Bullying has become a major focus for Canadians recently. News stories abound of individuals and groups of teens being arrested for the crime and of heart-breaking stories of the victims. Few of us that attended public school were immune to it. If nothing else, we witnessed it around us, as we all eventually learned that bullying occurs wherever there are groups of people interacting with no authority figure present.
Now our provincial government has legislation, contained within the recently adopted Education Act, that attempts to deal with bullying head on. In Section 31 of the new Act, (which can be downloaded at http://www.assembly.ab.ca/ISYS/LADDAR_files/docs/bills/bill/legislature_28/session_1/20120523_bill-003.pdf) under the sub-title, “Student responsibilities”, the province has addressed the bullying issue directly. Most provisions for expected behavior in class are hardly new. They revolve around such reasonable directives as showing up consistently and on time, being prepared to learn and obey the educators, as well as just getting along with others and not engaging in bullying. What has changed is contained in the entry regarding reporting and not tolerating bullying and that bullying done after school hours and away from school property; indeed, even online bullying, can lead to punishment from the educational establishment.
Here is how the passage reads, “(e) refrain from, report and not tolerate bullying or bullying behaviour directed toward others in the school, whether or not it occurs within the school building, during the school day or by electronic means.”
Considering the fact that any failure to conform to this Act by a student can lead to suspension or expulsion, this change is more than just symbolic. The aim of the legislation is to try and stop bullying of any student wherever and whenever it may occur. While the Act is seemingly pursuing a laudable goal, the reception of these new provisions has hardly been unanimously welcomed. This is because what the government has done is make it a punishable offense to even be a bystander to bullying. They did not, however, provide a definition of bullying. This is important because it does not address where the line is drawn between bullying and more normal types of behavior such as teasing and joking and other typical youthful antics.
According to the anti-abuse website, bullyingcanada.ca, besides the normally recognized bullying behaviors as punching, shoving, spreading negative rumors, and excluding people from groups, the site also mentions less obvious forms such as “ganging up”, “mean teasing” and “scapegoating”. As much as society might want students to be more forthcoming with bullying reports, legislating “whistle blowing” may not be the right way to go, says Peter John Mitchell of the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada. In a National Post interview, the family values spokesman described the legislation as “wrongheaded” and may actually do more harm than good.
“It’s essentially saying that as adults, we’ve left the playground, and that it’s up to kids to police bullies on behalf of the school and parents,” says Mitchell. “Certainly there might be room for bystanders’ (involvement), but I hope we’re not passing the buck to kids and saying, ‘Solve your own problems.’”
Another concern of Mitchell’s is that it appears the province is undercutting the role of parents in the anti-bullying equation. Putting more responsibility on teachers, principals and boards of trustees can only serve to reduce the responsibility that parents have in stopping the practice. As Mitchell points out, “government makes a lousy parent.”
“Bullying is a relational issue requiring a relational response,” Mitchell continued. “It’s not that (law-makers) shouldn’t be involved; it’s that involvement should be limited, with policies that empower parents instead of having the opposite effect.”
Not all parents, however, know the signs that their child is being bullied or appreciate the harm that bullying can have on a young person. It is not “character- building” as some would have it, but character destroying. Moms and dads should watch for kids who have a lot of stomach and, or headaches; who are overly shy or given to panic attacks. Quality of sleep is another good indicator and parents may be wise to investigate if their child gets too much or too little sleep or if it is often plagued by nightmares.
Communication is also important and making sure your kids feel safe bringing concerns forward to you is a must.