Getting to the Roots of Bullying
seems that hardly a month goes by without a new headline-grabbing
story about bullying. In very recent years, one student in Vancouver
was viciously murdered by a pack of bullies. At least three Canadian
students have committed suicide due to bullying. And in a precedent-setting
verdict in British Colombia, a 16 year-old girl was found guilty
of criminal harassment after her actions pushed a victimized girl
to commit suicide.
many of the horrifying school shootings, such as Columbine and
Taber, can trace their roots back to bullying. Too late, the public
often learns that before they were perpetrators, the gunmen were
victims themselves. Bullying has been in schools as long as there
have been schools, but only recently it seems death has entered
yet, to many of us, the bully is more an archetype than a reality,
a thuggish, cartoon-like stereotype found in movies and on television.
Rarely do we cast our eyes on the playground and wonder who the
bullies are and why?
bullying a growing epidemic or are we just blind to the problem
until tragedy occurs? What is being done to prevent future tragedies?
we can even begin to address the problem, we need to understand
"What is bullying?" It can take many forms, some more subtle than
others. We as adults might not even recognize it as bullying.
Today's bully is no longer just the tough kid who pushes others
around and steals their lunch money. Today's bully could be any
student, in any school.
who exclude another from soccer because of his skin colour; girls
who spread rumours about another girl they don't like; a group
of kids repeatedly calling another "fag" or "homo"; these aren't
just "kids being kids," these are bullies. Bullying can manifest
itself as physical violence, intimidation, name-calling and other
verbal abuses, peer-pressure, taunting, ostracizing and excluding,
spreading rumours, theft or destruction of personal property,
racial discrimination and any other way one child can denigrate
not just the nature of bullying that's changing, the gender of
the bully is changing as well. Dr. Alan Leschied of the University
of Western Ontario has been involved with considerable research
on bullying and finds that girls are displaying bullying behaviour
at an increasing rate. "We now know that generally, adolescent
girls now constitute the largest group accounting for an increase
in youth violence - although boys continue to account for almost
92% of all of the youth violence and bullying behaviour."
increase in female bullies has also led to the diversification
of bullying behaviour, says Dr. Leschied. "The nature of bullying
with girls is different than boys. Aggression with girls usually
begins through 'socialized' or 'indirect' forms of aggression
such as the spreading of rumours and disrupting social relationships
whereas for boys, bullying is frequently a physical event such
as pushing or shoving."
the scope of the problem is the first step towards resolving it.
But then, we wonder, how significant a problem is bullying? After
all, our schools and communities have adopted a stance of zero
tolerance to prevent this type of behaviour, haven't they?
2001, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health surveyed more
than 4,000 students from Grades 7 through 12. The study found
that nearly 25% of students considered themselves victims of bullying,
while close to one-third of students admitted to bullying others.
Apply these figures to the school population in Ontario, and the
results are frightening. These statistics suggest that bullies
have victimized more than 225,000 children in Ontario schools.
As a point of comparison, if each and every child in London-area
schools were a victim of bullying, they would only comprise half
of that total.
Centre for Addition and Mental Health study was the first to provide
an estimate of bullying in Ontario schools. Unfortunately, without
any previous statistical benchmarks, it is impossible to tell
if bullying is on the rise or decline. Now that there is a benchmark,
future studies will be able to track the increase or decline in
bully behaviour, and the effectiveness of anti-bullying programs.
Even then, since many incidents of bullying likely go unreported
or ignored, it might never be possible to get a truly accurate
we might think, everyone gets bullied in school. It's almost a
rite of passage for a child. We've all been through it. What's
the harm? In the worst cases, bullying can have very serious long-term
effects on both the victim and the bully. The victims can experience
long-term depression, anxiety, and poor social development, which
can carry over into adulthood. Some children suffer in their studies
and don't even want to go to school. The bullies often find themselves
at a greater risk of illegal activity, gang activity, and violence,
which escalates through youth and into adulthood. In the long
run, the victim, the bully, and society all lose.
we know what bullying is, how prevalent it may be, and what the
long-term impact could be. The next question to ask is what measures
are in place to prevent bullying, and why might they not be working?
programs take place almost exclusively in a school environment.
While there are some community-based programs, those in schools
reach the largest audience and have access to the widest array
of resources. The negative outcome for the victim and victimizer
is one reason why current programs are taking a two-pronged approach
to bullying: preventative efforts to stop the problem today, and
proactive steps to keep children from become bullies in the future.
Behaviour in Ontario schools is governed at the highest level
by the Safe Schools Act. Passed by the provincial legislature
in 2000, the Act standardized codes of behaviour and punishment
across all Ontario school boards. The boards have since adapted
the Safe Schools Act to existing regulations, including previous
zero tolerance policies. Two recent court actions may force a
re-evaluation of the implementation and effectiveness of those
May, a brother and sister in Burlington filed a $550,000 suit
against the Halton District School Board, former principals and
vice principals, and three bullies for years of constant physical
and psychological abuse. The siblings claim that despite complaints
to school administration, the bullying was allowed to continue
and escalate, culminating with the sister dropping out of school
in grade 11.
Calgary, a student has filed suit against a teacher, claiming
three years of physical and verbal abuse led to a suicide attempt.
In other cases, teachers have been accused of complicity for not
stopping bullying, or in the worst cases, encouraging it.
legal gray area that arises from the first case is that while
many bullies find their targets and begin the abuse in schools,
much of the harassment and assault takes place off school grounds.
This can include on the street, in public parks, or at popular
hangouts. While the chain of events may begin in school, the administration
can't be held responsible for what happens outside the school.
However, had they stopped the bullying at school, it might not
have carried over into the community.
lawsuits involve allegations that have not been proven in court,
but the negative consequences to a school board's reputation,
future liability and financial bottom line could be disastrous.
