Earlier in the term I went along to Professor Vanessa Green’s inaugural lecture at Victoria University that tackled the issue of bullying which I feel is particularly pertinent to youth in educational settings. Green presented a range of points around the issue – and while the 45 minute format did not allow for any particular depth into the issue, there was a range of interesting points raised.
Bullying is a barrier to every human being having the right to fulfill their potential and develop a full set of social and emotional skills. The existence of bullying has historical been denied often making this area of research difficult. Defining bullying is problematic. There is debate around whether the use of the word ‘repeated’ should be included – one harmful incident is potentially damaging so does it really need to be repeated in order to be considered bullying. For instance, cyberbullying challenges the common definition, because one post containing defamation can be seen by a significant number of people and shared even further.
Espelage and Swearer have developed a social-ecological model of bullying among youth (explained further here). It suggests that the role of the parents is particularly vital, and some evidence suggests their advice can often be harmful (who is training them? Is this the responsibility of schools?). Other participants are then vital like peers and this is where the bystander effect comes into play. The more people that see the less likely we are to help. We are not taught how to intervene. This is the shift that Green proposes: a community response whereby we all accept responsibility for stopping bullying.
The bullying programme that Green advocates is KiVa, already being used successfully by a
small number of NZ schools. She detailed a number of promising aspects of this programme and argued that is should be widely used.
Another angle Green took in terms of a community response was in suggesting that we need to work towards a zero tolerance of bullying through shifting to explicitly teaching positive peer relationships and how to interfere in situations that do not fit this. Bullying occurs because of an unequal power dynamic – if left to sort it out themselves, this will remain unequal. We need to believe in the capacity for change and develop our growth mindsets.
I found her final point fascinating, as Green expanded the discussion to draw on our global community. We have seen in recent years a whistle blowing trend which has challenged the balance of power. These global manifestations of power the subsequent bullying that occurs could be a different story if we are all equipped to participate in positive relationships and intervene when we recognise a relationship that it’s not.