Cyberbullying: An Emerging Threat to the “Always On” Generation
By Bill Belsey, President and Founder of Bullying.org
April 20th, 1999 was a day that changed my life. It began like many other days, but somewhere along the way, an emotional tsunami flooded my consciousness as news emerged of a school shooting at Columbine High School in Middleton, Colorado. Eight days later, a copycat shooting took place at a high school in rural Alberta. This was clearly not a “Big-city” problem or an “American” problem; it was everyone’s problem, as a Canadian parent and educator, it was also MY problem.
It became apparent soon afterwards that the young people who committed these heinous acts were relentlessly bullied and teased throughout their young lives.
In response to these deeply disturbing tragedies, I created a Web site, www.bullying.org. I decided that the Web site would have three goals; first, to help people, especially young people, learn that they are NOT alone in dealing with bullying in their lives, to help them realize that being bullied is NOT their fault and that they CAN do something positive about it.
www.bullying.org allows people to connect in a safe, moderated online community where they can share their stories, poetry, drawings, music, animations and videos. A team of volunteer reviewers moderates replies and the original submissions. Visitors to the Web site can also use the worlds’ largest online database of helpful resources on www.bullying.org to find information about bullying.
www.bullying.org began to quickly create quite a buzz online through “word-of-mouth” referrals, as it was successfully filling a tremendous need for information and support. Then, on May 21, 2001, I was fortunate enough to do an interview with CBC National Television News anchor Peter Mansbridge during which Mr. Mansbridge was generous enough to refer to www.bullying.org as “One of the best Web sites in the world for young people”, that night, www.bullying.org was propelled to another level.
The national non-profit educational organization, Bullying.org Canada was created shortly thereafter to help support and expand our national vision.
www.bullying.org has since received as many as three quarters of a million visitors and contributors from across Canada and around the world in one month and is listed as one of the top “bullying” referenced Web sites in the world by www.google.com and many other Internet search engines. www.bullying.org has since been chosen for the ChildNet International Award which goes to projects that make the Internet a better place for youth, as well as being a finalist in the Stockholm Challenge Award which has been called the Nobel Prize of the IT (Information Technology) world.
Shortly after www.bullying.org‘s launch, I realized that something new was being experienced and reported by young people around the world. In response, I created www.cyberbullying.ca, the world’s first Web site specifically dedicated to the emerging issue of cyberbullying. www.cyberbullying.ca has often been cited as the first to use this word and define this emerging behaviour.
FIRST SOME CONTEXT
Young Canadians are more connected than ever
- Access is almost universal. Ninety-four percent of young people say they go online from home, compared with 79 percent in 2001. Sixty-one percent report having high-speed access. *
- Many students report that they have their own Internet connection. In total, 37 percent have their own Internet-connected computer. Twenty percent of Grade 4 students access the Internet through their own personal computer. That number climbs to 51 percent by Grade 11. *
- Points of access include more than computers. Twenty-three percent of students report having their own cell phone, 44 percent of which have Internet capability. Fifty-six percent of students’ cell phones have text messaging and 17 percent have cameras. *
- Twenty-two percent of students have their own Webcam. In Grade 11 that number is 31 percent. *
- A 2002 British survey found that one in four youth, aged 11 to 19 has been threatened via their computers or cell phones, including death threats. -NCH -National Children’s Home (UK)
Young Canadians in a Wired World – Phase II
Conducted by ERIN Research for the Media Awareness Network and funded by the Government of Canada
Adults see the Internet as a resource or a “place that they can go to” to serve their needs. Young people don’t think of it as being separate from their lives, increasingly it is a normal and “natural” part of their world.
For this “Always On” generation, being connected to one’s peer group means being online often. Increasingly it means being online synchronously, in “real time” or at the very same time as your peers. Most of the time these connections are made via “I-M” or Instant Messaging. I-M is facilitated through programs such as ICQ, AOL, MSN, or Yahoo! Messenger systems as it is instantaneous, and e-mail is now considered “too slow” for many young people today.
Adults tend to relate to the use of various Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in quite functional ways. We do our work, send our e-mails and the like and then we are done for the most part. But for the “Always On” generation, the use of ICTs has become a digital umbilical chord to their peer group. Among the A-O generation, responses are not only expected, they are expected promptly, to do so otherwise is considered a real social faux-pas.
If you are thinking that I-M-ing is some “Tween or teen-fad” that will eventually go away, to illustrate how mainstream this has become, it might interest you to learn that I-M is growing at a rate 30% faster than e-mail did at its inception.
The mobile phone is to today’s kids what the Nike “Air Jordan” sneaker was to previous generations to young people. The mobile has become the new prototypical “Teen badge” social status item. It is personalized with coloured faceplates, personalized ringtones, still and video cameras and more.
It used to be that school and home were the places where kids went online and adults had some control over when and where they went online, but no more. Young people can now chat via I-M, send text and multimedia messages with still and video images, surf the Web and chat online, all from the palm of their hand from almost anywhere, because today’s mobile phones are really powerful, very portable multimedia computers.
The ubiquitous nature of Internet connectivity poses real problems for young people today, and for we adults who care about our kids. One of the very real threats to our kids in this fluid, mobile communications environment is cyberbullying.
WHAT IS CYBERBULLYING?
“Cyberbullying involves the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others.”
What Forms Does Cyberbullying Take?
Cyberbullying can happen through the use of e-mail, cell phone text (SMS) and multimedia messages (MMS), instant messaging (IM), defamatory Web logs (Blogs), personal Web sites, and online personal polling sites.
What is a Weblog?
“ A personal Web site that provides updated headlines and news articles of other sites that are of interest to the user, also may include journal entries, commentaries and recommendations compiled by the user; also written web log. Weblog; also called blog.”
– Dictionary.com (http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=weblog)
How is cyberbullying different from other forms of bullying?
Cyberbullying, like other forms of bullying, is about human relationships, power and control. Those who bully others are trying to establish power and control over others that they perceive to be “weaker” than them. Those who bully want to make victims feel that there is something wrong with them, but victims should know that there is NOTHING wrong with THEM. It is THE BULLIES who have the real problems.
Cyberbullying is different from other forms of bullying in a number of ways. While bullying is something that is often under the radar screen of adults, cyberbullying is even more so as today’s youth, a group that I have dubbed the “Always On” generation, feel it most often and most intensely. This generation is increasingly communicating in ways that are often unknown by adults and away from their supervision.
Cyberbullying is also different in that it is a particularly cowardly form of bullying. Cyberbullies can more easily hide behind the anonymity that the Internet can provide.
Cyberbullies can communicate their hurtful messages to a very wide audience with remarkable speed.
Cyberbullying does not provide any tangible feedback about the consequences of using information technologies to cyberbully others. Cyberbullies do not have to own their actions, as it is usually very difficult to identify cyberbullies, so they do not fear being punished for their actions.
Cyberbullying is often outside of the legal reach of schools and school boards as this behaviour often happens outside of school on home computers or via mobile phones.
Victims of bullying are often fearful of telling others about being bullied because they fear that the bullying may actually become worse if they tell. Victims of cyberbullying are often also afraid to report to adults about being cyberbullied, as they also fear that adults will over-react and take away their mobile phone, computer and/or Internet access. This is something that is increasingly unthinkable for the “Always On” generation as not being online means not being able to socialize or communicate with their peers, and this fear of exclusion is paramount in the lives of most adolescents and teens.
In most cases, cyberbullies know their victims, but their victims may not know their cyberbullies, the aggressors may or may not bully their victims through physical, verbal, emotional or psychological means that are more easily identified.
With the advent of mobile, wireless Internet access, communications have become more ubiquitous. As a result, Cyberbullying can happen any time and any place and for many children, home is no linger a refuge from negative peer pressure such as bullying.
CYBERBULLYING AND THE LAW
Some forms of cyberbullying are considered criminal acts. Under the Criminal Code of Canada, it is a crime to communicate repeatedly with someone if your communication causes them to fear for their own safety or the safety of others.
It is also a crime to publish a “defamatory libel”, writing something that is designed to insult a person or likely to hurt a person’s reputation by exposing him or her to hatred, contempt or ridicule.
A cyberbully may also be violating the Canadian Human Rights Act, if he or she spreads hate or discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status or disability.
WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT CYBERBULLYING?
Awareness and education are the keys to the prevention of cyberbullying!
Spend some time on the www.cyberbullying.org Web site learning what you can do about cyberbullying. It is often a very hurtful, difficult and time-consuming challenge to deal with the effects of cyberbullying after it has occurred. It can take a lot of time and effort to get Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Mobile Telecommunications Service Providers (the phone companies who sell you your cell phone and pagers) to respond and deal with your complaints about being cyberbullied.
An ounce of prevention, a word of advice for “Netizens” (citizens of the Internet, advice for youth AND adults)…
Students should be reminded regularly to never give out or share personal information numbers (PIN), etc. Personal information includes their names, the names of friends or family, their address, phone number, school name (or team name if students play sports). Personal info also includes pictures of themselves and their e-mail addresses. They should ask permission before sharing any information with a website, a “chat buddy” and even when registering a product purchased for their computer (like a game). Passwords are secret. They should never tell anyone their password except their teachers, or perhaps their parents or guardians.
