Bullying is an emotional topic. Even the word might provoke responses of fear, anger or even helplessness. As we approach the National Day of Action Against Bullying & Violence, let’s look at how we can work together to reduce these hurtful interactions in our community.
Schools are the first practice ground for relationships. Pecking orders form, power imbalances become evident. Insecurities and brokenness lead to clashes, fear and the fierce yearning to fit in sparks momentary blindness or apparent paralysis in onlookers.
Advances in technology open new grounds for torment. Fragility in developing identities exposes adolescents to deep wounds. Social mistakes become fodder for rewatching, sharing, mocking, staring – the watchers’ hollow laughter a desperate relief that the focus isn’t them. For now.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Bullying spawns out of a need for power. A child who chooses to target or torment another is searching for belonging and significance in all the wrong places. Where their efforts in putting others down is rewarded by social status or completely ignored, destructive behavioural patterns will thrive.
At Belgrave Heights Christian School (BHCS) our motto is to Act Justly, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly. This approach helps keep us grounded in responses that are loving and positive. We understand, however, that negative experiences still do occur and students make mistakes in their interactions with each other.
So what can we do to minimise bullying?
1. Encourage Empathy
Relationships are complicated and can provoke heated reactions when things go wrong.
Where hurtful comments are being directed towards our own children, do we become incensed on their behalf or do we guide them to ask good questions? In a world where pain is passed on through generations and the wounded can become the wounding, let’s not rush to paint the world with judgment before we know the whole story.
Perhaps it is our own child who is targeting others. The shock and pain of this realisation can spur defensiveness. Instead of clamming up or shielding our child from the experience, can we stand beside them with an open-heart? Can we help them to see that the best way forward is through facing their mistakes and choosing a different path?
2. Bring in the Bystanders
The Finnish designed KiVa anti-bullying program has had great success in significantly reducing the occurrences of bullying, predominantly by encouraging bystanders to access empathy and involve themselves. The use of role-playing exercises and computer simulations allow the students to picture themselves in the victim’s shoes.
How can we act at home to encourage our kids to look out for those who are being targeted and stand with them?
3. Get Into Gaming
The Office of the eSafety Commissioner has developed a highly engaging role-playing game for 11-14 year olds called ‘The Lost Summer’ that is designed to help students ‘learn the importance of social and emotional skills such as critical thinking, empathy, resilience, respect and responsibility’ by completing challenges to advance through the game.
For students who regularly access technology, perhaps consider downloading the ReThink app which was created by 15 year old Trisha Prabhu with the aim of helping people think twice before sending a hurtful text or tweet.
4. Empower and Engage
The effects of bullying on both victims and bullies can be severe, but it doesn’t have to be. In the helpful article ‘How to Bully-Proof Your Children by Building Their Resilience’, Clinical Psychologist Lisa Firestone offers a comprehensive list of ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’, incorporating suggestions such as teaching mindfulness, orienting our kids towards the future, releasing them to be problem solvers and inspiring positive emotions.
5. Concentrate on Communication
At BHCS we are here to work with you. If there are any concerns or issues that you have, we invite you to bring them to the attention of your child’s teacher. A simple conversation or email can do wonders to help broaden perspectives and help us to approach the situation with wisdom and care.
We want to be a place where students feel safe, known, encouraged and understood. Let’s work together to craft a culture of connection and hope.
Friday 15 March 2019 was the National Day of Action Against Bullying & Violence. During the week our students participated in a range of activities to raise awareness about the damaging nature of bullying, including the creation of an anti-bullying mural. We have also watched Bullying is never OK and Our special superpower during the week. Perhaps you might like to re-watch these videos at home with your children in order to prompt meaningful discussions.