School Bullying: Fighting the good fight

“Bullying is a community problem. It’s not just a matter for the bully and the bullied. Everyone has a stake in it: schools, families, even witnesses.”

By Louise Marchand  File: Bullying

These are the words of Jasmine Roy, whose foundation bears her name. Her organization works to battle all forms of discrimination and bullying in schools. She argues that classroom intimidation is a societal problem played out with children and teens as actors – bullying is simply one facet of an issue that poisons personal relations throughout society. Her foundation’s efforts focus on prevention.

It’s important to understand all aspects of the problem, she argues.

First off, students have to comprehend the consequences their violent acts can have. Tolerance and respect for others are values that should be taught from the very earliest age. Some students face intimidation for reasons related to gender and race.

Not Just Physical

Intimidation takes many forms. Physical violence is always the most visible form. A beating is spectacular by its very nature. But verbal violence, in the form of repeated insults for example, can be just as damaging. Some students find themselves exposed to regular, even daily abuse at the hands of classmates.

Harassment comes in many shapes. “Taxing,” mocking, thefts… A student can find him or herself in a great deal of distress without ever being physically struck by others.

Cyberbullying takes harassment to a whole new level – humiliation that reaches far beyond school walls, put on display for all the world to see.

Any young person subject to bullying in any form feels first and foremost isolated, alone, cast adrift.

How can we fight such meanness in our society?

Alain Johnson heads up a Quebec youth help line, Jeunesse J’écoute (Young people, I’m listening). He says the first step is to end the victim’s seclusion. “Often, they call us because they have no one left to confide in. They’re left to feel completely powerless to do anything,” he says. “Our role is to listen, and to make sure the person doesn’t feel guilty. The bullied often think it’s their fault.”

Support Networks

His help line will suggest neighborhood contacts: psychologists, teachers, parents, friends… The goal is to get the caller to talk to someone in their vicinity, in their entourage.

Johnson says it’s also important to work with the bullies themselves. His help line often receives calls from those who want to stop tormenting others, and who wish to repair the damage they’ve caused. His interveners work to find out what may have led the bully to this point. Johnson says that children and teens who bully others are themselves in some emotional pain.

Jasmine Roy agrees: “It’s important to educate them, to give them alternative ways of behaving.”

Those who are present at incidents have to be attended to as well. “9 times out of 10, there are witnesses,” Roy says. Getting them to open up about what they’ve seen will prevent future incidents.

Adult Intervention

Adults have their role to play – they should remain on the lookout for signs of bullying. Young people should be made to know they have a place to go to talk about issues they face at school and beyond. An adult has to be aware of what’s happening in order to help.

In Quebec, school boards have a legal obligation to formulate a plan to end school intimidation. This law was adopted in June of 2012. It defines bullying as “all behaviors, acts or gestures, including cyberbullying, expressed directly or indirectly, notably through social media, aimed at wronging, injuring, oppressing or ostracizing.” In short, any word or deed that leaves another person in distress and is intended to cause distress in a school setting is against the law.

For youth, help lines are available in every province and state. Any community centre usually has staff on call to hear you out. But the best move is to talk to an adult you already know: a family member, a teacher, a nurse, a psychologist…

In the classroom, teachers are on the front lines of the battle to end intimidation. A good teacher can lift the veil on the phenomenon. A group discussion can serve to clear the air and raise awareness without assigning blame. Role playing exercises can also help.

The battle to end bullying is a collective fight.

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