Police AssociAtion of novA scotiA 55 Bullying Awareness 40th Annua l Cr ime Preven t i on Gu i de 2010 PANS As originally Published in Blue Line Magazine by nancy Colagiacomo Holidays are a great time to catch up on your childrens’ interests and activities, but also to learn what’s happening in their life. An innocent conversation can uncover unexpected facts. One father recently discovered his teen had been bullied in school for three years but never reported it. School bullies actively terrorize primary and secondary school students. Incidents like the Columbine massacre are believed to be associated with taking revenge against the bullies who made school miserable for the ‘trenchcoat mafia’ members. More recently in Massachusetts, 15 year old Phoebe Prince committed suicide after being bullied by six teenage girls who were later charged with stalking and violating her civil rights. Sadly, teachers knew of Prince’s ordeal but said nothing. Georgia student Tyler Long’s 2009 suicide is believed to have resulted from being ridiculed in school. It’s estimated that some 160,000 students in the US alone stay home from school each day for fear of bullying. Fourteen student suicides in the last year were related to bullying. Bullying has evolved from the schoolyard. Today’s bully uses technology like texting, Facebook and Twitter to torment their victims. What used to be a face-to-face encounter that occurred in specific locations can now take place 24/7. This kind of violence is a great concern for teens, who find themselves helpless and confused, and for parents. Violence is either verbal, written, or physical and appears in various ways, including physical attacks, humiliating remarks, threats and extortion. Bullies will often give a false indication of self-confidence, have a great need to dominate and a limited ability to manage interpersonal conflicts. Victims who are intimidated may be more sensitive and appear to have few close friends at school, often seeking to be close to adults, and their mood may fluctuate between anger, fear, shame, doubt and guilt. Witnesses to their bullying are usually afraid to tell and be regarded as informers and may choose to be passive; some may actively help the intimidator during the aggression or be an active spectator, laughing and encouraging them. Even if all students are not directly touched by the phenomenon, there is much to be concerned about. A 2002 investigation by the Québec Ministry of Public Security found young people most feared being extorted on the school ground and six out of 10 had encountered this situation in the past. Obviously these kids are not very inclined to trust an adult and most are afraid of the consequences if they tell. Some think adults will not intervene. Interestingly, one third of school principals said that the lack of denunciation of the incidents is a factor which limits their efforts to counter such acts. The Québec auditor general launched a study in 2005 which found school violence was not a major problem in the province but still remained a preoccupation. The Québec Ministry of Education, Leisure and Sports spent almost $17 million across the province over three years on an action plan to prevent and treat school violence through awareness, prevention and intervention. Although most schools have written policies banning all types of violent acts, they do not provide students with a way to get help when they’re bullied. The most likely people to witness bullying – teachers – don’t feel equipped to handle these situations. “Parents and teachers MUST intervene when they see bullying take place,” says bullying expert Susan Swearer, associate professor of school psychology at the University of Nebraska. “First, they must tell the student(s) who are doing the bullying to stop. They need to document what they saw and keep records of the bullying behaviours. Victims need to feel that they have a support network of kids and adults.” Committees made up of police officers, school board representatives, health and social services meet several times a year in Québec to exchange information and experiences to better equip teachers to deal with school violence. Their mandates include promoting awareness, encouraging training of all school personnel and developing a coordinating team to devise a protocol for intervening in or investigating bully incidents and guiding participants to establish a realistic approach to counter the problem. It’s important to establish the roles and responsibility at every level – teacher, principal, social services, parent and police. This approach works well with community policing, encouraging officers to develop and promote anti bullying programs in the schools with the active participation of all concerned. It’s a matter of bringing together partners from different spheres in order to develop tools and implement them. One of the participating school boards released a video made by students, for students on bullying which received a positive response. It’s an indication to other Phoebes and Tylers that someone is listening. Back to school, back to bullying