Get bullies by the horns

An article published in the Oct. 29 edition of the Globe and Mail focused on different methods schools can use to combat bullying.

The article suggested that the majority of schools are failing to effectively combat bullying, relying on black-and-white understandings and punitive zero-tolerance policies. Some common strategies target students who aren’t likely to bully anyway. Others don’t consider the type of bullying in question, and thus fail to address situations effectively. School administrators

tend to use measures that sound good, failing to take into account up-to-date strategies and research.

While it’s important to acknowledge that bullying will never disappear completely, it’s crucial that schools take appropriate action. While bullies sometimes “grow out of” their behaviour, the consequences for their targets can be long-lasting and serious—consider the recent wave of suicides in the US motivated by homophobic bullying.

Administrators must adopt a strategy that emphasizes that bullying behaviour is unacceptable, not something to be laughed at. This behaviour is a form of abuse and should be taken seriously. When children are aware that bullying is taken seriously, they will be less likely to engage in bullying behaviour.

This also helps overcome one of the major obstacles of targeting bullying behaviour: getting students to report it. Children who don’t report bullying promptly can’t benefit from the support a school environment is supposed to offer.

Administrators also need to be clear about what constitutes bullying, as much for students’ benefit as their own. School officials need to recognize that bullying can range from physical attacks to taunting and rumours, and be prepared to deal with each incident as it arises. Schools should also try and provide outlets for students that discourage scenarios where bullying could arise. Providing areas where students can spend recess and lunch periods without being isolated by their peers helps insulate them from hostile behaviour.

School administrators also need to be ready to tackle problems outside of the school environment. Bullying often continues outside of school property, and teachers need to make it clear to students that they have the authority to deal with problems that happen outside of the classroom.

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