying can’t be ignored,” she said. “The goal is to create a culture of non-bullying from the start.”

School programs often talk about the effects bullying has on its victims but also how bystanders to bullying can have such an impact.

“Bystanders can be very influential. If they do nothing, the perception of the victim is that they are part of the bullying,” she said, noting that if they do step in, they can be very successful in ending the bullying. Sellick said bystanders can either get help from a trusted adult or just by being there to support the victim.

PREVNet, which was founded eight years ago, was created to provide research into bullying and use that knowledge to create tools to help deal with the issue. PREVNet assisted Kids Help Phone, which was concerned with the number of calls they were receiving regarding bullying. PREVNet used their research and knowledge base to create a nation-wide training program for counsellors with Kids Help Phone.

PREVNet has worked with national and provincial bodies to help turn their research into tangible tools and programs, said Craig. They have researched the behaviours of bullies, victims and the peers that witness them and had some interesting findings.

“Eighty-five per cent of bullying happens in peer groups,” she said. “But for the most part peers tend not to intervene, even though when they do intervene they are highly successful at stopping the bullying,” Craig said.

Research has also found that peers often support the bully, whether it is through clapping and cheering or by making eye contact and focusing their attention on the bully. She said there needs to be a culture change so that these bystanders don’t support the bully but rather support the victim in a safe manner.

Another factor that makes bullying worse is the feeling of victimization and shame, according to Craig.

Over the last number of years, people have become more aware of bullying, largely because of the cyberbullying cases in the media, Craig said. That has caused the old notion that bullying was just “kids being kids” to fall out of favour. While there has been progress in reducing bullying, there is still a long way to go, she said.

Cases of severe, long-term bullying are on the decline, but occasional bullying has not decreased in Canada, a country that Craig said compares poorly on the world stage on this issue.

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