Tragic events such as the stabbing death of a fourteen-year-old in Hamilton and the brutal assault of a teen at St. Michael’s College in Toronto highlight the seriousness of bullying and its consequences. They also highlight a reluctance of some people to deal with bullying head-on, in a pro-active manner.
There is, it seems a “willful blindness” and a hope that these matters will somehow resolve themselves. Often, bullying is downplayed.
“Boys will be boys.”
“Use your words.”
“Just ignore them.”
“Just stay away from them.”
Sound familiar? Do these tactics deter a determined bully? No.
Worse, as bullying experts note, such passive responses perpetuate rather than deter bullying. Ervin Staub, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, conducted an extensive study of bullying in schools. “Sadly, he notes, “teachers don’t intervene often. It turns out that some teachers think kids should take care of their own business. So, they don’t do anything.” “This is problematic”, he adds because “when we are passive, that sends a message that there’s no need to act. (157)
Of course, it is not only teachers but administrators, parents, and others who can default to the passive.
It is a general absence of strong leadership against bullying that perpetuates the problem.
To be fair, some schools take bullying seriously and engage in education, prevention, and have the will to suspend kids who engage in bullying of any kind. I have seen this firsthand. These active leaders put the bullied kids’ safety and well-being ahead of political agendas, the fear of alienating parents (perhaps afraid of losing their tuition contributions?), and the discomfort of dealing with an ugly matter.
Wishing away the problem doesn’t work. Every bullied kid wishes bullying goes away. Sadly, these wishes don’t often come true.
Time for us to be more vigilant. In future blogs, we explore more active ways of preventing and dealing with bullying.
Margaret Hefferman, Willful Blindness: Why we ignore the obvious at our peril. Toronto: Anchor Canada, 2011.
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