Schoolyard bullies crop up in all walks of life

Please note: Click here for more recent posts about bullying >

Some recent posts at this website feature a link to the YouTube version of a Teasing & Bullying video that I’ve put together for a workshop at the Canadian Stuttering Association 2020 online conference.

The current post features the same video as it appears on Vimeo.

The video features an overview of PREVNet, an evidence-based website and network that brings together research and strategies related to bullying.

Taking scientific research and translating it into situations in everyday life is a huge necessity in all realms of life as the COVID-19 pandemic underlines.

Founded in 2006, PREVNet is devoted to taking science-based research about bullying and applying those findings to reduce bullying in our schools, online, and wherever else (that is, everywhere) bullying happens.

Free to download book available at PREVNet website

Please note that you can download a free to download book in PDF format from the PREVNet website. The book is entitled: Bullying Prevention: What Parents Need To Know.

The website notes that the book “takes an authoritative research-based look at bullying and tells parents what they can do to prevent bullying at all age and school levels.”

Click here to access the PREVNet page that features the above-noted free to download book >

Also of relevance is a journal article about bullying by Wendy Craig and Debra Pepler:

Identifying and Targeting Risk for Involvement in Bullying and Victimization (2003)

Podcast featuring co-founder of PREVNet

Click here to access a podcast featuring Debra Pepler, co-founder of PREVNet >

The Dec. 30, 2019 podcast – with an accompanying transcript – at features the following blurb:

Episode 009: Debra Pepler

Prof. Debra Pepler studies bullying. Her direct observation of bullying in schoolyards has changed how we help children deal with aggression towards their classmates. Her work also examines dating violence and online bullying.


The podcast refers to Debra Pepler’s faculty link at York University; her article with Paul O’Connell and Wendy Craig on peer involvement in bullying; and links to Albert Bandura and the UN Commission on the Rights of the Child.

The link (see above) at the podcast shares the abstract (but not the full text) of a journal article about bullying. The full text is also available online, however. The link I’ve provided below enables access to the entire article, which provides a comprehensive overview of direct-observation research (using video cameras and wireless microphones, that is, FM transmitters worn by children) of schoolyard bullying:

Peer involvement in bullying: insights and challenges for intervention (1999)

Condensed versions of complex narratives – that is, blurbs – are critical, in the effective communication of scientific research

It’s in the nature of a blurb that when we write one, a vast amount of information is available for us to choose from. We choose what to condense into the limited space that’s available within the confines of a blurb.

my own preference is to create blurbs based directly with data and evidence.Blurbs can just as readily be based solely upon opinions. For reasons related to my own life experiences, I like to go with data.

At the same time, I’m also aware of the role that the framing of data plays, when we tell stories about any topic. But that is a topic separate, to a great extent, from the distinction between the person who is strongly data-oriented, and the person who ignores data.

Many people are capable of bullying

Many people aside from children are capable of acting as schoolyard bullies – of engaging in forms of collaborative aggression.

Munden Park Public School, June 15, 2019; Jaan Pill taught at this school from 1995 to 2006. Jaan Pill photo

Consider, for example, cases of bullying and harassment at the Toronto District School Board and the Peel District School Board.

Posts highlighting such cases include:

Toronto District School Board director accused of ‘destructive attacks’ to muzzle critics – July 10, 2015 Globe and Mail

Conclusion from the Jan. 15, 2015 Review of the Toronto District School Board worth a close read

Peel District School Board pursues legal action against Black advocacy groups; legal action dropped; education director no longer with board

Investigation of the Peel District School Board – text of report of May 15, 2020 submitted by Arleen Huggins

Effectively addressing anti-Black racism at the Peel District School Board requires effort, time, and dedication

With regard to anti-Black racism, the last two above-noted posts about recent happenings at the Peel District School Board warrant a close read.

This is an important and urgent matter. Addressing a systemic issue such as anti-Black racism at a school board requires systemic changes in how the school board functions. Making such changes requires much effort, time, and dedication.

The matter of how to change attitudes and power structures that promote racism of all kinds is of much interest.

There is clearly more involved, in changing an entrenched culture of anti-Black racism at a school board such as the Peel District School Board, than changing the leadership of such a board. By way of example, hiring procedures at such a board would require a major overhaul, in order for meaningful change to occur.

For the current post, my focus is on addressing a number of broad themes related to bullying.

Bullying is a subtype of aggression

Bullying is a subtype of aggression;  it involves aggressive behaviour that demonstrates a hostile intent and gives rise to distress. It also involves what can be characterized as an illegitimate use of authority and power.

On the one hand, the Bully has the power to inflict damage on a person designated as Victim. Such a use of power is characterized as an illegitimate way to go about doing things.

On the other hand, the Anti-Bully – by which I refer to persons or institutions authorized to use power in ways that are sanctioned by the wider society – has the authority to stop the Bully from inflicting damage and causing distress.