Don’t believe everything you read Just because someone online tells young people that they are 15 doesn’t mean they are telling the truth. Even adults can’t tell when a male pretends to be a female or a 50 year old pretends to be a 15 year old.
Use Netiquette (Internet etiquette). Students should be reminded to be polite to others online just as they would offline. If someone treats them rudely or meanly – do not respond. Online bullies are just like offline ones – they WANT others to answer (don’t give them the satisfaction). DON’T WRITE ALL IN CAPITALS!!! This is considered “yelling” on the Internet and is very rude. It may encourage others to “FLAME” them. Flaming is the sending of repeated, aggressive messages to others.
Students should never send a message to others when they are angry Wait until you have had time to calm down and think. Do your best to make sure that your messages are calmly and factually written. You will usually regret sending a “Flame” (angry message) to someone else. Once you’ve sent a message, it is VERY hard to undo the damage that such “flames” can do.
Students should never open a message from someone you don’t know If in doubt about it, they should ask their teachers, parents, guardians or another adult.
If students encounter something online that doesn’t look or “feel right”, it probably isn’t. Students need to learn to trust their instincts.While surfing the Internet, if they find something that they don’t like, makes them feel uncomfortable or scares them, they should turn off the computer and tell an adult. Internet filters can only go so far. After working with students, teachers and technology for many years, I truly believe that the only truly effective filter we should spend time and energy on is the one between the ears of our young people. For every filter that schools in school boards put in place, there are many ways around each and every one of them. In fact, there are many Web sites that have been created to show people (read kids) how to get around them.
Young people don’t have to be “Always on”. They should be encouraged to turn off, disconnect, and unplug, at least for a while. They should be encouraged to give themselves a break. Encourage young people not to stay online or connected too long. Families need to work at spending time with their family and friends offline. Why not try a little less virtual reality and a lot more actual reality!
Sign on the dotted line. Parents and guardians should be strongly encouraged to create an Internet Acceptable Use Agreement with their children. Bullying.org Canada has examples of such contracts for families to consider using. It should be made clear the Internet access and use is a privilege to be earned and honoured, not assumed right.
Update your AUPs… ASAP! Schools and school boards should update their computer and Internet Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs) to include harassment done with mobile and wireless Internet information technologies. Schools and school boards should work with their local parent councils to include the idea that members of the school community are responsible their online behaviour and actions away from the school every bit as much as they need to be responsible and accountable for their actions and behaviours There should be clear and serious consequences for anyone who doesn’t follow the AUP that should be signed by both students and parents. The updated AUP should specifically prohibit the use of ICTs for cyberbullying.
IF YOU ARE A VICTIM OF A CYBERBULLY, WHAT CAN YOU AND YOUR PARENTS DO?
Do not keep this to yourself! You are NOT alone! Tell an adult you know and trust! It is very hard to solve such problems on your own.
Inform your Internet, Instant Messaging or mobile phone service provider
Such as MSN for instant messaging: http://ca.support.sympatico.msn.com/contactus.aspx?productkey=messenger
Inform your local police
Do not reply to messages from cyberbullies! Even though you may really want to, this is exactly what cyberbullies want. They want to know that they’ve got you worried and upset. They are trying to mess with your mind and control you, to put fear into you. Don’t give them that pleasure.
Do not erase or delete messages from cyberbullies You don’t have to read it, but keep it, it is your evidence. Unfortunately you may get similar messages again, perhaps from other accounts. The police and your ISP, and/or your telephone company can use these messages to help you. You might notice certain words or phrases that are also used by people you know. These messages may reveal certain clues as to who is doing this to you, but don’t try and solve this on your own. Tell an adult you know and trust. GET HELP!
WHAT KIND OF INFORMATION SHOULD BE SAVED?
To report cyberbullying, it’s really important to save as much info as you can. The more you have saved, the easier it will be to track down the people bothering you.
Save the following from E-mail:
- E-mail address
- Date and time received
- Copies of any relevant e-mails with full e-mail headers
Save the following from Groups or communities:
- URL of offending MSN Group site
- Nickname of offending person
- E-mail address of offending person
- Date you saw it happen
Save the following from Profiles you see on the web:
- URL of Profile
- Nickname of offending person
- E-mail address of offending person
- Date you viewed this Profile
Save the following from Chatrooms:
- Date and time of chat
- Name and URL of chat room you were in
- Nickname of offending person
- E-mail address of offending person
- Screenshot of chatroom
REPORT CYBERBULLYING E-MAIL
If you receive e-mail from cyberbullies, you can report it to your ISP with the full headers displayed. The full header shows every stage of an e-mail’s journey. Forwarding e-mail with the full header displayed will let the support team track down where it came from.
