Creating a supportive anti-bullying environment for boys

It’s not hard to see how a single word can quickly lose its meaning when we throw it around for dramatic or theatrical effect. It’s also easy to see how, when we do use one of those words or phrases in its true sense, sometimes it doesn’t pack the punch that we want or need it to.

In a school context, the term ‘bully’ or ‘bullying’ is one that seems to be losing its sting. It’s used often, sometimes with great accuracy and just as often, not.

A single isolated scuffle between a couple of mates in the playground, is not bullying. A one-off verbal disagreement between two boys, both arguing as much as the other, is not bullying. A bully is not someone who plays a single, silly practical joke on another boy with no intent to hurt or harm them.

Bullying refers to intentional and repeated behaviour which causes physical, emotional or social harm to a person who has, or is perceived to have, less power than the person who bullies. [1]

The definition of bullying certainly hasn’t changed significantly in the last few years, but how it occurs has. The physical and verbal assaults that people encounter are often easier to see or understand as bullying. Perhaps not so easy to see is bullying that takes the shape of relentless social exclusion, or consistent online threats.

While we still occasionally see the stereotypical bully at school (think Nelson from The Simpsons), a bully can be anybody who can access social media or someone who can manipulate others psychologically or emotionally.

Regardless of the form it takes, or the people involved, it’s becoming increasingly important to build a culture of anti-bullying in schools in order to provide an environment that is welcoming and safe for every student.

Harvard Graduate School of Education lecturer Gretchen Brion-Meisels, identifies that naturally, teacher’s play a significant role in creating an anti-bullying culture within a school, identifying a number of points that can contribute to this. Parents though, can certainly use these tips too, to help boys create that supportive anti-bullying environment.

  • Empower boys to be upstanders. Show your son(s) as early as possible the appropriate language and actions required to intervene or prevent bullying. Provide positive examples of what reacting to harmful behaviours looks like. Give them phrases, words or actions to use that can help them counteract bullying in a safe way.
  • Communicate the consequences of reporting bullying. Demonstrate the positive impacts of reporting harmful behaviours and explore what those conversations might look like. Allow your son(s) to talk about their fears related to reporting bullying. Let them know they can talk discreetly to teachers or staff about bullying without being identified.
  • Use role-play and reflection to teach upstander behaviours. Structured activities like scenarios and case studies can promote leadership and other initiatives necessary for adopting upstander behaviours. Unpack the behaviours or language, with your son(s), that could help someone at school who might be being bullied.
  • Reinforce existing competencies. Remind your boys about what they already know and what they are already good at. Comment on their positive behaviours, and highlight those great behaviours you see in them when they are interacting with their friends, classmates or teammates.

And finally, remind your son about what bullying is and is not. Try to resist using the term ‘bully’ or ‘bullying’ unless it’s warranted, needed or justified. It will help them understand the seriousness of bullying and perhaps more importantly it will help them identify when it’s happening so they can proactively, and positively do something about it.

Peter Christie
Dean of Students