Friday, August 1, 2008

Bullies Wither Without Peer Support

EDITORIAL THURSDAY 31.07.08. The death of a 14 year old student from Lismore has once again prompted calls for action to be taken against bullying in schools. Alex Wildman is reported to have hanged himself after a series of violent incidents in which he was the target. While the specific circumstances of individual cases might vary, the fact is that there are tens of thousands of students affected by bullying in schools every year.

The New South Wales opposition has renewed a call it originally made last year for an inquiry into bullying. It sounds like a good idea, and would give the impression that something is being done, but the sad truth is that there have always been bullies, and probably always will be. So, will an inquiry tell us anything we don’t already know?

We know that bullying takes place, we know that most bullies are themselves victims of mistreatment who are perpetuating the cycle, and we know that most bullies are cowards. We know that bullies usually have the wind taken out of their sails when someone actually stands up to them. Unfortunately, kids who do stand up for themselves are often labeled as troublemakers themselves if they win the fight, or suffer even more greatly if they lose.

Regardless of all the politically correct efforts to encourage targets of bullying to go to a teacher for help, often they won’t for fear of reprisal and loss of face. While teachers do need to play such a role, it is also important to address the attitudes of children, not just the ones directly involved, but also those who watch incidents of bullying occur.

One of the most effective ways of stopping bullying is to withdraw peer support. If the kids standing around watching are egging on the aggressor, his actions are validated and he is likely to play to the audience. If the other kids express their disapproval, and reject the behaviour of the bully, suddenly he is the one who is isolated, and might just begin to question his own actions.

In other words, kids themselves need to see bullying as not cool.

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