WHAT TO DO IF SOMEBODY HAS STOLEN YOUR ACCOUNT
If somebody has stolen or “hacked” your account and changed all the login details, you will need to get in touch with a support team to get it back.
HOW DO I REPORT CHATROOM CYBERBULLYING?
You don’t have to put up with abuse in chat, and the companies that run chatrooms don’t want abusive people using their service.
- Highlight the chatter’s name
- Use the ignore button to stop all conversation with that person
- Take a screenshot of the abuse
- Note the time, date and chatroom name
- Report to the chatroom moderator and service operator
- Speak to a parent or a teacher
Students should know that it isn’t their fault that there are some very strange people in the world. Students should not be ashamed to tell somebody about any disturbing, threatening, weird or frightening behaviour you encounter in chat.
People aren’t anonymous online, and with the right info saved, they can be traced by the Police and dealt with.
Never arrange to meet with someone you have met online unless your parents go with you. If you are meeting them make sure it is in a public place.
Young people may need to delete your current e-mail accounts, cell phone/pager accounts and set up new ones. If they have persistent cyberbullying problems, it is recommend that they do this as soon as possible, unless they are working with the police and their Telecommunications Provider to keep the account (s) active to try and catch the cyberbully. Bullying.org is currently in discussions with various Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Mobile Service Providers (MSPs) to address these issues.
Youth Solutions–If being cyberbullied:
1. Do not respond/engage to the abuse.
2. Tale to someone about it. Ignoring bullying often leads to it becoming worse.
3. Keep records/print off messages if possible, to help identify bully.
4. If necessary get a new number, account, give it out one person at a time and keep a diary to record any abuse. Your tormenter may be closer than you think.
5. Take a break–Unplug.
Parent Solutions–If your child is being cyberbullied.
1. Make a more “talkable” subject.
2. Place and keep the computer in an open, common area.
3. Inform Internet Service Provider (ISP) or cell phone service provider of abuse.
4. Do not erase messages; keep for evidence.
5. Software help–McAfee Parental Controls filter both IM and Chat Rooms. Tracker programs.
1. Amend anti-bullying policies to include text messaging, cell phone use and online bullying.
2. Make a commitment to educate teachers, students and parents about cyberbullying.
3. Make sure parents know whom to contact at the school if there is a problem.
4. Never allow a known incident of bullying to pass unchallenged and not deal with it.
5. We need to “Walk the Walk” of positive, respectful online communication and behaviour in our schools and not simply “Talk the talk”. We need to strongly encourage teachers and students to become engaged in collaborative, international projects where there is a well-established, mutually respectful online community with a solid track record in education. One outstanding example of this is iEARN, the International Education and Resource Network, www.iearn.org. iEARN has over one million k-12 student and teacher members in over 110 countries around the world, all of whom share iEARN’s vision of “Connecting youth and making a difference!” Schools participate in students and teacher-created projects that not only relate to curriculum, they also serve iEARN’s vision of helping to make our world a better place in which to live.
How do I take a screenshot of offensive content?
A screenshot is a like a photograph of your screen. It captures everything that you can see on your screen at the press of a key and is useful for recording details you might want to report.
- Have the information you wish to record open on your screen and press the PrintScn / SysRq key on your keyboard. The image is now saved in a temporary memory.
- Open a new Word document, right click your mouse and select Paste to insert the screenshot.*
- Make a note of the date, location, e-mail address, name (nickname or real name) and any other information that you think might be useful and then Save the file. * The screenshot can be inserted into any program that accepts images.
How do I save an address in Groups?
If someone or something makes you feel uncomfortable it is important to tell someone you trust who can help you to report your experience to the right people. If you encounter potentially illegal or offensive content in MSN Groups or have seen a Group that you believe should be placed behind an adult advisory notice, save the URL and contact the service provider immediately.
How do I report cyberbullying from a Hotmail account?
You can report cyberbullying messages direct from your e-mail inbox and every report you make will actually improve the intelligent filters that protect your account.
- Sign in to Hotmail and click on the Mail tab to open the inbox.
- Select an e-mail you suspect to be an abusive message. Tip – a question mark is placed on all e-mail from unknown senders.
- Click the Junk option and select from either Report or Report and Block sender, and then simply follow the directions given.
How do I report Hotmail with full headers included?
If you need to report an e-mail to an authority or organization, then include the full header so that action can be taken.
- Sign in to Hotmail, click Options (next to help) and select Mail from the left-hand panel, followed by Junk E-Mail Protection.
- On the following screen select Mail Display settings.
- Under Message Headers select Full and then click OK. You will now be able to forward mail with full headers displayed.
