Anti-bullying programs work -- trouble is, they average a 20 per cent reduction in bullying.

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Anti-bullying programs work -- trouble is, they average a 20 per cent reduction in bullying.

"Currently, we do not know what is the best method for dealing with bullying," University of British Columbia education Prof. Shelley Hymel told a provincial forum on safe and caring schools Friday.

"Bullying is no longer seen as a rite of passage that makes someone better or stronger," Hymel told about 300 education officials and students. "We're looking for a simple solution for a complex problem -- there's no one type of bully."

Hymel said research shows mental health is a part of bullying, the rate of brain development is a part, and even human nature contributes to bullying.

Bullies tend to be aggressive and hyperactive, with lower-than-average levels of empathy, and higher-than-average levels of narcissism. "Just because you have the tendencies, doesn't mean you have to go the route," Hymel said.

Bullying peaks around Grade 6, she said. "Bullying drops off at the end of high school, but it never goes away -- it's in the workplace."

Children do things in groups they wouldn't do alone, and the pressure to conform to what a group considers normal is overwhelming, said Hymel.

Only 15 to 17 per cent of students will intervene to help a student being bullied, she said: "They are mostly girls."

Twice as many bystanders will take the bully's side as will help the victim, and the rest just stand and watch, said Hymel.

"Our brains are wired to conform. Kids especially use teasing and exclusion as primary weapons," Hymel said.

So is there any hope?

"The teacher can influence group norms," Hymel said. "The teacher that has a 'we, this is us together' (attitude to the classroom), has a different climate than the teacher that allows students to splinter into cliques."

Teachers can promote positive relationships in their classrooms, and, in the edu-jargon, "develop social emotional learning," Hymel said.

Bullying requires immediate intervention, she said, but discipline is not the only answer. Teachers can work with a bully so the child figures out for himself or herself what impact the bullying had on the victim.

Education Minister Nancy Allan told delegates new technology is constantly allowing children to exploit new forms of cyberbullying to stay ahead of those trying to stop bullying.

"Our laws need to adapt," she said. "There is a lot of that in Bill 18" that would thwart cyberbullying, said Allan, who chided the media for ignoring the vast majority of the pending anti-bullying legislation.

Attention has focused on a provision in Bill 18 that requires public schools and any private school accepting public funding to accommodate any student who wants to form a gay-straight alliance.

During the morning session, Allan met with 50 students from across the province who were to tell the minister what the reality is within schools, and to ask her what she will do about it.

Students from the Gray Academy of Jewish Education held a session in which they explained how they had formed a GSA in their school. Sessions involving students were closed to the media.