Bullying in Schools

Obstacles to Successful Anti-Bullying School Strategies

Bullying: The intention to hurt, threaten or frighten through words or actions which manifests either physically, mentally, directly or indirectly.

Dr Ken Rigby, an adjunct Professor with the University of South Australia and leading education authority, estimates one in six Australian children aged between eight and eighteen are bullied weekly. He suggests appropriate, timely action taken by both school and parents, can greatly reduce the incidence and prevalence of bullying. He adds, “it’s widely accepted that bullying is prevalent in all schools, and that the degree to which anti-bullying programs were applied, was significantly related to their success.”

Lyndall Horton-James, a Bullying Prevention Consultant with the Soaring Phoenix, says schools need to consider interpersonal, organizational, environmental and cultural factors in order to effectively reduce the frequency and severity of bullying. Schools also need to provide professional development training for teachers and adds, “teacher attitudes to bullying are pivotal to its reduction. Any lack of teacher knowledge means a school’s capacity to respond to bullying in an effective and timely way, is severely hampered.”

Parental recognition of bullying behavior is another factor hampering school-based anti-bullying strategies. Ms Horton-James explains, “in my experience, and I deal with these issues on an almost daily basis, parents don’t adequately understand bullying and what’s effective in stopping it. Far too often parents wait, often months, after their child has disclosed they’re being bullied before reporting it to the school. By this stage, the bullying has become entrenched and far more difficult to remedy than if it had been dealt with when it first started. Parents need to ‘nip’ bullying in the bud and report it immediately.”

It would be easy to point the finger of blame at schools, or teachers or indeed parents, but as Ms Helen Tunney, a Junior School Team Leader in a large (Reception to Year 12) Australian school points out, there are further, deeply compelling reasons why bullying is still so prevalent in schools today and cites:

Increasing mental, social and emotional problems among all members of a school community including children, parents, carers and school staff. The westernised lifestyle is becoming complex, fragmented and sedentary. The community, more than ever, is increasingly asset-rich but time-poor with values and ethics becoming confused and religious doctrines abandoned. Today, the ‘self’ is generally held in higher regard than the ‘common good’.

An aging population of school staff which results in an ever-increasing age gap between teachers and students. This results in clashing values, limited tolerance and understanding of the lives of children and parents today. Poor health, less than optimal energy and job enthusiasm are all consequences of this age gap phenomenon. Teaching and managing large classes is becoming an overwhelming task that frequently feels unmanageable for some school staff.

The breakdown of adult-child positional power. Children are continually challenging adult authority, which was taken for granted in past generations. “It’s good the ‘bad old ways’ have gone, as they should be,” Ms Tunney says, “but in many instances they haven’t been replaced with anything effective.”

The ‘guilty parent’ syndrome. Some parents don’t set effective boundaries and standards for their children, usually because the parent has been socialised to believe their child mustn’t ever be unhappy or dissatisfied. If they are, then it must be their fault for being a ‘bad’ parent, so the children gain all the power within a family. The parent then gives up on discipline and abandons their parental role, replacing it with an over-emphasis on advocacy and friendship. This results in conflict between a school’s values and responsibilities to protect the rights of all students, and many parents’ values of, ‘my child is never wrong’. The ongoing tension between a school and such parents sabotages efforts to reduce bullying.

Lack of courage in some schools to apply appropriate consequences for bullying behaviours. This is often amplified by the lack of courage of some parents and students to accept consequences.

Trial by media. The coverage of ‘bad schools’ by current affairs television undermines a community’s trust in its schools and teachers, thus sustaining the guilty parent phenomenon.

Media influence on children. The tweenage syndrome sees children acting out teenage behaviours before they physically become teenagers. There’s increasing exposure to all kinds of violence, not just through real life media or news reporting, but also television drama that’s teenage/adult in content.

The government’s refusal to recognise the implications and complexity of a teacher’s work by significantly lowering class sizes. Today’s children need more personal space and greater access to adults. They’re generally far more indulged in their personal lives and are unwilling, or unable to cope without it at school.

Lack of primary and secondary school counsellors. Despite government promises, not all schools have either councellors or councelling time available.

Clearly, there’s no quick fix. Bullying is an extremely complex and inter-related social issue. Parents, schools and communities need to be communicating, involved and supportive of recognised and consistent programs for the issue of bullying to be adequately addressed, and school based policies to be effective.