Canadians like to think of themselves as a polite and gentle lot. However, the World Health Organization ranked Canada a dismal 26th and 27th out of 35 countries on measures of bullying and victimization in youth. The social and cultural changes needed to improve on these statistics are the goals of national Bullying Awareness Week, Nov. 12 – 18.
A leading advocate for children’s wellbeing and the prevention of bullying is PREVnet – Promoting Relationships & Eliminating Violence Network, based out of Queen’s University in Kingston. PREVnet is a national network of leading researchers and organizations, working together to stop bullying in Canada and they are hosting a conference in Ottawa on Nov. 16 – 17 to provide further awareness about bullying prevalence and what can be done about the issue.
PREVnet research indicates that bullying affects people in three ways: the person being bullied; the person doing the bullying; and any person(s) watching. In all three instances, the individual can suffer adverse effects. Children who are bullied suffer more headaches and stomach problems, depression, low self-esteem and anxiety, and may have mental health problems that last until later in life.
Children who bully are more likely to use drugs and alcohol, engage in criminal activity and often persist with bullying behaviours in adulthood, such as workplace harassment, dating violence and other relationship abuses.
For those witnessing the bullying, which happens in about 85 per cent of instances, they learn and ‘normalize’ the negative use of power and aggression in relationships. Their watching also gives attention and social status to the bully making it more likely that the bullying behaviour will be repeated. Yet, the PREVnet research showed that when onlookers had the confidence and courage to intervene, the bullying ended within 10 seconds in the majority of instances.
A little awareness can go a long way in the prevention of bullying. For children being bullied, they need to report the bullying to their parents, teacher, coach or any other responsible adult who will intervene and ensure it stops. They should also stay close to adults or other kids who will stick up for them, stay in areas where they feel safe, and if bullied – fight back with words, not fists as this often escalates into physical violence. And most importantly, the child should be reassured to not blame themselves as bullying is not their fault.
A child who bullies needs to be stopped in order to prevent aggressive behaviours from developing into their adult lives. This can be done by teaching them appropriate social skills and behaviours, how to constructively handle conflict, redirecting their energy into positive activities such as sports, and giving them positive reinforcement and support for good behaviour.
For bystanders, they should be encouraged to speak up against the bullying activity. When more than one child steps in to denounce the bullying, it will encourage others to collectively take a stand, thus reducing the power and social status of the bully.
As children move through elementary school, their relationships with friends take on greater influence. The physical bullying that was common in lower school may turn more into social bullying and exclusion, which is harder for adults to see, and often harder for children to talk about. This makes it all the more important for adults to keep the lines of communication open with children so they know they will have the support they need. For more information on bullying and what to do about it, visit www.prevnet.ca.
Guest editorial this week is by Theresa Whalen, an Ottawa-based freelance journalist and occasional Record and Eastern Ontario AgriNews Contributor.