Why does bullying continue?
SCENARIO: Student 1 has targeted student 2 who is in a grade below him. Student 2 has just come out as transgendered. Student 1 has been circulating transphobic photos and websites to the other students in the school. You know that Student 1 has been bullied a great deal throughout his school career.
By clearly and publicly denouncing the bullying that all the students know about, while maintaining the anonymity of the students who are involved, you’ve ensured that the students learn that at this school, bullying is neither accepted nor tolerated. In this way, you’ve taken a step toward breaking the cycle of bullying.
You’ve missed an excellent learning opportunity by limiting your intervention to condemning Student 1’s behaviour without any interaction. While it is important to clearly denounce the bullying behaviour, it is equally important to explore the situation with Student 1, to learn about him, about his motivations and his life, and to let him know you believe he can learn to change. It is no less important to take steps to ensure Student 2’s safety.
Student 1 will probably be defensive, and this may only serve to reinforce his negative behaviour. You will be more likely to have a positive outcome if you invite Student 1 to identify strategies with you. You can seek to use your power as an adult in a positive way, ensuring that he sees you as an adult resource person, and not as a negative authority figure.
Student 1 has been bullied, and this is something to take into consideration when dealing with this situation. Understanding the cycle of violence can better equip us to bring about real change.
2You approach Student 2 to offer him your support and to discuss various strategies to ensure his safety. You decide to approach Student 1 as well, to explore the situation with him. Since you are aware of his personal experiences, you explore his behaviour to understand what is going on for him (see Module 7 for more information). You learn that he is living on his own, having moved out of his family’s household. He remains distant from his family and he and some other students have become interested in groups who tout homophobic and discriminatory values.
By approaching the situation in this way, it is more likely that Student 1 will be receptive. By developing a rapport with him and building trust, he may be better able and more willing to reflect on his actions and to become more open to accepting differences.
Student 1 has revealed things that deserve your attention. It is important to facilitate contact with the appropriate resource people in your school and your community. By supporting him in finding help, in reflecting on his personal experiences and his own behaviour, you may well contribute to breaking the cycle of violence.
Student 1 has spoken about his feelings of isolation and of his connection with a group that promotes hatred. It would be timely to make the link between bullying and discrimination and to explore positive ways to learn more about differences, about transgendered people, and about the negative repercussions of transphobia.
3You approach Student 2 to offer him your support and to discuss various strategies to ensure his safety. You explain clearly to Student 1 why his behaviour is unacceptable. You further explain that it is forbidden to behave in a discriminatory way toward other groups. You let him know that you are shocked that he has bullied someone, given his own experience being bullied. You send him to the VP for further discipline.
You’ve clearly gotten across to Student 1 that this kind of behaviour and attitude are unacceptable. You’ve tried to convince him that his behaviour is deplorable.
You have not taken full advantage of this opportunity for a serious exchange about the issues raised by this situation: bullying, discrimination, differences, diversity and inclusion. It is likely that he feels judged – rather than respected and included – and that he feels like everyone is telling him what to do.
You’ve missed an opportunity to present yourself as a trustworthy adult resource person. Student 1 was bullied and is now bullying others. Ultimately, he is a very vulnerable young person.
✓Explanation of the recommended response.
Recommended response and explanation: The second answer is the recommended response. Although none of the three answers addresses all of the issues raised by the situation, the second answer is the most appropriate response at this point. By adopting an exploratory and interactive approach as in the second answer, and by acknowledging Student 1’s suffering through the bullying he has experienced, you increase the likelihood that he will open up, and share information about his life and his background. In this way, it is possible to address the root of the problem and help Student 1 take steps to break the cycle of violence. As soon as possible and appropriate, it will be necessary to clearly, firmly and also gently and empathically state that Student 1’s bullying behaviour is unacceptable. An experience of abuse or bullying does not diminish one’s responsibility to respect others’ rights to be « safe, strong and free ».
Note: For information about effective and empathic communication with students who are involved in a bullying situation, see Module 7.