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Susanne Hiller: Bullying Part Two

This is the second part of a two-part column on bullying.

Susanne's Bullying Part One

Bullying is nothing new, but haven't we moved on yet from the "kids will be kids" platitudes?

It is difficult, though. Bullying is such a complicated and emotional issue - right down to its definition. There is the outright physical and verbal "classic" bullying, but there is also the subtle kind that is tough to monitor. The false rumors.The putdowns.The exclusionary tactics. Mean girls seem to thrive in every school. I recently heard about a family who home-schooled their teen for the last few months of high school rather than let her be ostracized by her peers one day longer.

Governments and schools everywhere are trying to figure out solutions. A tragic series of youth suicides in Nova Scotia triggered the creation of a task force that recently recommended school principals be given authority to discipline students for acts off the school grounds. It also recommended a pilot ban on cell phones in the classroom in an effort to curb cyberbullying.

Under the new anti-bullying bill introduced in Ontario, bullies can now be expelled and it mandates the creation of school groups to encourage tolerance. Teachers in some schools in the U.K. have gone so far as to even ban "best friends" as they feel kids with larger networks are less likely to be bullied.

Closer to home, our province has implemented a Safe and Caring Schools initiative and schools across the island have developed their own anti-bullying campaigns and activities to get students involved to help combat the problem, such as mandatory anti-bullying pledges.

Certainly, awareness is better these days and surely implementing solid tactics such as increased adult supervision, better counseling services, real consequences and anti-bullying policies make some difference. But my aunt, who has seen her share, working in the school system for 30 years on the west coast of Newfoundland, says these strategies, while important, will not solve the problem as a whole.

"The issues are societal. Kids see bullying everywhere - at home, in the workplace, in churches, on the floor of the two houses of our governments, you name it," she said. "It is just called different names: spousal abuse, physical assault, slander, theft. Kids might not make all the links in a cognitive way when they engage in bullying in the schoolyard or the internet or wherever, but at some level they see connections and notice that some of these adult activities are not considered bad."

The task force in Nova Scotia put it this way, "Bullying is a major social issue throughout the world and is one of the symptoms of a deeper problem in our society: the deterioration of respectful and responsible human relations."

So how do we instill a larger culture of empathy and respect in the first place?

How do we teach our little munchkins to be kind?

There are no easy answers on the horizon. No quick fixes. And so we, the helicopter parents, continue to hover and worry and hope we can infuse our kids with enough self- confidence to handle whatever comes their way.

Like my friend and her 14-year-old son. He is a talented singer and she encouraged him to audition for a wonderful local choir. He has found a place where he shines and he has made some solid friends outside of his troubling school situation.

"I know he will be fine," says his mother. "As long as there is breath in me, I'll make sure of that."

Susanne Hiller is a writer and a communications consultant based in St. John's, NL. She has three children under the age of seven.

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