Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta
When I was a school principal, one of the most challenging parts of my role was dealing with the complex matter of bullying. It is complex because it usually involves many people and often many perspectives. While it is critical that schools handle these matters sensitively and in a timely manner, it is also important for parents and students to understand what bullying is.
What may have been meant as light-hearted teasing on the playground or sporting field, or a dispute between two friends over access to a computer game isn’t bullying. These comments can be unpleasant, but they not the same as behaviour that is repetitive and involves someone being physically, emotionally or psychologically injured. Bullying is about someone exerting power over someone else. Bullying that takes place over a long period of time can cause serious harm. It impacts on a student’s self-esteem, their ability to focus and learn, and on their relationships with other students and families. The effects of bullying can sometimes last a lifetime, which is why education is so important.
It is critical that young people speak up when the behaviour of others moves beyond something light-hearted to something that is intended to cause injury or hurt. Many schools empower their students by giving them strategies and skills to be able to respond to bullying when it occurs. Teaching students how to solve problems, resolve conflicts with others, ask for help, and develop empathy are all ways that can minimise the negative effects of bullying.
While there always needs to be appropriate consequences for inappropriate and harmful behaviours, punishment is only a short-term fix. What matters above everything else is changing that behaviour, otherwise it is likely to continue, sometimes into adulthood. The best approach is try to understand the causes and help the person who is doing the bullying to better understand just how much harm they are causing. The sad fact is that many young people who bully others have been victims of bullying themselves.
It is important that parents talk to their children about what bullying is and reassure them that if they ever feel bullied, to speak up. Parents and schools cannot do anything to address the issue if they don’t know it is happening.
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta