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Why we're losing the fight against bullying Add to ...

In her recent article about bullying, Erin Anderssen reports that Canadian educators are losing the fight against bullying. Most Canadian schools are simply not taking the necessary steps to combat this deadly serious problem. There are many reasons for this, Erin writes, not the least of them the fact that educators have tried to simplify a complex social issue down to good guys and bad guys, hoping positive language will seep into playground politics, and that zero tolerance will scare bullies straight. Schools have too often failed to act in the most serious cases, and kids won't tell on bullies if they don't believe it will make a difference.

The results show: A 2008 analysis of 15,000 students in Canada, the U.S. and Europe found that roughly one-third of students felt that anti-bullying programs had improved their school environment; but on an individual level, victims and bullies reported little or no change.

And according to an ongoing international survey of bullying by the World Health Organization, Canada ranks in the middle, with higher rates by several measures than England and the United States. (Canada has more reports of bullying than the U.S., but fewer Canadian students admit to being bullies.)

While other nations have brought their numbers down, researchers say, Canada has had limited success, according to data collected from 1994 to 2006. Although there was a decline in reports of students involved in repeated, long-term bullying, the number of chronic victims has remained steady - and girls' reports of occasional bullying have increased.

So what are we doing wrong?

Globe and Mail reporter Erin Anderssen answered readers' questions, along with Dr. Tracy Vaillancourt, who is an associate professor and Canada Research Chair in Children's Mental Health and Violence Prevention at the University of Ottawa. She is also affiliated with McMaster University's Offord Centre for Child Studies.

Online discussion transcript:

Danielle Adams: Hello and welcome. Joining us now are reporter Erin Anderssen, who wrote Saturday's story on bullying, and bullying expert Dr. Tracy Vaillancourt, who is an associate professor and Canada Research Chair in Children's Mental Health and Violence Prevention at the University of Ottawa. She is also affiliated with McMaster University's Offord Centre for Child Studies.

To start our discussion, Here's a comment posted by a reader identified as Zarny. Would you both like to give us your reactions to this statement? "A noble cause to try to put an end to bullying but it's not going to happen. It's a part of human nature; adults bully each other. To think you will eliminate in a group of THE most immature people is ridiculous."

Dr. Tracy Vaillancourt: I am always cautious in avoiding saying that we will eliminate bullying. It is, to some extent, rooted in our evolutionary past. However, I do think that we can reduce it substantially. I also think that we need to start with "the most immature people" i.e. children because in striving to reduce bullying, we need a cultural shift to take place whereby it becomes 'cool to care'. Research is pretty clear on the fact that it is next to impossible to change an adult's entrenched opinion. Luckily, children are much more open-minded than adults and so our efforts need to be directed at them with the hope that in the future, these children become adults with an entrenched opinion that bullying cannot be tolerated - that we must treat each other with dignity and respect.

Erin Anderssen: Thanks for joining us, Dr. Vaillancourt. Zarny: You are absolutely right, of course. We can't expect to completely eliminate bullying. But now that we know so much about it's impact on all parties involved - including bystanders (thanks to researchers like Dr. Vaillancourt) don't we have a reponsibility to do what we can to reduce it? Dr. Vaillancourt, How well do you think schools and parents are handling that point - the need to start educating children very early about bullying?

Dr. Tracy Vaillancourt: I think we are just beginning the dialogue. It is something that will take time, which is unfortunate because children and youth are being hurt by this. But I am encouraged because I know from other areas such as child abuse, we have made progress. It will not happen overnight. My concern is that we live in a fast-paced society that expects results immediately. If we don't get them, we give up. We must be patient, we must continue in our effort, and we will see results.

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