Bullying: A Complex Response
Considerable attention has been given lately to the Amanda Todd suicide and the issue of bullying online and in our schools. And rightly so. The extensive media coverage describing the viciousness and breadth of abusive behaviour make it seems epidemic. The media, educators, parents and communities talk about teaching kids skills to prevent them from becoming victims of bullies. There are anti-bullying programs offered in schools teaching kids how to avoid being the victim of bullying and what can be done to assist those who are. Everyone wants to come to the aid of those who have been victimized by bullies. Parents are warned to be vigilant in policing their children’s behaviour online to minimize the potential for their kids to bullied/abused by peers or predators. The responsibility is clearly placed on the potential victim prevent bullying/abuse. Implied in this is failure to prevent bullying/abuse lies with the victim. Efforts are made to encourage kids by making it easier or less dangerous to report bullying/abuse.
Victims of bullying/abuse need and deserve our support and protection. Children and youth who have not been directly bullied but who are friends of those who have also need to be acknowledged and attended to. They can be likewise traumatized by the events they’ve witnessed. They are referred to in clinical settings as secondary victims. Both primary and secondary victims benefit from an opportunity to tell their story without blame or judgement in ways that promote personal agency.
The kids who fear they too will suffer the same horrible fate of being bullied often go unnoticed by adults and peers until it’s too late. They deserve our attention now. The children/youth who remain silent about bullying they experience or witness do so because they have encountered apathy and impotence from adults previously. They too need an opportunity to share their experiences. Otherwise they may end up with emotional baggage.
Adults and youth who witness bully’s actions, who read, share or like online slander multiple the bully’s power to harm and need to be held accountable in the same way as those directly perpetrating the abuse.
Public opinion is mostly silent when is comes to the bully/abuser ‘s actions. Little time is given to understanding how we might assist the bully to change or what drives their actions. Punitive measures seem the only available recourse. Kids identified as bullies are marginalized, outcasts, and punished. Parents may have similar experiences of being outcast and demonized. The parents, relatives and friends of the bully are caught in a difficult dilemma. They love their kids and at the same time are harmed by their child’s actions. Such dilemmas can negatively impact parent’s relationships with siblings, spouses, relatives and friends, make helping their child extremely difficult. Seeking professional advice and assistance from a counsellor experienced in working with children and youth who have bullied may be important and beneficial.