Bullying and Cyberbullying: Alberta Education hones its definitions

Alberta Education recently announced an updated Education Act (now in second reading).  Although critics claim that “not much has changed,” the ministry aims to target bullying and cyberbullying.

The new Act names the 3rd week in November as Bullying Awareness Week.  The Act specifies the creation of a bullying policy to define bullying and cyberbullying – both broadly (an ‘overarching’ definition) and narrowly (naming certain types of bullying, e.g., homophobic or online comments).  This aims to standardize expectations and responses across schools so students experience similar expectations anywhere they learn.  The Act also gives schools licence to respond to bullying off school property and outside of school hours.

So, although the new Act defines bullying broadly and names a few specific responses, the forthcoming bullying policy will be where the rubber really meets the road.

So Alberta Education is joining the chorus of ‘don’t bully.’  But I wonder if the focus on ‘what not to do’ is really the answer?  “Don’t bully, don’t tolerate bullying, don’t do this, don’t do that.  And if you do, we can punish you more harshly than before.”  Why not build in what works to curb bullying and encourage what to do as well?

The past thirty years has seen tons of research about kids who bully and kids who get bullied.  Bullies tend to have inflated self-esteem – as the old saying goes – they are “too big for their britches.”  Thus, they are very offended when someone gets in their way and think that putting someone else down will elevate them.  Demonizing the bully doesn’t often help – kids (especially boys) ‘bad’ tend to strive to prove just how bad they can be.

Bullied kids who tend to be socially unskilled and unassertive.  But kids with even just one friend or champion to step in and say, “hey, leave my friend alone.  You’re mean and that’s wrong,” can side-step the hold bullies have over them.  Having an ally speaks volumes to one of the most primal of human intuitions.  Encouraging our kids to act – in a simple but powerful way – shows them more than just ‘how not to ____.’  How about “be a friend” awareness week?

Rather than dwelling on the awfulness of something we are trying to lessen (and, therefore, giving it more air time?), why not shift the focus from “don’t or else” to building relationships and social competence?  Not only will this counter bad behaviour, it will foster other happy side-effects.  Bullied kids & bystanders would be the ones running the show, instead of letting the bully set the tone.

I declare the 2nd week of November “Be a Friend Awareness Week.”  :)

A summary of the changes to the Act is available here:  http://education.alberta.ca/department/policy/education-act/faq/whatchanged.aspx

The new Education Act in full-text .pdf:  http://www.assembly.ab.ca/ISYS/LADDAR_files/docs/bills/bill/legislature_27/session_5/20120207_bill-002.pdf  (Use cntl+f to jump to “bully” throughout the document)

About tanya.spencer

Dr. Spencer has worked with families, schools, and residential treatment settings using an evidence-based framework and cognitive-behavioural perspective. She specializes in learning problems, attachment, mood disorders, teen self-harm and the autism and fetal alcohol spectra.
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2 Responses to Bullying and Cyberbullying: Alberta Education hones its definitions

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