Bullying can make back-to-school a torment
This fall, thousands of Canadian children will return to school only to face intimidation, degradation and cruelty at the hands of their peers. We know this torment as bullying. A young male is held by the neck of his shirt against a wall by an unseen larger boy. A young female smirks in the background.

For too long, this destructive behavior—which includes not only physical and verbal aggression but also subtler cruelties such as isolation and rejection—has been viewed as “just kid stuff.”

“Something that deeply scars so many lives should not be dismissed as a normal, harmless part of growing up,” says Debra Cockerton, Ontario Provincial Coordinator with RespectED, the Canadian Red Cross service that focuses on violence and abuse prevention education.

Research consistently shows that bullying can have a devastating effect on the victim, resulting in long-term emotional problems, diminished school success and, in rare but tragic cases, can even lead to deadly violence. For the aggressor, unchecked bullying tendencies can escalate into criminal action in later years.

About one in five children are bullied regularly in Canada, often on school grounds. However, a major study in Ontario suggested teachers are aware of only a small percentage of bullying incidents, making intervention difficult.

So what can parents do to help their children have a peaceful, respectful school year?

“First, it’s important to teach your child that everyone deserves respect. That includes accepting differences—whether racial, cultural or in ability. You have to model that behaviour in all your interactions, so your children adopt it,” says Cockerton

Secondly, make time to talk with your child about what’s happening at school. Remind a group of teens hang out at their lockersthem that it’s important to report bullying to a trusted adult, whether it’s happening to them or to someone else. “Most kids aren’t bullies or victims, they’re bystanders.Bystanders can play a huge role in stopping bullying by refusing to encourage or cheer the bully, and by supporting the victim.” Let your child know that you will take concerns seriously and take action to protect them. Often, kids feel powerless when bullied, and presume no one can help them.

Find out about the bullying and harassment policy in your children’s school. If there isn’t one, offer to form a group to create one.

RespectED works with schools to develop effective anti-bullying policies and procedures. Its Beyond the Hurt program trains youth and adults to facilitate interactive presentations that engage youth in exploring how to stop bullying.

Everyone, young and old, needs to understand how actions and attitudes can help foster a healthy environment, Cockerton , asserts. “When you’re being bullied, you feel very alone. But you’re actually part of a whole community that has an obligation to help make the problem stop.”

Safer Schools Start at Home

Parents can reduce bullying by working to build understanding at home:

-Teach your child that everyone deserves respect. That includes accepting differences—whether racial, cultural or in ability. Model respectful behaviour in all your interactions.
-Help your child find ways to show anger without verbally or physically hurting others.
-Talk with your child about the violence he or she sees on television, in video games, and in their school and neighbourhood; discuss the real-life consequences.
-If your child exhibits disturbing behaviours—angry outbursts, excessive fighting, cruelty to animals, fire-setting or lack of friends—get help. Talk with a trusted professional in your child’s school or community.
-Make time to communicate. Encourage your child to share their day. Ask questions; discuss issues. Pay attention if your child complains of bullying, and alert the school if necessary.
-Teach your child that applauding a bully or standing idly by is wrong, and that they have a responsibility to intervene by telling the bully to stop or going to get help.
-Find out what the school’s bullying policy is. A good policy takes the problem seriously and employs common sense. Expectations are clearly communicated and consequences consistently and fairly applied. Follow-up services for aggressors and victims are available.
-If your school does not have an adequate policy, offer to create a working group to develop one. Include input from school personnel, parents, other community members, and young people.