Keeping You

Lifestyle: Bullying at home and school

12 Jun 2018

As a father of three young boys who grew up competing quite strongly with each other I am relieved that as adults they are extremely close and supportive of each other.

However, looking back, my boys have described some of their youthful fighting with each other as bullying which shocked me.

So, I wasn’t too surprised when I read that Victoria University researcher, Dr Vanessa Green, claimed that bullying is not an inborn part of human nature, but that it is a learned behaviour, often learned from brothers and sisters at home!

So much for my good parenting.

In a past career I was a teacher in a West Auckland high school where we put in place a huge anti-bullying effort. All year 10 students were trained to recognise the early behaviour that could develop into bullying and were helped with early intervention techniques. The idea was to diffuse situations in the playground that could have developed into bullying. I thought it a very helpful exercise. It raised awareness and helped children see the impact of verbal bullying long before it developed into physical stuff. I was very proud of it and I believe it was a great start.

Did you know that New Zealand has the second highest rate of school bullying in the developed world, more than double the OECD average?

Studies tell us that between 20 to 50% of NZ children are bullied at school. The bullied are four times more likely to contemplate suicide as adults than the un-bullied, and the bullies themselves are twice as likely to contemplate suicide as adults than the un-bullied.

Minorities are typically targets of bullying including Maori students, disabled and LGBT+ students.

My three boys went on to another Auckland high school where the same anti-bullying efforts had been made throughout the school. Their principal had been a colleague of mine at the school I taught at where we trialled the Year 10 anti-bullying program. On the first day of school one of my children was bought up in front of the deputy principal for calling someone ‘four-eyes’. I was happy to see the school was so well drilled, that their anti-bullying system was alive and working. It was a helpful lesson for my son too.

When I interviewed a Dunedin Primary School principal many years later to choose a school for my daughter I asked her about her attitudes towards bullying. She thought that teaching resilience was the best approach.

Is bullying just one of the tough rites of passage for children and is there nothing we can do about it other than teach resilience? I am all for resilience but is that enough?

New Zealand schools apparently demonstrate a wide range in their approach to bullying. Some schools fear that if they had to report levels of bullying, it could stigmatise their schools. Some pass the buck back to parents. Former Education Minister, Hekia Parata, was quoted as saying, she thought that parents needed to take more responsibility as “schools can’t teach everything”. I don’t buy that at all. Children behave differently in a group. Any institution has a responsibility to firstly do no harm and that, to me, comes before learning in schools. I know first-hand that many schools have done amazing things in this area.

Apparently current Associate Education Minister, Tracey Martin, has a ‘vision’ of requiring all schools to have anti-bullying programmes and annual assessments in place that include feedback from students. The idea has not yet been taken up by the current Education Minister, Chris Hipkins.

I can only hope and wait.

The Police website is a good resource. They have a program called Kia Kaha that has been around for some time. They link in with a number of other organisations to provide a well-rounded approach.

I would also be interested in anti-bullying ideas and systems for use in the home too, given that is where it all starts, apparently.

Keep asking great questions …


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