Bullying is a problem in every community, and Red Deer is no different.
The school districts, however, have changed the way they look at bullying and the way they try to deal with the problem.
“In the good old days we did programs about bullies and would talk about what a bully is and how to identify a bully, but they just didn’t work,” said Stu Henry, deputy superintendent with Red Deer Public Schools.
Henry said there has been a noticeable shift in the last five to six years towards focusing on the opposite of bullying. The focus now is an emphasis on positive behaviour.
“We want to create a caring environment and we have been teaching the students how to collaborate with others and disagree appropriately,” said Henry.
He said there has been a great response to the new way of thinking. Added to this way of thinking is an emphasis on resiliency and teaching the students to overcome adversity.
“A student will say they are being bullied but they’re really not, it’s just the way they hear things being said or the tone in which someone says something.”
One thing Henry made clear was that bullying will never go away completely and that nothing anyone does can prevent it from ever happening.
“What’s important is what we do when it is happening. The best thing we can do as parents is just communicate with our kids and talk freely. Then our children will tell us that things are not going well at school,” said Henry.
He made it clear that the schools here in Red Deer are filled with caring staff members as well as councillors and education assistants.
“Somewhere in the life of every child is a trusted adult. When adults are aware of the problem, we can often put an end to it very quickly.”
There isn’t just one thing that students get bullied over, it’s a little bit of everything. Henry also added that it’s the way a student reacts to a comment that affects whether they construe it as bullying or not.
Sadly, Henry said some students never say anything to anyone and are bullied for an extended period of time.
“These students need to know that teachers are more approachable than ever and are so kid-friendly. I can’t imagine why a student or parent wouldn’t take the step to talk to one of them.”
When students are in elementary or middle school, Henry said the teachers try to instruct them on ways to deal with communicating with others and how to talk out a problem. “Depending on the comfort of the child we will either mediate the problem or just coach them in how to talk to the student they deem a bully. A lot of kids don’t want the adult to mediate, they just want to be taught how to communicate better.”
Henry said that with the older students, online bullying has become a whole new category of its own. “That’s another reason why open communication from parent to child is so important. You need to be able to communicate and monitor what your child is up to online. The gloves are off in the online world and what happens at school pales in comparison to what’s online.”
On a positive note, Henry pointed out that incidents of physical aggression are way down from the past numbers.
“If there’s one message for all parents it’s that as your kids get older make sure you keep those communication lines open and communicate daily about important things.”
For more information on bullying, visit www.bullyfreealberta.ca.