Such a use of authority is a legitimate way to go about doing things.

The Ontario Ministry of Education has stepped in, on occasions in the recent past, to address serious situations involving urgent problems at both the TDSB and PDSB. Such a move entails a warranted application of power and authority.

In the same way, a school uses power and authority in a legitimate and commendable way when it steps in to stop bullying and harassment of schoolchildren – whether we are speaking of bullying of children who stutter or any other form of bullying, in the classroom. hallway, or schoolyard.

If we do not step in, the problem of bullying festers, and causes acute harm and distress. If we do not put a stop to it, we have a school that has a culture of bullying as a central feature of its day to day functioning as an educational setting. If we fail to address bullying effectively, we condone it and allow it to flourish.

Bullying is amenable to scientific research

I am currently preparing for a workshop about teasing and bullying for a Canadian Stuttering Association online conference on Nov. 6-8, 2020.

Some of the workshop themes tie in well with a book I am writing about the life and legacy of Einer Boberg (1935-1995), a Canadian speech therapist and researcher.

Between 1988 and about 2003, a period of fifteen years, I was actively involved in volunteer work on behalf of people who stutter. Since then, my volunteer work has focused more on local history and land-use decision making.

Getting back to volunteer work on behalf of people who stutter means that I am again getting up to speed on topics that I was actively involved with many years ago. Fortunately I’m in touch with people – such as Arun Khanna, moderator for my Nov. 8, 2020 workshop – who have been very active with the Canadian Stuttering Association. They have helped me get up to speed.

Research regarding bullying and how best to deal with it

In preparing for my workshop, I’ve referred to a handout from an International Stuttering Awareness Day (ISAD) presentation at the University of Toronto on Oct. 21, 2007.

Click here to access the Oct. 21, 2007 handout >

At this post, I will review excerpts from the handout and add comments based on more recent study of the topics at hand.

Three topics are covered:

  • Bullying of kids who stutter
  • What can we do to reduce bullying?
  • Many people have contributed to the study of bullying

Many people have contributed to the study of bullying

Dan Olweus of Norway is a pioneer in the systematic study of bullying. An anti-bullying program he developed has been applied in many countries.

Debra Pepler of York University and the Hospital for Sick Children, and Wendy Craig of Queen’s University, have done extensive research related to bullying in Canadian schools.

The American writer Barbara Coloroso has written about bullying as well as about genocide among other topics.

We need to define our terms clearly

We need to take care in how we define things, so we can be sure we’re talking about the same things.

Pepler and Craig define bullying as a problem of relationships; they view it as the assertion of interpersonal power through aggression. It involves negative physical or verbal action that has hostile intent, causes distress to the victims, is repeated over time, and involves a power differential between bullies and their victims.

Coloroso defines bullying as a conscious, willful, deliberate activity intended to harm, to induce fear through the threat of further aggression, and to create terror in the target.

In her view, even a single instance of a harmful activity can be defined as bullying. Her definition does not restrict itself to activities that are repeated over time.

Contempt is a key ingredient of bullying, according to Coloroso. Contempt is a powerful feeling of dislike toward somebody considered to be worthless, inferior, or undeserving of respect.

What’s the opposite of contempt?

  • Compassion
  • Empathy
  • Respect

I list these because it’s useful to keep such opposites in mind rather than focusing exclusively on contempt.

Marilyn Langevin of the University of Alberta, who has developed an anti-bullying program used in many schools, has remarked:

“I have been thinking that I want to move the anti-bullying work from awareness and strategies for dealing with it to respect. Respect is so fundamental across all relationships.”

Pepler and Craig note that bullying is not the same as fighting. Bullying, victimization, and fighting refer to different types of involvement in violence. People who end up fighting are typically of a similar age and of equal strength.

Bullying is not the same as ordinary conflict. Ordinary conflict is “normal, natural, and necessary,” according to Coloroso, while bullying is not. Many anti-bullying programs have as their foundation the teaching of conflict-resolution skills, Coloroso adds. The problem, she says, is that bullying is not about anger or conflict – it’s about contempt.

We can add that in a discussion (p. 72) in a chapter about bullying in a book entitled Stuttering Meets Stereotype, Stigma, and Discrimination (2015), Marilyn Langevin notes that even when students are evenly matched, and thus are not dealing with bullying, social conflict may nonetheless give rise to social or psychological harm; students in such situations may still need help from adults.

Barbara Coloroso is critical of anti-bullying programs based on conflict-resolution skills

Conflict-resolution is not the answer to bullying, according to Barbara Coloroso, who is critical of anti-bullying programs based on conflict-resolution skills.

“Children who work through these anti-bullying programs are skilled in handling all different kinds of conflict and learn anger management skills, but they still have no clue as to how to identify and effectively confront bullying.”

Why be concerned about bullying?

