Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bullying affects us all

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'Fat, ugly and stupid' are probably the most used hurtful words that can be uttered in a school yard, but it's unlikely this vulnerable group will be setting up a self-help association in any school

For them, there is only the fear that even if they aren't openly taunted, they may be shunned and loathed nonetheless, perhaps the most insidious form of bullying.

DALE CUMMINGS /  WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

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DALE CUMMINGS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

This kind of aggression, both subtle and overt, has been overshadowed during the recent controversy by a provision in provincial legislation that will allow students to establish so-called gay-straight alliances, which has unintentionally skewed the discussion.

Some studies, for example, say the vast majority of bullying cases are related to body image, academic grades or cultural background.

Although a few well-publicized suicides have raised the profile of the problem and motivated governments to act, most bullied kids still tend to suffer in silence. Many will suffer serious consequences, such as depression, that can last a lifetime, according to studies reported by the federal Public Safety Department.

These quiet kids must be helped to speak out and teachers trained to listen.

Although the focus of the Manitoba legislation is on protecting children from bullies, the perpetrators themselves need help, not just discipline, because many of them go on to commit more serious offences when they are older, the studies show. Early intervention is the best medicine for delinquency, but first there must be a recognition that bullying behaviour itself may be the result of bullying.

School bullying, moreover, is not just about students. Teachers are also frequently the targets of cyberbullying and of taunts and threats by students, and parents have been known to intimidate teachers because little Johnny's marks are too low, or because he failed to make the football team.

The problem, then, is more complex than the legislation (and the controversy over GSAs) would suggest.

Provincial governments have been slow to react, but most of them have recently embraced new programs and strategies. The Manitoba government, for example, has expanded training programs for teachers, parents and students so they can identify bullying and take action.

British Columbia has been even more aggressive in its response. Schools in that province are required to form partnerships with provincial government departments, police and mental-health experts.

B.C. educators are receiving more training and education students are required to study bullying and threat-risk assessments before getting their teaching certificates.

DALE CUMMINGS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

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DALE CUMMINGS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Manitoba's anti-bullying legislation (Bill 18) is mostly based on motherhood principles that are widely embraced, with the exception of the unnecessary provision that would allow students to establish gay-straight alliances.

More than one-third of Manitoba schools reportedly have such groups already, which serve as supports for young gay people who may be confused about their sexual orientation or who feel threatened because of it.

That's because homophobia is still prevalent and a frequent cause of bullying, evidence that old prejudices die hard.

Some faith-based independent schools don't like the fact they will be required to accommodate GSAs because it offends their religious view that homosexuality is a sin and a violation of doctrine, but most are prepared to comply with the legislation, even though it will be difficult for them to reconcile with their sincerely held convictions.

Bullying has been a problem for as long as schools have existed and it will never be completely eliminated, but as programs and awareness increase, students and teachers should not feel as helpless as they did in the past.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Gerald Flood, Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 1, 2013 A10

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