To Stop Bullying: A community Affair
Hundreds of West Hill students jumped and cheered as an energetic "Pinball" Clemons waved his way into their school auditorium to deliver his message against bullying.
by Denys Gigučre
Hundreds of West Hill students jumped and cheered enthusiastically as an energetic Michael "Pinball" Clemons waved his way into their school auditorium to deliver his message against bullying.The message centred on respect, responsibility and giving to others and the community.
"We have respect for others because we love ourselves," said Clemons to his wide-eyed audience of Grade 4 and 5 students. "Show me what a person has done for someone else and youll show me a great person."
Clemons and his teammates of the Toronto Argonauts visit schools like West Hill Collegiate in Toronto to talk to students about bullying and its consequences. Clemons was beaming, his love for the kids overflowing. And the kids gobbled up the message as they did the pizza afterwards raising their hands high for every question.
The players get personal with the students, talking about their own experiences, some of their voices quavering as they tell the students that what they are doing is a promise theyve made to a dear one lost in tragic circumstances.
The Argos community involvement against bullying is good news, because research on the issue shows that bullying is not a problem just between the victim and the bully, but involves families, the school and the whole community.
Bullying is a pervasive problem. It starts at an early age toddlers can exhibit aggressive behaviours akin to bullying and research shows that by 30 months boys and girls start to exhibit bullying behaviours that differ according to gender.
Recent statistics published in the Globe and Mail from a study conducted by Tanya Beran and Leslie Tutty of the University of Calgary show that half of the students surveyed in Grades 1 to 6 reported being physically or verbally bullied.
While a large number of children have had some experience of bullying, for 10 to 15 per cent of them, the effects of the experience may be more enduring, requiring in some cases long-term intervention.
Intolerance and Disrespect
Bullying is not just isolated incidents of bad behaviour. Bullying is repeated harassment or attacks perpetrated by an individual or a group who have contempt for others that they consider worthless or undeserving of respect.
Bullying is not about anger or conflictit is about power, intolerance and lack of empathy. The intent is to harm and put down a victim considered less powerful, less confident, shy and often isolated. Bullying can also be racially motivated or gender-related.
Bullying may be direct, with the aggressor attacking the victim physically or verbally, or indirect, often taking the form of gossip or ostracism. It can take the form of physical violence, taunts, threats, intimidation, manipulation, emotional violence, extortion of money or goods and exclusion from a group and it is based on a power imbalance.
Female bullies tend to use more indirect forms of bullying, zeroing in on emotional vulnerabilities. It is not rare, for example, for female students to arbitrarily exclude peers from their group or activities, or to spread rumours or encourage other students to reject a particular student. Female bullies are more likely to use emotional blackmail rather than physical intimidation to get what they want.
"We tolerate more physical aggression from boys at an early age than with girls," said McMaster University Assistant Professor Tracy Vaillancourt, explaining why in her opinion girls have developed different ways to bully. "Female bullying is more difficult to detect and address. It is underground.
"This type of bullying is not only more difficult to detect, its also harder to deal with," she said. "We dont fully recognize that this type of behaviour is problematic and can have serious consequences."
While the physical violence that boys often exhibit may be, by contrast, more readily identified and addressed, the more underground forms of bullying are still dangerous. And recent evidence suggests that male students are now also shifting towards indirect bullying.
Bullying has never been confined to the school environment. It finds fertile ground in schools, in parks, at the community centre, on the bus and elsewherein short, anywhere kids congregate. Zero-tolerance policies on physical violence and swift action about it in schools have had an unanticipated effect of diverting bullying into the community.
Bullying appears to be adapting to measures put in place against physical violence and has a new face, one that is not as easily identifiable. Cyberspace has become one new frontier where bullying has shown an amazing capacity to adapt and evolve.
"Cyber-bullying is the bullying of the 21st century," says Vaillancourt. "With the pressure put on not being physically aggressive, bullying has gone underground. Our challenge is to keep ahead of this shift."
Threatening text messages, breaking into e-mail accounts to spread malicious messages, spamming victims, creating mean-spirited web sites have all become ways for bullies to harass or exclude their victims.
