Bullying in the Classroom

There’s a lot of talk given to the bullying problem we see in today’s society and yet not a lot seems to be effective at dealing with it.  Parents’ and educators’ attempts to intervene and reduce bullying seem ineffective at best and children are often left to their own devices to deal with it.  Part of the problem seems to be that us adults tend to focus on the specific children involved in the matter.  After all, doesn’t that make sense to look to those who are bullying or being bullied while leaving others out of it?

Turns out, it doesn’t.

There has been mounting research over the last decade that has found that although there are predictive individual characteristics of those who bully, they are moderated by the degree to which an individual classroom has “pro-bullying norm”.  That is, classrooms in which bullying actually is acceptable to the other students is where we see more bullying and bullying by a wider variety of individuals.  Importantly, this pro-bullying norm can be in place in two ways: (1) there are high levels of bullying in the classroom so children begin to see this as the social norm, and (2) there are low levels of anti-bullying attitudes present in the classroom.  It shouldn’t be surprising that if either or both of these are in place, bullying becomes an acceptable behaviour, one that may even serve the purpose of increasing or maintaining a child’s social status in the classroom.

When we look at how this larger environment influences behaviour, is it any wonder our focus on the individuals involved rarely change the situation?  And yet, because this behaviour is so highly associated with an environment that is conducive to it, how can parents and teachers work to change things?

Importantly, this starts in the home.  As much as many parents see bullying as a “school problem”, there is simply no room for parents to ignore their critical role in the types of attitudes their children have about bullying and how this plays into a larger “pro-bullying norm” that enables bullying to continue.  It doesn’t matter if your child is never the aggressor or the victim, we need to ensure our children are raised with the idea that bullying is not okay.  Now, how to do that?

A few ideas, though obviously there are many ways:

  1. Don’t bully your own children. This doesn’t mean you don’t have boundaries and rules in the house, but rather we stop putting our own ideas of what our children should be on them and try to force them to fit our standards.  See who your child is and appreciate and love every what-seems-weird bit of them.

  2. Model anti-bullying attitudes. Let’s face it, there are tons of ways us adults bully those around us and our children are often privy to these interactions.  Pay attention to how you treat others and stand up against bullying when you see it around you knowing that you are modeling these ideas and behaviours for your own child.

  3. Don’t blame the victim. If your child comes to you with a story of something that happened at school – even if it wasn’t to them – always make it clear that the victim is not to blame.  Don’t say things like “Well, he should toughen up” or “She shouldn’t have worn that”, but address the behaviour of the wrongdoer.  Talk to your child about how they can help the victim and why they should.

  4. Take any situation your child presents you with seriously. If a child knows a parent is on their side, it removes the doubt that somehow the child is at fault.  As parents, we then need to be the ones to pressure the school to address the problems both at the individual and environmental level.  This can only happen when we see the seriousness of what is happening and won’t happen when parents dismiss their child’s complaints or try to change their child to stop the bullying instead of addressing what is happening.

This doesn’t mean the school is free to ignore problems – they aren’t – but if we know we’re starting at home with each individual child, we know that the job of the school will be much easier and hopefully we can see an end to bullying behaviour.

By Tracy Cassels

December 07, 2015