“You can’t sit with us,” yells the boisterous young child, “you’re stupid!” He throws a handful of bark at the dejected classmate, and the other children around all start to laugh. The small child walks over to the furthest bench and sits, eating his lunch alone.
Whether they had been called names or been hurt by other students were two of the six questions that the 2012 Trends in International Science and Mathematics Study (TIMMS) used to assess bullying being experienced by primary school students around the world. New Zealand’s bullying rates were starkly exposed in this study, which concluded that we have the fifth-highest reported bullying rates among primary school children worldwide.
Bullying is often seen as name-calling and playground fights, but it can be much more than that. So do we really have a clear understanding of what bullying is? Dan Olweus, from Clemson University in South Carolina, has defined bullying as recurrent and harmful acts that involve an imbalance in power. This can range from teasing based on someone’s physical appearance, to throwing tree bark or a punch. Olweus is the founding father of bullying research and intervention after approximately 40 years of working in the field all over the world.
Bullying is not new. Our grandparents received wedgies and had to dodge spitballs. And now our children are being bullied — both at school, where the hallways can at times be a battleground, and at home, where their mobile phones and computers are being used as weapons against them.
In 2013, Vanessa Green from Victoria University’s School of Educational Psychology and Pedagogy (with students Susan Harcourt, Loreto Mattioni and Tessa Prior) produced the Bullying in New Zealand Schools report. Green and her team found that 94 percent of the surveyed schools say they have a problem with bullying.
“This report shows just how much of a problem bullying is in New Zealand,” says Green. “While some New Zealanders may think that we do not have a bullying problem, this is not what our children and our schools are saying.”
Technology has allowed bullying to become even easier and it no longer stops at the school gates. Children enter the boundless and uninterrupted world of the Internet, where bullies can hide behind their avatars and feel powerful from the safety of their mobile phones.
To be continued in the FishHead May issue