Fighting bullying in schools takes planning, support, awareness

My editorial piece in today’s Montreal Gazette criticizes the Quebec government for taking the easy way out with its proposed anti-bullying legislation, Bill 56. Designed to appease parents, it also seems to place the blame on schools for not handling this complex issue properly. But lack of funding and resources, coupled with short-sighted, short-term solutions, have made it difficult for schools to deal with the problem of bullying.

Some of my suggestions from the editorial (you can read the full version here):

When the government asks our kids to “right their wrongs” (according to the  English slogan to be used in their planned $1 million ad campaign), I would ask  Beauchamp to consider doing the same. To give this antibullying legislation hope  of succeeding, she needs to consider some of the following things:

Help schools out with antibullying plan templates that have been developed  through best practices. Offer them resources assembled by a panel of experts  commissioned for this task. Schools can use these to put their plans together,  so it doesn’t become a costly (and ineffective) makework exercise for school  staff with no training in this area. Templates already exist for school  social-media policies, bullying prevention and handling policies.

Put money into support services. Bullying doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Bullies  need more than punishment – they need help to understand the consequences of  their actions and rehabilitate. They need consistent, patient support from  teachers, guidance counsellors and, sometimes, mental-health practitioners to  learn impulse control, good judgment, empathy and conflict resolution. The  students who are bullied often need help as well. Being labelled a victim can be  incredibly disempowering, and it’s likely these children were already  vulnerable. Ideally, these support services will be active in prevention:  teaching tolerance and conflict resolution, particularly for students identified  as at-risk for bullying or being bullied.

Invest in digital citizenship education. Banning Facebook on campus is the equivalent of sticking one’s head in the sand.  Since today’s bullies often make use of cellphones, email and social media,  students need to be taught how to use these powerful communication tools safely,  with respect, dignity and awareness.

Think long-term. Antibullying initiatives are too often knee-jerk responses  that don’t take social costs into account: reduced school performance,  psychological problems, impact on family members, health-care costs, legal costs  and schoolyard bullies who grow up to become workplace bullies. If the  government is serious about using our tax dollars to right the wrongs, they need  to move from these reactive policy inoculations to innovative long-term  thinking.

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