Further Information and Resources:
www.bullying.org, “Where you are NOT alone!”, is a multiple award-winning Web site that was created to help people address the issues of bullying within a safe, positive, moderated international community. www.bullying.org is the most-visited and referenced Website about bullying in the world.
www.cyberbullying.ca and www.cyberbullying.org, “Always on? Always Aware!” is the world’s first Web sites to specifically dedicated to the emerging issue of cyberbullying. Bill Belsey is often cited as the first person to use this word and define this behaviour.
Mr. Belsey is the creator and facilitator of the annual Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week. Check the web site www.bullyingawarenessweek.org for dates and details each year.
For more information about Bullying.org, please visit:
For more information about educator Bill Belsey, please visit:
For more information, or to have me present to your school community about the issues of bullying and/or cyberbullying to your organization, please contact:
By Bill Belsey
On April 29th, 1999, in the normally peaceful farming community of Taber, Alberta, not far from where I live, that a young man named Jason Lang lost his life to a fellow student with a gun at W.R. Meyers High School.
This event changed my life forever. Like so many around the world, I was completely shocked and mortified by the school shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado eight days prior. Yet, it was what happened at Taber that really change me. I realized that what happened at Columbine was not some “American problem`, it was not my problem too, as a father, teacher and as a Canadian citizen.
I wondered how could young people become so damaged in their own lives that they would choose to harm others? It was suggested at the time, that bullying played a role in these events.
I thought that I understood what bullying was all about, after all, hadn’t I made it through the many challenges of growing up and going to school like everyone else? Hadn’t I gone to university to learn to become a teacher? Wasn’t I trying to be a decent father in raising my own kids with the challenges that they faced? I soon realized that I really didn’t know much about bullying at all and that what I did know was based upon so many myths and false perceptions.
I decided that this was a personal call to action. I realized that I needed to learn what bullying was really all about. I began to research and read everything I could. I asked so many questions to anyone who would take the time to listen and respond. I was so very fortunate to have been helped and mentored by some of the world’s best academic researchers on the topic of bullying, such as Debra Pepler and Wendy Craig in Canada, Ken Rigby in Australia and many more.
On February 16, 2000, I launched the Website www.bullying.org as a safe, moderated, online community where people could find help, support and information as they went on their own learning journeys about bullying.
So what have I learned? A lot! Some of which will surprise, but I hope what follows will inform.
First, let me be clear. I am NOT a psychologist or professor. I don’t have a PhD. I am a father and teacher. So with this understanding up front, let’s begin with what bullying is.
While academics debate the actual wording of a formal definition of bullying, most agree that there are at least three key aspects of bullying behaviour; that there is an imbalance of power in relationships where bullying occurs, that bullying behaviours are repeated and that they are intentional. Bullying can be done by individuals or groups. Bullying is about power and control. Bullying takes many forms, and can include many different behaviours, such as: Physical violence and attacks ,verbal taunts, name-calling and put-downs, threats and intimidation, extortion or stealing of money and possessions, exclusion from the peer group or shunning, using information technologies and the Internet to bully others, A term I coined as cyberbullying, please see www.cyberbullying.ca for more information. Perhaps cyberbullying will be a topic of a future article.
Let’s debunk some of the myths about bullying.
Myth: “Bullying is a school issue, let the teachers handle it.”
Fact: Bullying is a community health and wellness issue. Bullying happens in families, the workplace, at shopping centres, the hockey arena and to seniors. While educators play a very important role in addressing bullying, schools effectiveness in addressing bullying improves substantially when parents and the community is involved.
Myth: “Bullying is a stage and is a normal part of growing up.”
Fact: Bullying is not “normal” or socially acceptable behaviour. We give bullies power by our acceptance of this behaviour. Being scared to go so school, or being an adult who does not want to go to work because they’re being harassed is NOT normal. Being a teenage girl who cuts herself and then hides it so others won’t see, is NOT normal. Thinking about or acting on suicidal thoughts is NOT normal. Thinking about or acting on taking a weapon to go to school is NOT normal. We should never accept bullying behaviours as “normal”.
Myth: “Bullies come from poor homes”
Fact: Bullies can come from affluent families too. Bullies often come from homes that are neglectful and hostile and use harsh punishment. Bullying may be learned by observing high levels of conflict between parents. Care needs to be given so that they do not model bullying for their children. -(Olweus. 1993) Victims often keep their problems a secret: They feel they should handle bullying themselves; they worry about the bully’s revenge or other’s disapproval: and/or they think that others can do little to help them. -(Garfalo et al., 1987) , (Olweus, 1991) Bullying is reduced in an organization if leadership is committed to reducing bullying. -(Charach et al., 1995)
Myth: “If I tell someone, it will just make it worse.”
Fact: Research shows that bullying will stop when adults in authority and peers get involved. In fact, the research of Pepler and Craig has shown that most bullying will stop in less than ten seconds when peers intervene, not to confront or fight the bully, but by befriend their peers who need help and support.
Myth: “People are born bullies”
Fact: There is no “B” chromosome. Bullying is a learned behaviour and behaviours can be changed for the better through formative consequences that encourage, support and reward healthy relationship choices.
Myth: “Just hit them back, that will solve everything”
Fact: While there indeed may be times when people have to defend themselves, in most cases violence begets more violence.
So what is really going on when bullying happens?
First of all it happens a lot. Bullying occurs in school playgrounds every 7 minutes and once every 25 minutes in class (Pepler et al., 1997)
A power differential exists between the bully and the victim. Bullies tend to be confident, aggressive, lack empathy and can even have contempt for their victims. Bullies come from homes where there is poor supervision and modeling of and tolerance for aggressive behaviour. Victims tend to be quiet, passive children with few friends. Victims do not respond effectively to aggressive actions. Bullying is often done so that adults are not aware of it. Victims are ashamed, and often don’t tell an adult.
Bullying is not about conflict resolution. There is no conflict to be resolved. In situations that can benefit from conflict resolution strategies, the parties involved have relatively equal power. With bullying, most the power resides with the aggressor.
What are some signs that your child may be
• trouble sleeping, wetting the bed, stomach and headaches
• lack of appetite, throwing up
• fear of going to school
• crying before/after school
• missing or incomplete school work, decreased success in class
• lack of interest at social events that include other students
• often complains of illness before school events
• frequent visits to the school nurse or office complaining of feeling sick
• wants to call mom or dad to come & get them
• lowered self-esteem, makes negative comments about others
• a marked change in attitude, dress or habits
• unexplained broken personal possessions, loss of money, loss of personal items
• unexplained bruises & injuries or stories that don’t make sense
• acting out aggression at home
So what’s to be done? Focus on prevention through education and awareness. Most schools these days have policies about bullying, but this is not enough. Most policies tend to be reactive and punitive. It’s like putting a bandage on a cut that is bleeding profusely. It’s too little, too late.
Bullying is often the number one non-academic issue that most classroom teachers like myself and school administrators face. Yet, there are many educators who never received a research-based, professional course during their teacher-training at university or during their time as educators in schools. How can this be? This situation is like having nurses and doctors who don’t know how to help the public with the flu. This must change!
One in four children report that teachers intervene in bullying situations, while seven in ten teachers believe they always intervene.
To address situation, I created www.bullyingcourse.com which offers research-based online courses and Webinars (online presentations) about bullying and cyberbullying for educators and parents.
The good news is that bullying is reduced in a school if the principal is committed to reducing bullying. (Charach et al., 1995). Use this report card when you talk to your school’s principal to assess how well they are addressing bullying, http://bullyingcourse.com/mod/resource/view.php?id=367
In addition to having policies, schools need to have positive, pro-active plans to help change the culture and climate of the school. As a parent, you it is most reasonable to ask your child’s school is they have such a plan.
Beware if your child’s principal says that they have a “Zero-Tolerance Policy” re. bullying. The term “Zero-Tolerance” actually came from the “Anti-drug Wars’ in the United States. In far too many cases a “Zero-Tolerance Policy” policy means, “You bully and you’re out”. Out where? This response changes little. The aggressor is still in the community and has learned nothing about how to adopt appropriate behaviours. Those who bully need consequences to be sure, but the students and the community is better served by formative consequences, that is consequences that encourage and support positive, healthy relationship choices.
Bullying is about power, control and unhealthy relationships. Simplistic solutions to addressing relationship issues are not real solutions at all. Healthy relationship building takes time and thought. We need thoughtful, sophisticated plans to address complex relationship issues such as bullying.
In the short term, the safety, security and well-being of the person being bullied should be a school’s primary concern. Children who are bullied should not be the ones who have to change classroom or even changes schools, which is often not possible in smaller communities, yet this is what happens far too often. If this happens, this means that the victim is victimized twice over, all because the school may not really know what to do. As a parent of a child being bullied, do not accept the bullying behavior as a problem your child has to live with. The bullying behavior is the responsibility of those who bully, not the child being bullied.
Beware of labeling someone as a “bully”. Focus on the inappropriate behaviour.
www.bullying.org has become the world’s most visited and referenced Website about bullying. During the last decade, the Website has hosted millions of visitors and contributors from across Canada and around the world. The questions that are most often asked are, “What did I do to deserve this? And what is wrong with me?” Let your kids know that they are NOT alone and that you are there to listen and to support them. Being bullied is NOT their fault and there is a lot can be done about it.
