Are we too quick to cry bully?
REGINA – Are we doing enough?
The question is asked around the world when it comes to bullying prevention.
But it leads to another: are we too quick to cry bully?
Leading experts say too often, we label children as bullies or victims, which may cover up a deeper problem.
While bullying is a real issue that causes real damage to kids who are victimized, psychologists say the ease which which these terms are thrown around is actually hurting the same children we want to protect.
“I would say there’s an international obsession with bullying,” said Dr. Helene Guldberg, a developmental psychologist based in the United Kingdom.
Dr. Guldberg says we’re obsessed with trying to find cookie cutter solutions to a problem that, statistically, hasn’t escalated.
“The message that comes across (in some anti-bullying campaigns) is that this leads to suicide,” she said. “It’s never that simple when a child takes their own life. It’s not caused by one nasty thing or several nasty thing other children did.”
One of Canada’s leading experts on childhood aggression and victimization, Debra Pepler, says creating restrictive legislation around bullying sends another wrong message, which should be about improving education, not punishment.
“Does isolating a child and sending him or her home for a week or two teach that child anything?” asked Pepler, a York University psychology professor. “It really doesn’t.”
Then, there are the very words we choose to use.
“Everybody wants to talk about, ‘bullies’, ‘bystanders’ and ‘victims’, like these are labels children should receive, a diagnosis of, ‘You are this’,” said Janice Taylor, who leads the Just Be Friends movement.
Taylor’s goal is to instill an early sense that friendship is the foundation of self esteem, which she believes is how we start a real conversation about aggressive behaviour.
Now, many parents struggle to have that talk with each other.
“It’s immediately defensive,” Taylor said. “There’s a fight. ‘Your child is the bully, my child is the victim.'”
“We’re not on the same team.”
The approach is one that policy alone won’t fix. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child.