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bullyingYou 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.

This was shown in Green’s report, which indic­ated that cyber­bul­ly­ing is a hid­den form of bul­ly­ing, and 55 per­cent of respond­ents report­ing that it had not been brought to their atten­tion in the pre­vi­ous four weeks. “The bul­ly­ing can be hap­pen­ing in such a pub­lic way, but it is still private in that the adults dir­ectly involved with the chil­dren can have no idea,” Green says.

Bul­ly­ing and cyber­bul­ly­ing are often put into sep­ar­ate cat­egor­ies, but there is a huge over­lap, says Green. Chil­dren that are being cyber­bul­lied are often also being bul­lied in a tra­di­tion­al way.

Green argues that the TIMMS stat­ist­ics indic­ate that bul­ly­ing is a major issue in New Zea­l­and that must be addressed. We make our chil­dren go to school, she says, and it is their fun­da­ment­al human right to feel safe and secure while they are there. Yet we are not ensur­ing that their envir­on­ment is safe.

Chief Humans Rights Com­mis­sion­er Dav­id Ruther­ford says that we need to be kind and brave, and that we need to stand up to human rights abuse right in front of us.

It is a dis­grace that we do not have good data,” he says. “We do not know exactly what the num­bers are, but we know we have a prob­lem.” He says that to reduce New Zealand’s bul­ly­ing stat­ist­ics we need to stand up for oth­ers and work togeth­er to help.

The thing that people who have been bul­lied remem­ber most, that harms them most, is that nobody stood up for them. So e tū, stand up. Do not be a bystand­er,” he says. Ruther­ford says that prin­cipals who know what they are doing acknow­ledge the issue and are work­ing to reduce bul­ly­ing in their schools. “We real­ise that it is the lead­er­ship of board, prin­cipals, teach­ers and stu­dents that will make the difference.”

Jenny Wil­li­ams, prin­cip­al of Samuel Marsden Col­legi­ate School, says bul­ly­ing is some­thing that exists, to some extent, in all schools. “I have been teach­ing a long time, and I believe that it is an inher­ent prob­lem. It is part of human nature, because we worry about people that are different.”

Like Green, Wil­li­ams is quick to identi­fy New Zealand’s hes­it­ancy to face up to bul­ly­ing. “It is an issue in New Zea­l­and because it is hid­den. People do not want to talk about it”, she says, “and the first step to solv­ing any prob­lem is accept­ing that it exists.”

The next step, of course, is to take action. Vic­tor­ia University’s Accent Learn­ing has taken an act­ive role in this, and they believe that they may have found a way to pre­vent and inter­vene in New Zealand’s bul­ly­ing prob­lem. Their answer comes in the form of an anti-bul­ly­ing pro­gramme called KiVa, which ori­gin­ated in Fin­land and is short for kiusaamista vast­aan, mean­ing ‘against bul­ly­ing’. This pro­gramme aims to change the beha­viour of stu­dents by encour­aging them to take con­trol of their own school­ing envir­on­ment, and to stand up and speak out if bul­ly­ing occurs. The pro­gramme has received numer­ous inter­na­tion­al awards, such as the 2009 European Crime Pre­ven­tion Award and a 2012 Social Policy Award in Van­couver, Canada.

After more than a dec­ade, Fin­land is con­tinu­ing to reap the rewards of KiVa, demon­strated by a reduc­tion in their high school bul­ly­ing stat­ist­ics. The programme’s suc­cess else­where has also been enorm­ous, with repor­ted reduc­tions in both self- and peer-repor­ted bul­ly­ing and vic­tim­isa­tion. In fact, 98 per­cent of stu­dents involved in dis­cus­sions with KiVa teams feel that their situ­ation improved.

KiVa is the first pro­gramme of its kind to be intro­duced in the south­ern hemi­sphere. It focuses on pre­ven­tion, inter­ven­tion and mon­it­or­ing, with one over­all goal: to reduce bul­ly­ing. It is cur­rently designed for stu­dents in Years 2–Year 8, but a unit for juni­or sec­ond­ary schools is cur­rently being translated.

Deidre Ver­caut­er­en, the edu­ca­tion pro­gramme man­ager at Accent Learn­ing, fought hard to bring KiVa to New Zea­l­and. “We have such a lovely coun­try, with appalling stat­ist­ics. It is really grim”, she says. “The num­ber of our kids that are hurt­ing or not want­ing to go to school breaks my heart.”

It is pretty clear through research that most kids do not con­done bul­ly­ing,” Ver­caut­er­en con­tin­ues. “They just get caught up in it.” It is at ages nine to 14 where bul­ly­ing spikes in chil­dren. At this age chil­dren are spend­ing a major­ity of their time at school. “This is not say­ing that schools are to blame,” says Ver­caut­er­en, “but this high­lights the import­ance of a pro­gramme with­in schools that focuses on what bul­ly­ing is, and how it can be prevented.”

But do New Zea­l­and schools have the time or the resources to wel­come a new pro­gramme with open arms? Ver­caut­er­en believes that the integ­ra­tion of KiVa will not be a prob­lem, stat­ing that the pro­gramme will fit per­fectly into the exist­ing cur­riculum and that it is not an add-on pro­gramme. What’s more, schools become part of the KiVa com­munity, which is over­seen by a KiVa sup­port team. “It becomes a com­munity”, Ver­caut­er­en says. “There are news­let­ters and KiVa days, where schools can dis­cuss any issues they may be hav­ing with oth­er people work­ing with the programme.”

