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Fighting bullying is not just a job for schools

(by Geoff Johnson, The Victoria Times Colonist)


Bullying is a learned behaviour. Kids learn to be bullies, often from growing up in an environment devoid of empathy as a value. Sometimes bullying is learned from a larger, more powerful bully – an older child, a parent, an adult acquaintance, an authority figure or maybe even a teacher.


Kids learn about bullying because someone with power has made them feel helpless and disrespected – even frightened. Kids know bullying is unjust. An in-your-face injustice that leads to helpless anger and an undefined, unresolved fury that eventually leads to bullying.


Bullying perpetuates itself. Bullying is about finding a vulnerable person who cannot strike back when all that stored anger expresses itself.


Some adults never recover from being childhood victims of bullying.


Of greater concern than bad behaviour in the street or the playground is that today’s kids can bully anonymously using technology when nobody is watching. Techno-bullying is an opportunity to vent pent-up rage even though the bully may not understand the real damage being done.


Clinical psychologist Joti Samra says the same feeling of anonymity that emboldens rioters to do stupid things they normally would not also leads people to crucify others online.


“They get into this mob mentality,” Samra told the Vancouver Sun.


“There’s this onslaught of individuals making accusations and people just jump on the bandwagon. People just feel less responsible with social media and engage in reckless behaviour, almost sociopathic behaviour.”


Hard to blame the kids, though, for being confused about what is acceptable, when they see bullying modelled, especially by some television networks which support the questionable ethical base of “commentators” who are paid big money to vilify those who do not share their view of the world.


Mean and nasty is good for ratings and TV carries its own “cachet.” Mean and nasty is vindicated, even celebrated. It can even incrementally begin to look normal.


Twitter, Facebook, Internet forums, blogs, wikis and podcasts are unedited and unrestricted by any commonly agreed-upon personal or professional code of ethics.


That makes social media, potentially at least, a dangerous playground for the irresponsible and uninformed.


Bullying happens. It happens in homes, classrooms and in offices.


But it is the incidence of bullying and aggression experienced by schoolchildren that is the most problematic. Violence and aggression among children, face to face or via social media, can inhibit learning and create long-term interpersonal problems for children.


Bullying victims are more likely to bring weapons to school, to explode with rage. Many students behind school shootings like Columbine had been repeat victims of bullying.


Extensive research demonstrates that a high level of childhood aggression is a potentially significant predictor of adult criminal and other antisocial behaviours.


The provincial government has demonstrated leadership by restoring funding to programs like Roots of Empathy, which brings babies into classrooms to teach young children compassion, and which research says shows a significant improvement in social behaviours.


Started in 1996, Roots of Empathy is an evidence-based classroom program that has reduced levels of aggression among children while raising social and emotional competence.


It is one program among many, but experienced early childhood educators say it is an important step.


Bullying is a learned behaviour hardwired into some children and adults who have long experience as victims themselves. There are no tidy resolutions.


Research into it agrees on only one thing: The culture within any organization must agree that bullying in all its forms, child to child, adult to child and adult to adult will not be ignored or rationalized in any way, and will simply not be ignored.


Bullying is wrong. No exceptions.


Geoff Johnson is a former superintendent of schools.


By Geoff Johnson, © Copyright (c) The Victoria Times Colonist


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