By Dr. Mary Hall, Director of Safe Schools Manitoba
Students throughout the province headed back to school with anticipation — excited to meet their new teachers and re-connect with friends. For most young people this was a positive experience; unfortunately for others, feelings of anxiety and fear as a result of bullying re-emerged.
It is timely to gain a better understanding of this problem and share strategies to prevent it. Measures already in place include Manitoba’s Safe Schools legislation and bullying prevention action plan, as well as numerous policies, programs and resources. The prevention of bullying requires a continued, concerted effort by government, schools, homes and the broader community.
Awareness and understanding are the keys to preventing this serious problem. We need to understand its dynamics, signs, causes and effects. Bullying is an intentional, repeated assertion of power. It can take many forms — verbal, relational, physical and electronic. It can start in pre-school, tends to peak in middle school to junior high, and continues into high school and beyond unless addressed. Warning signs of victimization can include, but are not limited to: unexplained and prolonged unhappiness, anxiety, fear, low self-worth, isolation, reluctance to go to school and references to self-harm. The effects of bullying are widespread. It is devastating to a victim and its impact can last a lifetime. If a bully’s harmful treatment of others is not dealt with at a young age, it can progress into adulthood. Bystanders can experience prolonged feelings of helplessness and guilt.
Both victims and bystanders are often reluctant to report bullying because they are fearful of retaliation, however, when adults engage in regular conversations about the problem, children will be more likely to share their experiences. Preventative measures, effective reporting procedures, prompt interventions and logical consequences are critical steps to addressing it.
Bullying prevention is everyone’s responsibility — government, educators, parents, students and members of the broader community contribute to the safety of schools. When there is a long-term commitment, we can make a difference and all young people will thrive.
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