Call it what you like, bullying takes many forms and is alive and well in many instructions, including families. I will talk about bullying in our schools, because that is my workplace. You may wish to read my previous blog on bullying.
I see in the Sunday Star times that the issue of cyber-bullying is being discussed and that there is a move away from restorative justice practices to a more punitive approach. I believe that we should be careful about reacting too quickly and moving away from a proven strategy, if it is used in the right circumstances.
RJP will only work if ‘all parties come to the table with an open mind and a will to make things better.’ If that is not the case, the RJP will not work and the issue feeding the need for the conference will not go away.
If there is a move back to more punitive processes in our schools as ‘the way’ to tackle the problem of bullying, then, we are merely covering up the cracks in our society schools. Bullying is a serious issue and I am not being glib when I say that the bully often has as many problems as the victim. Simply, throwing out the perpetrators will simply take the problem elsewhere and allow space for another bully to take the place of the ‘excluded one.’
No one approach to bullying will work alone. Firstly--- a school must have a ‘zero tolerance,’ policy towards all forms of bullying. The school must have a policy that allows for a variety of approaches, underlined by the belief that it must ‘do something.’ Too many of our children are desperately unhappy at school because of bullying and some go to extremes to escape their tormentors, including self-harm and suicide.
If a school has a policy that demands punitive approaches alone, then the perpetrator will take their issues with them, outside the school, sometimes still having an influence beyond the school gate. If schools believe that they exist in a vacuum and that once an identified serious bully has left the institution and the problem with them, then they are indeed naive. Our schools and students are linked in many ways beyond the school gate. They always were, but with the advent of social media in all of its forms, the extension is vast. I would venture to say that bullying has become easier to act out on, and the victim may not even know the person making their life hell.
What can schools do? They must bring in their community to talk openly about the problem. There is no point in following past practices where bullying was dealt with in a manner that actually normalized it as a fact of life and that kids should just get on with life and ‘toughen up.’
Schools m ay well need to be part of a programme that monitors the activities of their students, at least while they are at school. It is a known fact that students can text right in front of their teachers, without even looking at their cell phones. God, alone knows what they are texting and what messages of hate they are sending. Stopping this practice involves some draconian actions; ones that a large segment of our society is unwilling to embark upon.
I have often heard parents saying that they need to be able to get in touch with their children during the day, hence the necessity for their children to have their phones with them and turned on. I say--- ‘what did we do before the advent of cell phones?’ We rang the school office of course, for urgent matters!
For after school activities the problem is a lot more complicated; which lends urgency to the need to have a wider debate about where we are going with technology. In the hands of teenagers, who are already on a collision course with altered reality and questions about ‘who they are in this world,’ then it just becomes even more problematic.
It is pretty obvious that schools are under pressure to handle the problem of bullying. That should not be left to them alone. No ‘one way’ of looking at the issue will be enough in itself. Yes---- ‘for serial bullies,’ show them the door if they do not respond to other approaches, but simply moving them out is not the answer.
Schools need resources to deal with bullies, in the form of programmes and personnel, backed up by some of the more punitive methods when there is no change in an individual. Getting g the balance right is a challenge for all schools and communities. For Governments, hell-bent on cutting resources, they will only have to spend the money in other areas, further down the track in ‘mental health services and the building of more prisons. I suspect that spending now on effective programs is the better way to go.