Bullies, Victims and Bystanders
Bullies are aggressive. They may be quite self-confident, but they lack empathy for their victims. They feel a sense of entitlement and have little tolerance toward what is new or different. New students, immigrants or racial minorities may present ready targets.
Research also shows that bullies often come from homes where there is a lack of supervision, tolerance and respect.
In its publication Bullying: Information for Parents and Teachers, the Centre for Children and Families in the Justice System also states that "it is a myth that bullies are insecure beneath their bravado." Research indicates that their self esteem is generally average or above average.
An important fact that should be taken into account when dealing with bullies, however, is that often bullies are or have been victims themselves. Some research has found as many as 50 per cent have been bullied by their peers.
Most victims, however, are quiet and shy and shrink from aggression. Often, they are isolated students who have difficulty making friends and feel ashamed that theyre being bullied. They tend not to report the bullying to adults because they believe that adults cannot protect them adequately. Their isolation and reluctance to report the bullying makes victims ideal targets for repeated bullying.
Bystanders may be the most important group in the efforts against bullying. While some may encourage the bullyby joining in or simply tolerating the situation often bystanders feel for the victim but choose not to speak out for fear of becoming victims themselves.
"Fifty per cent of bullies are popular among their peers and are actually supported by their group of friends," said Vaillancourt. "As kids get older, their group of friends becomes increasingly important. Thats why we need to attend to the bullies and the victims, but also to their audience."
The victims of bullying may suffer from a range of problems from fear and anxiety to a lack of interest for school, low self-esteem and long-term emotional scars. In extreme cases, bullying has lead to suicidal thoughts and even to suicide.
Research shows that, for their part, bullies tend to become aggressive adults and run greater risks of getting involved in criminal behaviour. Theyre also at greater risk of being involved in behaviours like interpersonal violence, racial harassment and abuse that are also based on an imbalance of power.
While high-profile and tragic cases are regularly reported in the media, all bullying has consequences. Its impact is not limited to victims and aggressors, it can poison the entire school environment, affect families and spill over into the community.
What Schools Can Do
The very first thing schools can do to stop bullying is to take it seriously. Schools should have information for students, teachers and parents on the issue and establish clear guidelines for the classroom and the whole school environment. In fact, all adults working in the school should be aware about the boards policies on bullying and how to react in case of an incident.
Bullying is often a covert activity. It does not always happen in the open, so guidelines that deal with bullying should be broad enough to cover what happens on the way to and from school, what happens in the lunchroom as well as in the washrooms.
Supervision is key to prevent bullying. Although it may take additional time and resources to better supervise students, the effort will pay off in the long run with fewer bullying incidents and an increased interest in the schools activities. Schools also need to work with parents to increase their awareness and involve them as incidents arise.
One College member, former principal Suzanne Pierson, has found some success with a co-operative learning approach to the issue of bullyingusing drama to help students understand the dynamics of peer pressure and bullying.
Students began a discussion of a picture book Horace and Morris but Mostly Dolores. Then, in small groups, they prepared dramatic presentations, based on the story and worked with the teacher to define the criteria for evaluating the presentations. The groups presented their plays to each other and then, as a final step to a productive action plan, some of the groups were invited to present their skits to the whole school.
"I wanted the victims to practise standing up to the bullies in the safe environment of the drama class to prepare them for the reality they were experiencing daily," said Pierson. "Equally important, I wanted all students to practise resisting the peer pressure to join in and support bullying. If we could create a school culture where students felt comfortable saying to their peers No, bullying is wrong! we would be well on our way to eliminating the problem."
Pierson feels that co-operative learning capitalizes on the diversity of learners. "Students have the opportunity to acknowledge their own strengths and weakness and to appreciate the differences among peers."
Programs that reach beyond students and teachers add another layer of diversity to the mix of perspectives. The Toronto Argonauts program in the schools offers another example of the importance of an integral and far-reaching approach to the issue. Across Ontario, schools are taking part in projects to do just that. In Hamilton and Ottawa, for example, groups involving schools, the media and a range of community organizations are coming together to prevent bullying. As the idea goes it takes a village to raise a childso schools and teachers need not be alone in their efforts.
Teachers, parents, neighbours, peers and heroes all have important roles to play in saying "No" to bullying.
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