Of course, there have been numer­ous attempts to solve bul­ly­ing in the past, and yet we still have poor stat­ist­ics, so why is it believed KiVa will be the answer?

The idea is to change atti­tudes,” Ver­caut­er­en says. She sug­gests that for some schools and par­ents there is a feel­ing that bul­ly­ing is ‘a part of grow­ing up’, ‘some­thing every­one goes through’ and ‘some­thing you will get over’. “But this idea leads to sin­is­ter stuff,” Ver­caut­er­en says.

KiVa also focuses on stu­dent safety but does so in a way that encour­ages engage­ment, Ver­caut­er­en says. There is an email func­tion where stu­dents can con­tact mem­bers of the KiVa team, but in a way that allows some anonym­ity. Togeth­er with the email func­tion there is an online game where chil­dren have their own avatars and learn in a fun way. “They can even dress them up,” she says, “and this is a huge reas­on for its suc­cess with children.”

Vanessa Green has worked closely along­side Ver­caut­er­en with KiVa, and she also believes that the pro­gramme is cap­able of redu­cing bul­ly­ing in New Zea­l­and, par­tially because of its per­fect fit with New Zea­l­and val­ues of diversity and accept­ance. “We have tried home-grown pro­grammes, but we are a small coun­try and we don’t have the resources. So my way of think­ing is why cre­ate some­thing new when we have got a pro­gramme that works?”

The pair both believe that KiVa’s focus on the whole school is a key reas­on for its suc­cess. “Pro­grammes in the past have been well-mean­ing,” Green says, “but they have only approached cer­tain aspects. Without see­ing it as a whole-school prob­lem, you will not be able to address the issue.” Green also attrib­utes suc­cess to the programme’s atten­tion to bystand­ers (the chil­dren who stand by and watch bul­ly­ing hap­pen). By tak­ing away the bystand­ers, the bully loses power, she says.

Chil­dren do not know what to do as the bystand­er,” Green says. “So KiVa teaches chil­dren what it means to be a bully, and that stand­ing up and defend­ing the vic­tim is the new norm… Once kids know that oth­er chil­dren and teach­ers have their back they will be more con­fid­ent to stand up to bullying.”

KiVa may be a new pro­gramme to New Zea­l­and, but it has already caught the eye of Marsden Primary in Karori. Celia McCarthy, the school’s dir­ect­or, acknow­ledges New Zealand’s bul­ly­ing stat­ist­ics and says that it is import­ant that the school equips its stu­dents with the skills to stop these beha­viours. “We need to teach our chil­dren to be respons­ible bystand­ers and to be good cit­izens,” she says. KiVa can help us do this, she asserts., because of the programme’s inter­na­tion­al res­ults and the fact that it is backed by years of research.

At the end of the day, bul­ly­ing is not solely an issue for the bully and the bul­lied,” McCarthy says. “It is an issue for every­one in the com­munity. That is why we believe in the value of this pro­gramme, which works with the whole school.”

The bois­ter­ous child goes to pick up anoth­er hand­ful of bark. “Watch this!” he chuckles. The bully goes to throw the bark at the bul­lied child, when a bystand­er inter­rupts him.

That’s not very nice,” he says. The oth­er chil­dren stand­ing around nod in agree­ment. The bully puts down his bark and gets back to his lunch.



The not-so-nice truth about bullying in New Zealand

According to the Bullying in New Zealand Schools report (2013):
  • 68 per­cent of respond­ents indic­ated that bul­ly­ing began between preschool (under-5s) and Year 4 (ages 7–8).
  • Only 64 per­cent of respond­ents agreed that the strategy used in their school covered cyberbullying.
  • 6 per­cent of respond­ents indic­ated they had received anti-bul­ly­ing train­ing or atten­ded an anti-bul­ly­ing workshop.


According to the TIMMS report (2012):
  • The per­cent­age of Year 5 stu­dents report­ing recur­rent bul­ly­ing was sig­ni­fic­antly lower in 43 of the 50 coun­tries in the study.
  • Only one coun­try repor­ted stat­ist­ic­ally sig­ni­fic­antly more bul­ly­ing than New Zea­l­and among Year 5 students.
  • 22 of the 41 coun­tries com­pared had less bul­ly­ing than New Zea­l­and among Year 9 students.
  • 14 per­cent of Year 9 stu­dents dis­agreed with the state­ment ‘I feel safe when I am at school’.


According to the University of Auckland’s Youth ’12 survey report:
  • There has been no or little improve­ment in bul­ly­ing at sec­ond­ary school level over a decade.
  • Youth (aged 15–24) sui­cide among New Zea­l­and males is the highest, and among females the fifth highest, when com­pared with oth­er OECD coun­tries (2009 statistics).
  • Among chil­dren aged 10–14, approx­im­ately one-sixth of all deaths are due to sui­cide. Most of these are Māori.

To find out more about how you can support your child and help reduce bullying, visit the following websites:

  • KiVa —
  • Min­istry of Edu­ca­tion —
  • Cyber­bul­ly­ing —


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