We know bullying is destructive.
It can have serious impacts on students, from harming their learning and engagement at school to developing ongoing mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression.
It also impacts the bullies themselves, bystanders and even school staff.. But if bullying is that harmful, why is it such a persistent issue?
Well there are three basic problems. The first is that bullying can take many forms. We have overt physical or verbal bullying which is relatively easy to spot, but we also have online bullying, which can be anonymous, and covert bullying, which can be secretive and subtle.
Second, we don’t all have the same attitudes towards bullying. For instance some people believe that a bit of bullying is good—it’s character building. Others believe that bullies are made at home and there’s nothing the school can do to help. Many of these attitudes aren’t helpful, and make it hard for everyone to get on the same page and address the issue.
Thirdly, and finally, there’s no straightforward reason for why bullying behaviour emerges. It could be related to personal power or dominance, it could be about creating group identity, it could represent a lack of self-esteem and social skills. There are many possible causes, which means there is no one-size-fits-all solution.
However, even though it’s complicated, if a student is being bullied we can and should intervene, and there are a variety of approaches that have been shown to be effective.
The most common intervention is disciplinary, which includes detentions and suspensions, but we can also try mediation between bully, target and staff; creating support groups that empower students to come up with their own solutions; and restorative practices that include consultation with the wider community. The good thing about these approaches is they can sometimes improve the relationships between bully and target and can help build community resilience.
Now effective intervention is one thing, but how do we create a school where students simply don’t want to bully each other in the first place?
That’s where a framework like MindMatters can help.
For instance developing relationships and belonging, teaching social and emotional skills, and engaging with families can all impact the culture of the school.
So what’s your school’s strategy for responding to bullying? And how could your school use a framework like MindMatters to prevent bullying in the first place?