Schools need to encourage and support students’ ideas and leadership. Why? Remember the research about most bullying happening in the context of a peer group, with no adults around? That’s why. Rather than teachers being totally responsible for preventing bullying, teachers can become “social architects” to facilitate students themselves finding solutions to bullying.
If most bullying happens in the context of a peer group when adults aren’t around, we need to give our kids strategies they can employ if they are being bullied or if they see bullying happening around them. The vast majority of students indicate that watching bullying makes them feel uncomfortable (Pepler et al., 1997). There is also some recent research that indicates that the psychological effects of observing bullying can be just as harmful as those who are being victimized.
Research also tells us that 15% of a given population may be involved with bullying directly as victims or aggressors, that means that 85% of a school’s population may not be directly involved, but they actually ARE all affected, indirectly. We know that it is the silence of others that gives bullies their power. Young people must acquire feelings of individual responsibility, but also reflect on their own behaviour when bullying occurs, whether they initiate, receive or observe bullying. As parents, we can encourage and support this. That means that teachers and parents need to work together to have our kids understand that they have the power to stand up to bullying. However, that’s easy for an adult to say to a child, it’s often really hard for kids to do in the context of the schoolyard, school bus or gym change room. This is why Bullying.org has established the “Canada’s Caring Kids Awards”. To nominate a positive young person who shows this kind of leadership, please visit http://www.bullyingawarenessweek.org/pdf/Caring_Kids_Award.pdf
So what can you do as a parent? Ask your child directly if they are being bullied. Often children do not wish to tell their parents due to shame and embarrassment, or fear that bullies will retaliate if they tell. Look for signs such as: fear of going to school, lack of friends, missing belongings and torn clothing, and increased fearfulness and anxiety. Work with the school immediately to make sure your child is safe; that effective consequences are applied toward the bully, and that monitoring at school is adequate. Advocate for involvement of the bully’s parents. If the bullying is happening on the way to and from school, arrange for the child to get to school with older, supportive children, or take him or her until other interventions can take place. If your child is timid, and lacks friends, try to arrange for your child to participate in positive social groups which meet his or her interests. Developing your child’s special skills and confidence in the context of a positive social group can be very helpful. Suggest that the school implement a comprehensive, research-based, anti-bullying program. A home and school association meeting to discuss and support such an initiative can be helpful.
What else can be done? Prepare our kids with support and strategies. I am ashamed to admit that when my son was much younger, he told me that he was being bullied and I actually said to him, “Well son, what are you doing to bring this on?” As if it was HIS fault! I was living proof that the old myths and attitudes about bullying die hard. It takes a lot of courage for kids to tell you that bullying is going on because they are worried that adults will make it worse. I get this because I use to be one of those parents and teachers who did make it worse. So if your child tells you that they are being bullied, believe them. Become your child’s champion and advocate. Research informs us that kids often have to tell a number of adults before they finally get one to help them.
What else should parents do to support their child when approaching the school? Although as parents we may feel quite emotional about this, try and keep cool. Don’t try and bully your child’s teacher and principal into dealing with the situation. If you do, you will be modelling the very behaviour you want to stop. Document everything that happens. Keep a diary. Take photos if you observe physical or material damage. If action is not being taken write an e-mail or letter to our child’s teacher and copy it to the school administration outlining the problem. Be specific as to dates, events, physical evidence that you have noted etc. Arrange a meeting to find out what the school is doing about the situation. Agree to a timetable and/or a schedule of actions that the school will take. If this schedule is not adhered to as promised, write to the school and send a copy to the School Board outlining your concerns and share the schedule and timetable that the school had agreed to adhere to, which was not followed.
If it’s hard for your child to stand up for him / herself, tell them to ignore the bullying and walk away, then tell an adult who can help. If they’re scared to talk to an adult, encourage them to ask a friend to go with them. Practice with your child as to what to say and do the next time they are bullied. Kids who are bullied often freeze in such situations. Creating and rehearsing simple scripts with pre-planned responses can help a lot. Encourage them to go to areas where they feel safe. Encourage them to stay close to students who will stick up for them. Encourage them to look brave and tell the child who bullies to back off. Encourage them to stay calm, try not to show that they are getting sad or mad, this is what bullies want to see. Encourage them to be safe, although there are some times when they may have to defend themselves, but fighting back can make things worse. Encourage them not to blame themselves, being bullied is NOT their fault.
As parents we will often say to our kids, “Stop telling on your sister/brother!” And then when something really bad happens we will ask, “Why didn’t you tell us?” Help your children understand the difference between tattling, telling on others just to get them in trouble, versus reporting, which is telling others about a bad or an unsafe situation.
