In light of Pink Shirt Day on Feb. 27, I found myself wondering this week — what makes a bully?
While there’s been lots of research over the years on the topic, the answers vary. I couldn’t find a specific indicator for future bully behaviour. One recent study showed a combination of antisocial traits and depression as the best predictor of youth violence, which makes sense to me.
I also found it interesting that while many say bullies have low self-esteem, researchers have found some bullies are “psychologically strongest” with high social standing at school.
The one thing bullies have in common is they all use aggressive physical or verbal behaviour to make others feel uncomfortable, scared or hurt. That’s the definition of a bully — and we have a lot of them. Canada has the ninth highest rate of bullying in the 13-year-old category on a scale of 35 countries, according to the Canadian Council on Learning.
The Canadian Institute of Health Research reports one in three adolescent students in Canada have been bullied recently and that any bullying increases risk of suicidal ideas in youth.
So how do we prevent it?
How about focusing more on social and emotional learning (SEL) in our schools?
Recent research has proven that school-based SEL programs improve students’ classroom behaviour and reduce conduct problems like bullying.
As an added bonus, SEL programs also help students improve academic achievement — on average, a gain of 11 percentile points.
SEL programs promote student self-control, relationship building and problem solving and they teach children valuable social and emotional skills.
Our school district is running a few SEL programs currently, such as Roots of Empathy and the Mindfulness Project, but there’s always room for more programs to help create caring, inclusive school environments, in my opinion.
Of course, we can’t saddle the school district with all the blame or responsibility to fix our bullying problem. It’s going to take a village to stop bullying.
In a recent talk by Kim Schonert Reichl, a leading scholar and researcher on children’s social and emotional competencies, I learned the two by 10 concept. If an adult invests two minutes a day for 10 days in a row into positive conversation with a child who has bullying tendencies, that child’s behaviour will improve.
The concept has an 85 per cent success rate, which tells me that just being a positive influence in a child’s life can profoundly impact how they’ll turn out.
So in a perfect world, we’ll all focus on preventing bullying. But what if it happens tomorrow on the school ground?
Bullies rarely physically or verbally abuse someone unless others are around and statistics show that in the majority of cases, bullying stops within 10 seconds of peers showing they don’t support the behaviour.
So speak up and speak out against it as soon as you see it happen, and it will likely stop. Of course all incidents of bullying on the school ground should be reported to the principal, and any bullying outside of school should be reported to a parent or trusted adult.
We want to help, but we can’t stop something that we don’t know about.
I’m running out of space to write and I haven’t even touched on cyber-bullying, which is quickly becoming a favourite form of bullying in Canada, workplace bullying or legal bullying, which shows this is not just a children’s problem. There’s lots of information on the web for those who are interested to search. If you’re being bullied and need help, start by telling someone you trust. Kids and parents can also access information and support available on the province’s website at www.erasebullying.ca.