Earlier this month, I read a news article which I found quite disturbing, although this story not entirely surprising considering the current climate we live in. On October 7, a 14-year-old student, while his mother was with him, was fatally stabbed outside a Hamilton, Ontario, Canada High School. According to CBC News, four teens were arrested; a 16-year-old male and a female, an 18-year-old male and a 14-year-old male, all charged with first-degree murder. Sadly, this is not the first teen killed by bullies, and then there is the problem of bullied teens committing suicide.
Global News says the family of the teen victim alleges that bullying was a persistent problem in the boy’s life and that the school never addressed the concerns. Canada News says, all five of those investigated are current or former students of the Hamilton high school. The victim’s mother claims the school and board knew about her son’s bullying, but little was done to stop it. “For a month, we’ve been trying to get this dealt with,” she said in tears. Both the school board and Hamilton police have confirmed they were notified of bullying incidents. Investigators were initially hesitant to comment on whether or not bullying and the attack were directly connected.
The Global News article, Experts say zero-tolerance policies aimed at stopping bullying aren’t working, quotes Carol Todd, an educator with a Vancouver-area school board, and whose 15-year-old daughter took her own life in response to violent bullying, said:
“We talk about bullying and we talk about how we can combat it, how can we end it. Are we doing enough to talk about the aspects of compassion, empathy, kindness and respect? Are we teaching our young people how to be respectful to other people and what to do?”
Ms. Todd is right. I’ve worked in the school system for 35 years, and I have never seen a curriculum that focuses on the aspects of compassion, empathy, kindness and respect. I taught Religious Studies in the Catholic School system, but even in the Religious Studies curriculum there was very little focus on those aspects, at least at the high school level. As Todd says, curriculum focuses on preparing students for university and not on teaching young people about healthy human interaction.
Todd went on to say a common approach involves anti-bullying advocates making a one-time appearance in schools and delivering a lecture to students. She says, “In the school system, when you bring in an anti-bullying advocate now, kids are turning off their ears,” she said. “They’re tired of the conversation. We have to figure out different ways.” That has been my experience. Students listen to a speaker, then forget about it. I have observed little change in their attitudes or behaviour after a talk.
Debra Pepler, a psychology professor who’s done extensive research on aggression in children says,
“Schools are measured on how well they teach literacy and numeracy and science but … social emotional development should be included and it should start in…kindergarten.”
She said the “zero tolerance” approach popular among many school boards involving punitive strategies do nothing to address the root causes of bullying and wind up reinforcing the kinds of behaviour they’re meant to eliminate.
I have to agree with Ms. Pepler. Every school I have taught in has had a “zero tolerance” policy regarding bullying, yet bullying was a big problem in every school I worked in. These policies are great, but virtually impossible to enforce. In my experience, bullying occurs subtly, occurring in locations teachers are rarely in—such as washrooms—or carried out discretely as to not be noticed by teachers. “Zero tolerance” policy is great, but it doesn’t work!
What is the answer then? In my opinion, there needs to be more focus on teaching students about healthy human interactions. Psych Central’s article, Bullying: A Problem That Starts and Ends at Home, says
Research shows that a harsh or negative parenting style is more likely to produce children who are bullies and victims of bullying than an emotionally warm environment with clear rules and supervision. Negative parenting includes obvious offenses like abuse and neglect, but also subtler forms of negative role modeling such as name-calling, threatening, manipulating and persistent teasing. Children learn from the way they’re treated, as well as the way their parents treat each other and the way their parents talk about other people.
Home is where empathy is learned or not learned, and school is where the lessons learned at home get played out. If relationships at home are based on fear and intimidation, children are more likely to use the same tactics with their peers. School bullies and victims are significantly more likely to report being physically hurt by a family member or witnessing violence at home than children who had not been bullied. Kids who are involved in bullying are also more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol and are at higher risk for depression and suicide.
Bullying is a learned behaviour, mostly learned at home, and therefore bullying can be unlearned. The ideal solution is to educate parents on bullying, but that is easier said than done. If empathy is not learned at home, then we as educators have a duty to teach it. The reality is, bullies are hurting people who need to be taught that taking their hurt out on other people is unacceptable.
STOP A BULLY is a registered national charity in Canada, and has an anti-bullying program. Their website shows a study done by the University of British Columbia, based on 490 students (half female, half male) in Grades 8-10 in a British Columbia city in 1999, that reveals
64% of kids had been bullied at school, and that 64% of students considered bullying a normal part of school life. What I found particularly disturbing is that 61-80% said bullies are often popular and enjoy high status among their peers. I have personally seen this to be true. Regarding the ‘on-line’ world, 1 in 5 Canadian Teens have witnessed online Bullying, so it is clearly a huge problem in our world, and teen bullies typically become adult bullies. There is no shortage of bullies in governments and in our work environments. It is time to do something to address the bullying problem our world has.
“People who love themselves, don’t hurt other people. The more we hate ourselves, the more we want others to suffer.” How true that is!