As parents, we need to be much more aware of our own behaviours. Kids will learn more from what we do and how we act, much more than from what we tell them. We also need to model a tolerant attitude toward others. There are far too many instances of kids taunting using slurs about race, cultures or sexuality. How many suicides do their have to be before we as parents realize that such attitudes and behaviours are learned, often from home.
If you suspect your child may be a bully, here are some possible symptoms to watch for.
• Abuses family or neighbourhood pets
• Torments children – always the instigator
• Lacks compassion or empathy towards others
• Gets enjoyment or acts like it is “cool” when someone gets injured
• Is a bully at home with adults and siblings
•Is manipulative with adults, very agreeable, but then does whatever they want
• Is aggressive towards others
• Lacks social skills, has few friends or friends who go along with whatever your child suggests they do
• Little concern for others’ feelings
• Does not recognize impact of his/her behaviour on others
• Aggressive with siblings, parents, teachers, friends, and animals
• Bossy and manipulative to get own way
• Possessing unexplained objects and/or extra money
• Secretive about possessions, activities, and whereabouts
• Holds a positive attitude towards aggression
• Easily frustrated and quick to anger
•Parents may model use of power and aggression by yelling, hitting, rejecting child
• Parents may model use of power and aggression with each other
• Siblings may bully child at home
• Child has friends who bully and are aggressive
• Teachers or coaches may model use of power and aggression by yelling, excluding, rejecting
Here are some things you can do to turn the situation around:
• Talk to your child, talk to his or her
teachers, and administrators. Keep in mind that a bully will try to deny or
minimize his or her wrong-doing.
• Take the problem seriously. Children and youth who bully others often get into serious trouble in later life, and may receive criminal convictions. They may have continuing trouble in their relationships with others.
• Make it clear to your child that you will not tolerate this kind of behaviour, and discuss with your child the negative impact bullying has on the victims.
• Do not accept explanations that “it was all fun”.
• Arrange for an effective, non-violent consequence, which is in proportion with the severity of your child’s actions, and his or her age and stage of development. Corporal punishment carries the message that “might is right”.
• Increase your supervision of your child’s activities and whereabouts, and who they are associating with. Spend time with your child, and set reasonable rules for their activities and curfews.
• Co-operate with the school in modifying your child’s aggressive behaviour. Frequent communication with teachers and/or administrators is important to find out how your child is doing in changing his or her behaviour.
• Praise the efforts your child makes
toward non-violent and responsible behaviour, as well as for following home and
school rules. Keep praising any efforts the child makes.
• If your child is viewing violent television shows, including cartoons, and is playing violent video games, this will increase violent and aggressive behaviour. Change family and child’s viewing and play patterns to non-violent ones.
• Make sure that your child is not seeing violence between members of his or her family. Modelling of aggressive behaviour at home can lead to violence by the child against others at school and in later life.
•Seek help from a school psychologist, social worker, or children’s mental health centre in the community if you would like support in working with your child
As teachers, we need to remember that we are expected to live up to a Professional Code of Conduct. We need to watch our own language and behaviours in the classroom as well. We may think that using sarcasm may appear “cool” in a middle or high school class, but it may be quite embarrassing or hurtful to many students. I also know that some teachers can be bullies themselves. This can’t be tolerated.
Despite being an increasingly complex and demanding profession, I believe that as a teacher, I have one primary mission, to create the optimal environment for my students to achieve their potential as learners. Students who are scared to come to school can never achieve their full potential. Many thousands of students miss school every day because of bullying we can and need to do better for them.
The reality is that the best and most effective solutions regarding bullying are ones wherein educators, parents and the community work together. Playing the blame game only isolates the various stakeholders who should be working together in the best interests of our children.
The bad news about bullying is also the good news, in that is that bullying is about developing healthy relationships, something good parents and teachers have always been good at doing. Bullying is about behaviour. When you think about it, behaviours such as smoking, drinking and driving, even recycling have all slowly, but surely changed for the better in Canada. I believe that while we may never completely eliminate bullying from society, if we can work together, we can make great strides in making a better Canada for our children and our children’s’ children to grow up in.
I would like to encourage you, your family, your school, business and community to participate in the upcoming ninth annual National Bullying Awareness Week, which will take place from November 13th to the 19th, 2011. See http://www.bullyingawarenessweek.org for more information.
As my father use to tell me, “What the mind conceive and the heart can believe, we CAN achieve!”
*Bullying.org is an educational organization that is dedicated to the prevention of bullying through education and awareness. We created and are responsible for maintaining:
“Where You Are
The world’s most-visited Website about bullying (no longer
“Always On? Always Aware!”
The world’s first Website about cyberbullyin
“Prevention through education and awareness”
The official Website for the annual National Bullying Awareness Week
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