Bullying and cyber-bullying are considered the most widespread forms of peer aggression in schools. In Canada and the United States there are a variety of laws and programs aimed at protecting students from this type of abuse.
To determine if bullying laws and anti-bullying programs are working, researchers at Columbia University conducted what they called “the largest and most comprehensive evaluation of the effectiveness of anti-bullying policies in reducing students’ risk of being bullied.”
What they found was that effectiveness varied widely from state-to-state. Where the laws followed at least one criterion from the U.S. Department of Education teens were 24 per cent less likely to be bullied and 20 per cent less likely to be cyber-bullied, the authors said.
The department recommendations include – laws with explicit descriptions of prohibited behaviours, where the legislation is enforceable – on school property or off as well as clear reporting practices and specific consequences.
“Though bullying is the result of a complicated set of social, psychological, and peer impulses, we now see that laws aimed to reduce bullying are successful,” said Mark Hatzenbuehler, associate professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
“While policies alone cannot completely eradicate bullying, these data suggest that legislation represents an important part of a comprehensive strategy to prevent bullying,”said Hatzenbuehler.
How is Canada doing?
“The United States is much better on addressing bullying problems and preventing it than we are in Canada,” said Debra Pepler, a distinguished research psychology professor at York University.
UNICEF ranked Canada 21st of 29 nations in the incidence of bullying. Canada had a higher incidence of children being bullied than the U.S., Canada ranked 21st and the U.S. ranked 12th out of industrialized nations.
So why is Canada lagging behind the U.S.?
“It is because there’s been national attention to it, (in the U.S.) the health jurisdiction and the national education jurisdiction have been working together to really make this a national issue. In Canada that hasn’t happened,” Pepler told Global News. “There really hasn’t been any kind of unified public health promotion perspective on it.”
In Canada, there are provincial, federal and a few municipal laws addressing the issue – often defining bullying differently.
Pepler is also the scientific co-director of Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network (PREVNet), a Canadian authority for bullying prevention. The organization has mapped the federal, provincial and municipal laws that apply to bullying, as a resource for parents and educators.
Pepler believes anti-bullying programs are critical but laws are essential as well.
“They signal to the school system that you have a responsibility for keeping children safe, and in fact that’s the first responsibility that schools have, and if they’re being bullied, they’re not safe , it’s very simple,” Pepler said. “It’s very clear to the system that there is responsibility for this and there’s accountability for it.”
Judi Fairholm, is director of RespectEd the Canadian Red Cross’ bullying prevention program. She also agrees laws and prevention programs must be in combination.
“I think laws are really critical,” Fairholm said. “I see laws as giving us the building tools so that we can build prevention programs. It’s society saying bullying is not acceptable, if bullying happens this is what the law is saying.”
Last year the Red Cross peer anti-bullying program reached 450,000 students across the country.
“They speak the same language and they have credibility,” Fairholm said.
Canadian experts also believe to eradicate bullying parents, coaches, teachers and other adults must also be part of the solution.
WATCH BELOW: Canadian government video on bullying and cyberbullying
Stop Hating Online: ‘Consequences’
WATCH BELOW: Canadian Red Cross video on its bullying prevention program