Hot! The best defence against bullying

TheGlobeandMail.com – life/parenting/teens/teen-behaviour
Published Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011. Last updated Friday, Nov. 18, 2011.   Erin Anderssen

In almost every tragic case of bullying, there are bystanders. They see the scuffles in the school hallway, and read the vicious stream of insults on Facebook, and look away, or log off. They are both the nervous audience for the bully, and the tear-stained faces in the school assembly when a student commits suicide and the grief counsellors step in.

But they are also the ones with the real power on the playground – more than parents and teachers. One student confronting a bully is often enough to stop the abuse instantly, Canadian research has found. But support doesn’t even need to be that daring: In a U.S. national survey, victims said that peers helped most by simply spending time with them, and sharing advice.

And yet research suggests that students offer assistance on the scene or later less than 25 per cent of the time. Improve that number by teaching the right skills, experts say, and we might not read so many horrible headlines about teenagers like Jenna Bowers-Bryanton, who would rather die than face the bullies.

Jenna, a 15-year-old aspiring songwriter from Truro, N.S., killed herself in January after months of bullying at school and online. She received hateful text messages on her cellphone in the middle of the night. She was pushed in the hallway at school. Online, the insults bruised like punches: You are ugly, you are fat, you should kill yourself. She had few defenders, says her mother, Pam Murchison.

At Jenna’s funeral, friends left letters in a basket under her urn to be buried with her. Ms. Murchison said the letters included a common regret: Dear Jenna, I wish I had done more to help you.

“They didn’t do much of anything,” says Ms. Murchison, though she understood why. “They were afraid of being the next victim.”

Helpless observers also suffer: A 2009 British survey found they may feel as much depression and anxiety after a bullying incident as the victim. In a recent survey by Wendy Craig, a Queen’s University psychologist and a leading Canadian researcher on bullying, students said they wanted to help, but didn’t step in because they didn’t know how, were worried about being considered “a rat” if they told a teacher, or didn’t trust adults to be effective.

Her research shows that when students spoke up, or jumped in physically, half of the incidents ended abruptly. Telling an adult is the ideal response – the more students who come forward, the more likely school officials will react. But in the higher grades, Dr. Craig said, teenagers need specific skills: how to rally their friends to face down the bully or reach out to the victim.

Too often, says Stan Davis, the author of Empowering Bystanders in Bullying Prevention, kids get the message that directly confronting the bully is the only option. But, he points out in an e-mail interview, “We adults do not do this when we see a parent yelling at their child in a store or if we witness a robbery. Instead, we might make a distraction in the case of a parent, or call 911 in the case of a robbery.”

According to a 2010 survey of 13,000 U.S. students from Grade 5 to Grade 12, victims of bullying reported that bystanders were the most helpful when they comforted them after the fact, helped them get away from the situation, or gave them advice. Telling an adult was farther down on the list. And they ranked all those actions higher than direct intervention.

What makes the difference may be numbers: A chorus of voices, especially online, can change the conversation. The presence of silent digital bystanders is particularly poisonous – the victim is invisible, and one joking comment can quickly set off a competitive string of nasty insults.

Sabrina Friskie, a Grade 11 student at Westminster Secondary School in St. Thomas, Ont., describes this scenario: Someone tagged a picture of another student with a nasty comment, but because it was on a third party’s Facebook page, the target of the insult couldn’t remove it. Ms. Friskie sent the link to a couple of friends, who joined her in criticizing the original poster online. The picture was quickly taken down.

“It’s important to have a group,” says Ms. Friskie, who is performing in a school play that explores bullying, this week. “Otherwise, you feel like you’re drowning in everyone’s negativity.”

While parents worry their kids might be victims (and emphasize how not to be a bully), the bystander role is often ignored, researchers say. Online, for instance, teenagers don’t realize that sending a link or adding to the hits can contribute to bullying, says Shaheen Shariff, an associate professor in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education at McGill University who studies cyberbullying. Her research shows that the larger the number of “cyber-voyeurs,” the longer the bullying persists, and the worse it gets.

“It’s all about socially responsible digital citizenship,” she says – helping teenagers recognize that they can bring about a positive change in the online culture. (Parents have to be part of that conversation, she says, although teens are reluctant to discuss their negative online experiences, often because they think mom and dad will limit their Internet time an attempt to protect them.)

For Jenna, who was struggling with depression, the taunts were too much. Now her mother speaks at school assemblies to remind students to look out for each other.

“ ‘Just leave it alone, mom,’ ” Ms. Murchison recalls her daughter saying not long before she died. “ ‘I’ll look after it.’ ” But she couldn’t – not on her own.

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5 Comments

  1. Bullying is a tragic fact that occurs in high schools (and universities/ colleges) all over the country. The problem is now there are more kinds of bullying. The internet, texting, instant messaging and the common forms of the past are still at play.

    Bullies in this day and age are way more cowardly than they used to be, they no longer have to show their faces to bully someone. Along with bullying comes the bystander affect. Being a bystander and not reporting bullying is not okay. As mentioned above, there are many reasons for not reporting bullying. However, cyber bullying is a little harder to prove. For example, a picture can be removed, comments deleted, texts and emails are more permanent but difficult to prove who they actually came from. Now that cyber bullying is so common, it is much more difficult to trace and too deal with.

    The article above suggested telling an adult is the best option. This is a good plan, but it is not likely to occur. First off, the victim will not report it to a teacher or adult, and would discourage a friend from doing so because it may just make the bully even more prone to bullying them. Many bullies threaten if you tell someone, you will just get it worse.

    Also, there are many times that telling an adult gets you no where, or it takes too long to deal with. Giving the bully time to get more blows in. Many times, if its not physical, bullying is hard to prove. Name calling, or making fun of someone, unless there are witnesses can’t be as easily proven. All of these factors making bullying harder to deal with.

    The effects of bullying are devastating, and the problem is, peers are afraid to stand up against bullying. Really bullying starts with the adults, teachers have to stop making jokes about other teachers, parents shouldn’t say mean things about other adults and so forth.

    Adults need to start setting an example, and they need to actually DO something about bullying. Once kids feel confident in the adults surrounding them, they may be able to invest in them, and look to them for aid.

    The tragic story of Jenna is a good thing to look at, she wanted to look after it on her own, but she couldn’t. And if she was able to have someone to confident in where she would be less embarrassed and ready to look for someone to help, perhaps a life could have been saved.

  2. Bullying is a very serious issue in our society. It’s a problem that affects children and most of all teenagers in high school a great deal every single minute. It could happen in the school hallways or yard or even online, bullying is everywhere. Often victims of bullying deal with depression and it could lead to suicide like it did for Jenna.

    I was a victim of bullying mostly in middle school and it was some of the worst years of my life. I was called “fat” and I would come home and just cry most of the time. What my peers or “bullies” said to me really affected me. Still to this day, at times, I feel like I’m not good, pretty or skinny enough.

    Also, the fact that bystanders see all the action and don’t do anything about it is not right. They can try to stop it instead of just watching the unfortunate events unfold in front of their eyes. THEY NEED TO TAKE ACTION.

    In addition, parents should also get more involved. They should teach their kids that bullying is not righ. Also that if they are ever being bullied or witness someone being bullied to go to them. This is so that they can prevent anything serious from happening and stop the bullying all together.

    This article hits close to home for me. One person, it only takes one person to stop bullying and it only takes one person to help a victim of bullying. So if you see bullying, don’t just stand there, do something about it and STOP IT!

  3. Bullying is a very serious and often traumatic event that affects the lives of many individuals, mostly those of children and teens. This issue is often a very touchy subject as individuals are afraid to admit what they have witnessed/participated in. The majority of bullying takes place in schools where parents are often not aware of what is happening to their child. In most cases, the victim would be afraid to tell an adult about this issue which typically causes the bullying to worsen and escalate as time goes on. Having experienced this myself, I can personally relate to the harmful feeling bullying creates and the amount of courage it takes to speak up and tell an adult about this problem. Bullying creates such a negative atmosphere for the victim which makes them dread going to school as they want to avoid the bully. However nowadays, bullying is becoming more popular as the availability to bully is a lot more accessible with new technologies such as texting, instant messaging, and social networking. This makes it very difficult for the victim to escape from this negativity.
    As discussed in this article, the simplicity of a bystander standing up for the victim could potentially save a life. Those who witness a bullying event rarely report this issue as they feel they may be considered a ‘tattle tale’ which could potentially lead to them becoming the victim. I was shocked to realize that bystanders only offer their assistance on the scene less than 25 percent of the time (Para.3). I feel that if more individuals would stand up for one another, this would eliminate the amount of bullying scenarios that would occur in a school environment. Teachers should be enforced to discuss bullying in the classroom as a part of the educational curriculum. This would help create awareness of the issue in hopes of reducing the likelihood of the occurrence. Individuals should also be encouraged to openly discuss bullying events and feel comfortable deliberating this topic with those who could offer their assistance. Everybody should be encouraged to fight for their rights and stand up for equality!

  4. I’m sure that everyone remembers that old line from childhood, you know, the one; ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’. If only repeating that line as I know I did growing up, actually protected you from the hurtful things that people are capable of saying. Bullying has evolved since my days on the school yard play ground and today those who find themselves victims of bullying seem have no real place that they are completely safe. Not only are the subjected to these crimes at school and in other public places but today’s bully can now invade their homes through their computers and/or through cell and telephones. This is why there is a serious need for more education about bullying and prevention techniques as well as a need for parents to monitor their children’s activities to the best of their abilities.
    It is as equally important that we set a positive example for younger generations, by monitoring the type of language and behavior that is used around them, keeping the lines of communication open and by teaching them that they need to stand up for the things that they know are wrong. But even with education and prevention techniques, sadly bullying will probably always exist in one way or another. But it would be comforting to look back on your life as an adult and say that you did everything possible to prevent bullying from happening around you, you may save a life.

  5. Tiernay Colquhoun

    Bullying will always be a very serious issue that people of all ages will experience at least once in their life time. It is ongoing, and there will probably never be an end to bullying as it seems to keep worsening everyday, as there are knew ways to bully others that don’t involve direct communication or face to face communication. For example, kids/teens can now hide behind their computers, cell phones, etc. and therefore are less hesitant to bully others.

    Growing up, I don’t ever remember bullying being as bad as it is now. I feel with the advancement of technology, bullying as increased immensely and is becoming a much more serious issue then ever before. Kids and teens have taken bullying to a new level, for example, in the article above, how 15 year old Jenna committed suicide due to the online bullying, and the text messaging. It’s amazing how much more kids are willing to bully if they can do it behind their phones and computers.

    In this article, it explains how letting parents or adults know about the bullying is the best option, however many kids do not want to let their parents know because they may be afraid of what the other kids may say or do if they were to find out that they got adults involved. So many parents have no idea what some of their kids may be going through.

    I feel it is important to raise more awareness to bullying as it is becoming a more serious issue everyday, and it is important for kids and teens of all ages to know that they are not alone and that they can stand up and put an end to their own bullying. There will never be an end to bullying entirely, but kids who are being bullied should not be afraid to stand up for themselves, and the bystanders also should not be afraid to stand up for the ones they see being bullied.

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