A recent Queensland University of Technology (QUT) survey showed that almost half of all Aussie school children are being bullied. It is no wonder then that Australia was placed in the worst category for bullying by a study of almost 40 countries.
It is to combat statistics like this that initiatives like The National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence exist. This year, it falls on March 16th and the organization behind this - “Bullying. No Way” focuses on how families can join school communities in taking a stand together to combat the serious problem of bullying in our schools.
The project was created by the state and federal governments of Australia and is a collection of resources to combat bullying, violence, harassment and discrimination. The website features practical tips and suggestions for children, parents, teachers and the entire school to educate, manage and prevent bullying in schools.
The project also aims to highlight the importance of bystanders in tackling this complex problem by encouraging them to act. The tips offered exercise a broad range of feelings and emotions to ensure different points of views are considered when dealing with issues facing modern school children.
The strategies described are grouped into whether they are applicable to primary school kids (and their parents) or those in high school.
For example, at the primary school level, tips are more focused on role play and stories, to encourage young minds to reflect on what is happening to characters and how they behave in different situations. The situations, such as “invading” the territory of places frequented by a particular group of kids and getting taunted for it, are quite realistic.
The aim of presenting kids with such scenarios is to encourage them to have open conversations about possible actions each character in the story can take, whether they be the victims, the bully or bystanders. This therefore gives children who are facing these situations, the confidence to speak up and seek help.
Bullying, as we know very well, is not limited to the school yard. It can also occur outside of school and online. Cyberbullying is a new problem facing primary school kids as technology becomes more accessible to them.
The QUT survey also revealed that although cyberbulling was not as prevalent as face-to-face bullying, the impact was far greater. The lead researcher, Associate Professor Marilyn Campbell said that, “It [cyberbullying] seems to be more impactful on a young person's mental health than face-to-face bullying”. She said three-quarters of students who admitted bullying other kids online thought that “their actions had no impact on victims.” Professor Campbell said that his showed “a major lack of empathy”.
Understanding the feelings of those involved in a bullying episode is one of the aims of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)’s Cybersmart program. This program is a set of resources such as games, quizzes and videos that demonstrate the importance of being kind to others online, preserving personal information and understanding the basic risks to computers online.
Once again, the resources are organized to target different age groups, with younger kids being taught about the ways in which to protect themselves online through fun, animated stories. One such cartoon story is Hector’s World.
The sequence of events in the story take kids through risky scenarios such as distributing sensitive information online and provides advice such as checking with parents or caregivers before engaging in such actions.
The resources provided by these two organizations are not the only ways in which to educate and inform the whole school community. Other initiatives, like Bully Busters, offer workshops for parents, teachers and students to effectively address bullying.
There is also the example of schools such as Cammeray Public School’s Kindergarten Buddy System, which assigns each new child at the school with a “buddy” who helps them understand the various aspects of the school and help them positively solve any problems.
High school students also set great examples for younger kids when they actively model good behaviour. The “Bullying. No Way” website also offers practical suggestions for older kids such as debates, media productions and undertaking special projects about bullying.
Engaging parents and community members in both primary and secondary students’ attempts to tackle bullying provides the most effective solution to the problem.
This is demonstrated in countries like Finland, where schools have adopted the highly successful KiVa program. The program’s content is similar to that presented by the “Bullying. No Way” website in that it provides concrete materials for parents, students and teachers including virtual learning environments. There is also a focus on bystanders and how they can help make an improvement to bullying issues.
It is comforting to note that a study revealed that “well-conceived school based programs” like KiVa can reduce the incidence of bullying. The “Bullying.No Way” initiative seems like it has the potential to do same, here in Australia.
Three-quarters of students who admitted bullying other kids online thought that their actions had no impact on victims.