  • It is every child’s right to be safe.
  • Bullying is a significant health issue.
  • Bullying is a warm-up for long-term relationship problems.
  • Victimized children are at risk.
  • Compared to their peers, victimized children are more anxious and insecure, have lower self-esteem, are lonelier, are more likely to be rejected by their peers, and are more depressed.

Wendy Craig of Canada and Yossi Harel of Israel, in a 2001/2002 WHO survey report, note that children who are bullies tend to be bullies as adults and to have children who are bullies, and that children who are victimized tend to have children who are victimized.

Childhood bullying often continues into adulthood. Childhood bullying is associated with antisocial behaviour in adulthood including criminal behaviour and limited opportunities to achieve stable employment and long-term relationships.

According to research cited by Marilyn Langevin at the time the 2007 presentation handout was prepared, between 49% and 58% of all elementary students are bullied at school at some time or other, and as many as 32% are bullied once a week or more often. (I think the reference is to North American schools.)

Children with disabilities, including those who stutter, are often singled out to be bullied. In research cited by Langevin at the time the 2007 handout was prepared, 81% of children who stutter report they were bullied at school at some time, and 56% of those children report they were bullied about their stuttering once a week or more often.

How do we deal with bullying of kids who stutter? We have to address it as part of a wider picture.

Murder and suicide

Dan Olweus implemented an anti-bullying program in Norway following three suicides of students who had been bullied. The Columbine High School incident of some years back and a murder-suicide in Ottawa also warrant discussion.

In 1982, after three Norwegian boys between 10 and 14 killed themselves to avoid continued severe bullying, Norway’s minister of education launched a national campaign against bullying and Dan Olweus introduced an anti-bullying program for the schools.

In April, 1999, two Columbine High School students killed 12 students and a teacher and then committed suicide. Some observers noted that Columbine High School had long condoned a culture of bullying at the school. Many factors, not just teasing and bullying, are at play in such incidents.

In Ottawa in April, 1999, a former co-worker, Pierre LeBrun, killed four employees and himself at his former workplace. A coroner’s jury established that LeBrun had endured years of workplace taunting and teasing focusing on his stuttering.

The coroner’s jury recommended that the federal government and the province should train workers and supervisors to recognize, report, and deal with harassment, bullying, teasing, and mocking in the workplace.

Continuum of aggressive behaviour

Wendy Craig and Yossi Harel note that bullying may be one step along a continuum of aggressive behaviour combining the use of power and aggression.

Coloroso views bullying and genocide as part of a continuum: “When institutional and situational factors combine with a murderous racial, ethnic, or religious ideology rooted in contempt for a group of people, then bullying is taken to its extreme.”

Cyberbullying: What can we do?

The following strategies are outlined in the 2007 handout:

  • Go where the evidence leads us. Adopt an evidence-based approach. As well, focus on relationships and social contexts. The solution to bullying requires the efforts of many people working together. Pepler and Craig recommend we focus on both the children involved in bullying – and on the relationships and social contexts.
  • Bullying is a relationship problem that requires relationship solutions.
  • When children are involved in bullying as aggressors, they experience regular lessons in the use of power and aggression. Children who are victimized become trapped in a disrespectful relationship. Children who are bystanders are also learning about the use of power and aggression in relationships.

Relationship solutions for bullying

Pepler and Craig avoid labelling children as “victims” or “bullies” but instead take a broader perspective. We must, they note, take into account children’s relationships within the family, peer group, school, and wider community. Children need consistent messages across these contexts. All children involved in bullying incidents must be included in bullying interventions.

I want to note, as a general comment about teasing and bullying, that I have much respect for each of the students I’ve worked with.

A key albeit subtle point that Pepler and Craig make, as noted above, make is that we can, if we wish, avoid the practice of labelling children as “victims” or “bullies.”

We have the choice, that is, of taking a wider perspective. I like to think of the “child who bullies” at a given present moment, and of the “child who is the victim” at a given present moment. That moment aside, I try not speak of a child as either bully or victim.

  • What children need depends on their role. Children who bully need support in understanding the impact of their behaviours and the importance of relating positively to others. They need what are called “formative” consequences.
  • Children who are victimized require protection from bullying and support in developing social confidence and positive relationships.
  • Children who are bystanders need support in recognizing their behaviour is part of the problem.

Prevention of bullying, Debra Pepler and Wendy Craig note, involves building of healthy relationships.

That is, we need to protect and connect children who are bullied. The task is to turn children who bully from negative into positive leaders. The task, as well, is to change bystanders into heroes.

Practical strategies to address bullying involves focused efforts aimed at changing group dynamics – that is, the aim is to stop bullying before it starts. “Social architecture” can be used to organize groups. In this way, we can stop bullying in the moment.

For further information, please visit the PREVNet site; the acronym stands for Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network. The goal of this organization is to raise awareness of bullying problems and promote healthy relationships.

A successful approach to bullying brings together many groups – the children, the school, and the community. One or two people, on their own, can do little to address problems such as teasing and bullying.

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