Suddenly, it seems that anti-bullying messages are everywhere. Even Lady Gaga is taking bullying seriously, telling her fans that “there’s always somebody that’s listening… before it gets too late.”
Latitude News is also interested in jump starting a global conversation about bullying. In our reporting so far we’ve been looking at how Sweden, which has one of the lowest rates of reported bullying in the world, compares with the U.S. in what schools and governments are doing to deal with the problem.
Check out our BULLYING TOPIC HUB
But we also wanted to hear how people around the world are confronting the issue in their daily lives. So we organized a web chat, inviting students, educators, and reformers from the U.S., Canada, Taiwan, Japan, and Australia to talk about their perspectives on bullying and how to stop it.
America knows bullying
It’s almost omnipresent in the U.S. Brenda High, founder of U.S.-based Bullypolice.org, said “I just got a call tonight from a parent in Texas who has a daughter being bullied on Facebook. I get calls like this all the time. Bullying is everywhere.” Sadly, as in the case of her son, people know bullying because of highly publicized youth suicides, and heavily promoted bullying prevention measures, including a White House anti-bullying initiative. In all, 47 states have passed anti-bullying legislation, and thousands of schools have set up bullying preventing and intervention programs.
The biggest bully in the world…
Is not whom you might think. For all the attention bullying gets in the U.S., we’re not the biggest bullies, according to a World Health Organization report on school-age bullying across countries.
Among 11-year-olds, for instance, we are right in the middle. Bullying havens include Turkey, Lithuania, and Greenland. Countries like Spain and Sweden see very little bullying, Note that the WHO report only considered North America and Europe, and Russia. A recent survey on cyberbullying among adults found that India. Indonesia, and Australia stand out as places prominent for bullying on Facebook and other social networking sites.
Schools can be part of the problem
Australian parent Jacqueline Pascarl was bullied as a girl, because of her mixed race background. “When I was 5 & 6, the bullying I experienced was stones and mud and taunts on the way to school and back,” she wrote. She had to suffer through it. But when Jacqueline’s 10-year-old daughter was bullied by another student last year, the school quickly responded to the incident. Jacqueline added that Australian schools are now legally obligated to address bullying.
That’s not the case in Japan, says author Takeshi Yabe. He said schools in Japan “are always trying to cover up” incidents of bullying. He says this happens because school policies assume that bullying should not happen, and when it does, it reflects poor leadership. This gives teachers and principals incentive not to report bullying, even though Takeshi says bullying can escalate to the point where a student might be bullied by an entire class, including the teacher.
Bullying is misunderstood.
That is to say, not everyone agrees on what constitutes bullying. Research commonly defines bullying as consisting of aggressive behavior that involves unwanted actions, is repeated over time, and involves an unbalance of power, several comments during the chat suggested that participants were less certain about applying the term. For instance, George Zhang, a Chinese student attending high school in Vancouver, says he doesn’t really have a clear idea where teasing or fighting ends and bullying begins.
Bullying happens to other people.
George Zhang was one of several commenters who felt he’d never been bullied. George’s perspective might be a common one, at least in the U.S. and Canada. Statistics suggest that individuals often are not directly involved in bullying, either as victims or bullies. But they may well experience bullying as a passive witness.
Bullying: blame teachers and parents?
Brenda believes that bullying has become such a big issue because adults are not taking bullying seriously, or because they don’t know how to effectively deal with the issue. She also believes that making a difference requires adults to take action and provide the right models for students. But American high school student Mitch Guadagni disagreed. “We can’t place all of the blame upon the parents, or even the schools.”
Richard Piggin of the U.K.-based Beatbullying agreed with Mitch. “It’s about everyone taking a bit of responsibility,” he wrote. He did think Brenda was right, adults don’t know how to deal with the problem, “…but the same could be said for children – surely if we are to stop it, children are central to achieving this.”
Does the term “bullying” make it worse?
Mitch believes that anti-bullying campaigns are inadvertently making it more difficult to combat the problem. As vice-president of his school and president of his school’s chapter of the Gay-Straight Alliance (in the U.S., bullying often affects gay students), Mitch frequently works with the teachers and the administration to help address bullying incidents at his school.
But he isn’t a fan of the term. For him, “bullying” has become equated with such appalling behavior that his friends and classmates don’t use the word, even to describe actions that are clearly bullying.
“We treat it … as a terrible thing that needs to be defeated,” Mitch wrote. “I’ve found that a lot of bullying comes from a lack of knowledge.” He’d prefer a term that students can apply to themselves. And campaigns that emphasis education and empower students to proactively fight bullying in their own lives.
The chat sparked a number of additional questions about bullying. Latitude News wants to know what else might be learned from conversations across countries. What works? What doesn’t work?
We are also intrigued by Mitch’s thoughts on the challenges of the bullying term. We wonder whether many other students feel the same way, and whether this is also happening in countries like Australia and South Korea.
What do you think??
The chat featured:
- Brenda High, founder of U.S.-based Bullypolice.org. High’s son committed suicide in 1998 because of bullying.
- Mitch Guadagni, high school senior from Long Island, NY.
- Jacqueline Pascarl-Gillespie, Australian author, humanitarian aid worker, and parents’ rights advocate.
- Richard Piggin, Deputy Chief Executive of Beatbullying, a UK bullying prevention organization which has launched a global campaign, called The Big March, to persuade the United Nations to enshrine freedom from bullying as a right of every child.
- Bettina Mow, high school teacher and parent in the San Francisco Bay area.
- Angela Rodolico, Taiwanese-American and college freshman in Taiwan.
- Takeshi Yabe, author of two books on school bullying in Japan and the U.S.
- George Zhang, high school junior, originally from China and now living in Vancouver, Canada.
- Maria Balinska, parent of a 5-year-old daughter and the executive editor of Latitude News.
- Colleen Kaman, chat moderator and multimedia journalist with Latitude News.