From: Chapter 2, "About Aggression," in Acting Out (© 2007)
What you can do to discourage bullying
If you work or volunteer with young people in a school or other setting, you will likely need to confront the issue of bullying at some point. Consider creating a bullying prevention program; a good way to start is to form an anti-bullying committee with members representing different groups or stakeholders. For example, in a school setting, this committee could be made up of teachers, administrators, parents, caregivers and responsible students.
A good first task for this committee is to prepare an educational package that lays out what behaviours (physical, verbal or social) constitute bullying and makes clear that these behaviours are forms of aggression that harm others. Next, committee members could write a formal "Dignity for All" policy statement. Such a statement might declare, for example, that all young people, no matter their age, social background, culture, religion or spirituality, abilities, gender, sexual orientation or socio-economic situation, have an equal right to learn and participate in programs in a safe environment that is free of all forms of bullying. Finally, the committee can define a set of clear rules and procedures against bullying.
These rules and procedures should make it clear that young people who bully others will face specific consequences, and should outline what those consequences will be. They might include office detentions, meetings with parents, suspensions and, in extremely serious cases, police arrests. Consider including in the anti-bullying policy rules and procedures to deal with cyber-bullying, and specifying consequences even for behaviour that takes place off the school or organization's grounds. (The students who built the anti-Semitic website in Toronto mentioned above were expelled from their school as a result of their actions.)
Once a bullying prevention program has been put in place, the anti-bullying committee needs to make sure that all those who work at the organization are informed about it. This can be accomplished through meetings and written materials. In a school setting, teachers can use class time to discuss the subject of bullying, the "Dignity for All" policy statement and anti-bullying rules and procedures. Teachers, school administrators or members of the anti-bullying committee could also present details of the bullying prevention program at assemblies. In one Canadian city, members of the local police force routinely visit school classrooms and give video presentations on bullying. They inform the students that, in some instances, bullying consists of assault or harassment, both of which are criminal behaviours.
Bullying prevention programs only work when schools set up a system of supervision, involving staff and responsible students, to make sure that the program's rules and procedures are consistently enforced. Some programs focus on positively engaging young people who may be watching incidents of bullying: convincing the children or youth who see a bullying incident not only to stop themselves from joining in, but to intervene on behalf of the person who is being bullied. Young people should also be encouraged to report to adults any incidents of bullying they encounter, whether or not they are the ones being bullied.
It's useful for bullying prevention programs to also include discussions about the responsible and ethical use of the Internet. Young people should be informed, for example, that online bullying can be illegal: under the Criminal Code of Canada, it's a crime to communicate repeatedly with someone if your communication causes them to fear for their own safety or the safety of others. It's also a crime to post something on a website that is designed to insult a person or likely to injure a person's reputation by exposing him or her to hatred, contempt or ridicule. Young people should also be cautioned that cyberspace is not anonymous. In fact, every time they access the Internet, a traceable Internet Protocol address or electronic fingerprint is created.
Better informed young people will make better decisions about their social use of the Internet. Consider asking the young people in your organization to write online contracts that outline the ways in which they will and will not use digital technologies.
In the end, it is not visits by the police that will prevent bullying among young people, but a culture based on peacefulness, nurturing and caring. Children and youth need to develop their own moral code so they will consciously choose to behave ethically.
The ideas mentioned above form the core of a successful bullying prevention program. There are also other things your organization can do to help prevent bullying. You might suggest, for example, that your school's curriculum be adapted to include human relations education. This kind of education program fosters an appreciation of people of different social, cultural and religious backgrounds, and of different sexual orientations. Other supportive educational programs teach social, conflict-resolution and decision-making skills.
Parents and caregivers can also play an important role in preventing bullying, particularly by:
- discussing the subject openly at home
- modelling and praising respectful and empathetic behaviour toward others
- providing adequate supervision
- responding responsibly to any known incidents of bullying with fair consequences.
Families can also work together to establish their own "Dignity for All" policies. Schools can help parents and others in their communities by distributing up-to-date information about bullying and prevention strategies. Parents and others can also lobby local school board representatives and politicians to establish city- or town-wide bullying prevention programs.
Creating an effective bullying prevention program takes planning and effort, but the payoff is significant. Results can include:
- fewer incidents of bullying and harassment
- fewer conflicts
- less gang activity
- better school attendance
- increased student attachment to the school.
In Addressing aggressive behaviour:
Addressing "normal" aggression
Determining if a young person has a serious problem with aggression
Working with young people who have mental health problems that may include aggressive behaviour
- Disruptive behaviour disorders
- Oppositional defiant disorder
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder