Is: Bullying

Across Canada, bullying is a major problem and as such it has become a topic of serious discussion. However, for a practice that is so common and receiving such a great amount of attention, bullying remains a very misunderstood pattern of behaviour. We have previously discussed how dangerous the broad application of such a toxic label can be -you can read that piece here– but recently we had the opportunity to shift our own focus away from the act of applying the label and towards better understanding the actions and motivations behind the people who truly created the need for the term.

Lisa Dixon-Wells has been working in the school system for over twenty years. Using her personal experience in the field and a master’s degree in educational psychology, Lisa founded the Calgary-based Dare to Care program. Lisa’s program takes a holistic approach to the problem of bullying and combines professional development for teachers, seminars for parents and student workshops for the purpose of transforming a community’s silent majority into one powerful caring, active and educated unit. Since its creation, over 500 schools in western Canada have employed the Dare to Care program. Lisa agreed to answer a few questions about bullying.

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Bullying is…

  • Lisa: …repeated and intentional harassment and attacks on others. Bullying can be perpetrated by individuals or groups and can take on many forms such as verbal, physical, social, sexual, racial, and perhaps the most prevalent of all…Cyber-bullying. Bullying is about power and should not be confused with normal peer conflict.


Bullies are…

  • Lisa: …not born that way. Bullying is a learned behaviour and is taught and reinforced early in childhood. The characteristics of intolerance, judgment, and a sense of entitlement are generally taught and reinforced at home by the parent or major caregiver. It is not surprising that little bullies grow up to be big bullies if we do not intervene and set consistent guidelines and consequences regarding unacceptable behaviours.


Bullies want…

  • Lisa: …to be in charge, to dominate and to assert with power.

They are motivated to win in all situations regardless of who they hurt along the way. They tend to lack empathy and have difficulty feeling compassion.


Bullies need…

  • Lisa: …and value the rewards that verbal, physical, social aggression can bring. They need to have a posse or followers that condone their behaviour and support it through silence or apparent acceptance. The bully needs to have this group in order to feel brave and to have status.


Bullies are created by…

  • Lisa: …the environment they are raised in. Thus, no child is born with a stamp on their head stating ‘you shall be a bully’.  Bullying is a learned behaviour and it begins early in childhood. The sense of entitlement and lack of remorse becomes more deep rooted the longer an individual gets away with the mean spirited behaviour.


The difference between the bullying that occurs in schools now and the bullying that occurred in schools 15 years ago is…

  • Lisa: …cyber-bullying. While verbal, social, and physical forms of bullying have always been part of human interaction in our schools and workplaces, it has only been in the last decade that we’ve seen the negative and sometimes deadly impact cyber-bullying has on people of all ages. It was once known that a person could leave their school or workplace and go home to a safe, bully free environment. Today, unfortunately, the bullying is coming into the living room and bedrooms via social media, texts, e-mails, etc.  There is simply no escaping from the devastating and hurtful comments of others.


The difference between children who bully and adults who bully is…

  • Lisa: …none really. It is still about a power imbalance between the bully and the target.


The most common misconception regarding the people who bully is…

  • Lisa: …that they have a very low self-esteem. It is widely believed that bullies feel badly about themselves and that they bully just to feel better about themselves and their situation. This is a myth! Studies show that most people who bully actually have a very inflated sense of self.


The most important fact that the parents of bullies must understand is…

  • Lisa: …that 60% of kids who bully will go on to have a run in with the law by the time they are a young adult. Parents must also understand that it is most likely their own beliefs and actions that are encouraging their child to behave this way in the first place. Parents need to be positive role models for their children. They must recognize that every time they interact with their children (or their children see them interacting with others), parents are teaching them something.


I know my child is a bully when…

  • Lisa: …he or she is consistently showing the following traits:

*No remorse.

*Quick to blame others.

*Power oriented.

*Little or no emotion.


While all children show signs of the above, if you have a child who is consistently lacking any remorse or empathy and if you know there is a strong adult influence in the child’s life that demonstrates the same traits, then it is better to err on the side of safety and get the child some help. We are not doing anyone any favours by ignoring this behaviour in young children and hoping that it is due to just lack of maturity or lack of social skills.


Bullying ends when…

  • Lisa: …every stakeholder is involved in the effort of bully prevention. In a school setting, this means that the staff, students, and parents must all work together to create a common language around bullying. Students need to learn non-reactive strategies, staff need to learn no-nonsense approaches to bullying, administrators need to create and implement a clear and concise code of conduct, and parents must continue to work with the school to enforce a bully-free environment. We need to shift the imbalance of power away from the few (2% of bullies) and into the hands of the caring majority.


Bullying IS will conclude next week.


Theodore Wiebe is a writer living in Calgary. You can follow more of his important nonsense on Twitter (@TheodoreWiebe) or Tumblr (writingafterdark.tumblr.com).

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