Just one successful suit could open the floodgates to a flurry
of bullying-related lawsuits, crippling the already cash-strapped
telling similarity between these and other high profile cases
is that the response from school administrators and parents is
often "we didn't know there was a problem." Many of the victimized
children and their friends keep silent, for fear of reprisal from
the bullies. Most bullies are quite careful to avoid drawing attention
from teachers and other adults.
prevent these abuses from continuing unabated, school boards,
along with the community, will have to examine their practices,
from the top-level policies down through fair implementation at
all levels, and be vigilant in their monitoring and enforcement.
Zero tolerance policies may stop girls from carrying nail clippers
in the hallways, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it's not
stopping bullying from occurring.
Thames Valley District School Board's Safe Schools Policy is a
system-wide policy that encourages staff, students, parents and
the community to collaborate in forming solutions to school safety
problems. The policy focuses on three keys: stressing the responsibility
that all stakeholders have in maintaining a safe-school environment;
ensuring a consistent, coordinated approach to handling violent
incidents that occur in schools; and including violence prevention
in all aspects of the curriculum from junior kindergarten to the
end of secondary school. Teachers have many different lessons
and programs to choose from, featuring a wide variety of media,
discussion topics and role-playing activities, which allow children
to act out bullying situations, and see things from all sides.
The Board maintains an informative website for parents, students
and other stakeholders at www.tvdsb.on.ca/programs/safeschools/introduction.htm.
Leschied cautions that anti-bullying programs must be aware of
their audience. "Interventions need to be mindful of these differences
in gender in order to be effective. For example, teaching girls
the nature and effect of relationships would seem to be a critical
part of reducing or de-escalating bullying or violent behaviour."
Thames Valley District School Board and the London District Catholic
School Board are also active participants in the community, taking
part in non-curriculum projects such as the Kids Count Leadership
Camps, which include workshops on bullying.
they have accepted a great deal of responsibility for educating
children about bullying, school boards cannot be expected to do
everything. Equally important is the role that parents play in
their child's lives.
bullying is concerned, parent needs to be aware of what their
child is doing, to ensure they are neither victim nor bully. The
simplest, and yet often the most difficult, way is to talk to
your children. Being bullied is a frustrating, embarrassing experience
that many children are afraid to talk about. If parents have open
and honest, two-way communications with their child, they may
be able to find our directly from their child.
that, it is important for parents, and educators alike, to know
what signs to look for. A bullied child will often have bruises,
scratches or torn clothing, missing possession or money, depression,
misplaced aggression, or a lack of desire to go to school, often
manifested as head aches or stomach aches in the morning. A child
who is a bully will likewise give warning signs in their behaviour.
Poor academic performance, disruptive behaviour and discipline
problems, new possessions or extra money, expressions of violence
in writing and drawing, uncontrolled anger, substance abuse and
intolerance of others are just a few of the warning signs.
also need to be concerned with what outside sources are influencing
their child's behaviour. "While the evidence is never totally
clear on what causes youth violence, the preponderance of research
evidence suggests that factors such as the extent to which children
are consumers of violent media plays an important role," says
Dr Leschied. "An important role for parents is to be vigilant
in the type of media their children are exposed to. Recent research
has once again shown that children who are more inclined to be
bullies are more likely to choose violence as a form of entertainment
than children who did not have a history of bullying."
is perhaps most important for a parent, teacher or principal is
to respond quickly if they see even the slighting hint of a problem.
Parents and school personnel can work with both the victim and
the bully to stop problems. A child is often not in a situation
to stop the abuse, but adults, through timely intervention and
understanding can make a positive difference.
are several community-based programs designed to promote positive
social behaviours and spread the anti-bullying message, including
Social Skills Camp and the Kids Count Leadership Development Camp.
Investing in Children is proud to the leading force bringing a
pilot version of Roots of Empathy to London. Roots of Empathy
is an innovative program that has had a significant impact in
reducing bullying behaviour wherever it has been used. Developed
in Toronto in 1996 by Mary Gordon, a world-renowned educator,
Roots of Empathy introduces an elementary school classroom to
a baby and its parents once a month over a nine-month period.
learn about parenting, about themselves, and to empathize with
the feelings and needs of others. Each month, the students will
cover a new theme in three sessions, including Meeting the Baby,
Emotions, Communication and Good Bye and Good Wishes. The first
session is a visit from the instructor to introduce the new theme,
then a session with the baby and parents, and third, a follow
up session with the instructor to analyze and reinforce the lesson.
Each session will last between 25 to 40 minutes.
materials have been prepared for four levels: Kindergarten, Primary,
Junior and Senior. Students will use their math skills to chart
the baby's physical development, exercise their imaginations to
write poems and songs, and read stories that deal with feelings
like fear, sadness and anger.
in Children is coordinating a pilot project for students across
the Thames Valley. The project will begin with the training of
16 instructors, who will each work with at least one class, starting
in September 2002. This will allow more than 300 students to participate.
In it's 6th year of operation, 52 Roots of Empathy programs in
the Toronto District School Board reached more than 1300 children.
the end of the school year, the Roots of Empathy pilot project
will be evaluated on its ability to foster empathy, the increase
in children's knowledge of human development, and the positive
changes in child behaviour. By teaching children to empathize
with a newborn baby, this knowledge will help children to better
understand and appreciate their feelings, and those of their peers.
Creating this sensitivity to the feelings of others can help to
reduce bullying and aggressive behaviour before it begins.
learn more about Roots of Empathy, visit the website at www.rootsofempathy.org.
learn more about bullying and anti-bullying resources, visit these
National Crime Prevention
Child and Youth Friendly Ottawa
London Family Court