Bullying: Listen before acting - Education Matters Magazine

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Bullying: Listen before acting

Some of the most common approaches adults take to bullying among school students may not be the most effective, according to two experts on the topic. When it comes to bullying, they say adults must start by listening to the bullied child rather than rushing into action.

Both past and present approaches to bullying have often been ineffective, says Professor Marilyn Campbell of the Queensland University of Technology, and member of the Australian Universities Anti-Bullying Research Alliance.

“The most general advice to young people who were bullied used to be ignore it and walk away,” said Professor Campbell. “With the knowledge of the often devastating harm that bullying can cause we have changed our advice to say to the bullied student to tell an adult. In a school context that is usually a teacher.”

Though with the prevalence of bullying in schools not significantly decreasing, she warned that perhaps adults aren’t responding to bullying situations in the most effective ways.

“Instead of listening and hearing what the young person wants us to do we usually investigate and punish. This often brings more humiliation to the bullied student because of the lack of confidentiality and sometimes, if the bullying is severe, more retaliation, increasing the bullying,” she said.

Associate Professor Barbara Spears of the University of South Australia, and Chair of the Australian Universities Anti-Bullying Research Alliance, agrees that it is essential to listen to young people when formulating responses to bullying, and to tailor responses accordingly.

“For some time we have been suggesting that a whole school approach is required to deal with bullying, and the evidence suggests that this does help to reduce bullying, but it is not the complete story,” explained Dr Spears.

She said we also need to have differentiated, tiered intervention and prevention strategies, including both universal information for everyone to abide by and targeted and specific approaches tailored to the needs of particular students.

“As schools also reflect the communities around them, it is important that all aspects of each community work together to prevent bullying and support those who have been victimised,” added Dr Spears. “Bullying is everyone’s problem, not just a school’s. We must listen to our young people and do better to model alternative solutions to bullying, aggression and violence.”

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