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Utopian fantasies on bullying will not protect our children

Utopian fantasies on bullying will not protect our children from harm, says Counsellor and Outcomes Researcher

Steve Taylor, Outcomes Researcher and Director of Counselling & Family Mediation organisation 24-7 Ltd www.24-7.org.nz is disappointed that many family support experts are still subscribing to ideological popular opinion and myth, as opposed to the evidence, when commenting in the media about how to protect children from bullying.

Appearing on TVNZ “Close Up” on 29/11/11 Mr Taylor is responding to a number of comments made by “experts” subsequent to his TV appearance.

“Parents Inc Chief Executive Bruce Pilbrow champions the support of zero tolerance, whole-of-school anti bullying programmes, when the meta-analytic evidence of 622 studies between 1983 – 2009 demonstrate that such programmes do not work. Mr. Pilbrow, perhaps influenced by his Government indoctrination as a former Families Commissioner and current ambassador of the now thoroughly academically discredited White Ribbon Campaign, also illegitimately welds the concept of violence to the action self-defence of oneself or another, self-defence of oneself or another being a legally legitimate intervention under Section 48 of the 1961 Crimes Act. Such philosophical sophistry simply disempowers both parents and children,” says Mr. Taylor. “Mr. Pilbrow encourages adults to be adults when dealing with bullying, and I would argue that the defence and protection of a child from the threat of harm or actual harm is a wholly adult response by a parent”.

“Ian Tomkins of Family Works in Waitakere seems to espouse the practice of Restorative Justice, when critical research on Restorative Justice (including Peer Mediation, Circles, and Re-integrative Shaming) has found that such interventions can actually increase the incidents of bullying, and can work to further disempower victims, and reinforce bullying behaviour:


John Cowan, again from Parents Inc, seems to believe that if a bully is bigger than a victim, then the victim should submit by default, an approach which to my mind would reinforce a “might is right” response in a bullying victim. I would argue that the decision to defend oneself against a bully who is bigger doesn’t have to be predicated on whether the victim will win the encounter, but rather on whether the bully is willing to take the risk that they too will not come away from the encounter unscathed – by in large, bullies will not pick on children who will fight back, as to do so removes the “risk –free” guarantee they enjoy for themselves of not being hurt by children who won’t fight back”.

The 2004 fourth quarter issue of the School Psychology Review, the research journal of the National Association of School Psychologists, published the findings of Canadian Psychologist, J. David Smith, PhD, of the University of Ottawa, in a paper entitled “The Effectiveness of Whole-School Anti-Bullying Programs: A Synthesis of Evaluation Research.” Dr Smith conducted a meta-analysis (a study of studies) of all the research studies on the effectiveness of whole-school anti-bullying programs. The report stated that “86% of victimization outcomes [reports by victims of program benefits] were negligible or negative and the remaining 14% of reported effects were positive (albeit small). For self-reported bullying, 100% of the reported effects were negligible or negative.”

A 2009 study entitled “School based Programs to Reduce Bullying and Victimisation” http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/229377.pdf revealed an 80% failure rate in reducing victimisation by bullies. The study also found that one component of anti-bullying programs, “working with peers” (having students mediate problems, mentor younger kids, or encourage bystanders to interfere in bullying behaviour), actually increased the occurrences of students being bullied.

Currently the most comprehensive examination of school bullying has been provided by Smith, Pepler and Rigby (2004) Bullying in Schools: How successful can interventions be which again revealed that anti-bullying programmes failed in 85% of their applications, while the most widely evaluated anti-bullying program in the world (The Olweus program) has only been initially successful in its study original sample, and nowhere else –ever.

Other observed harmful effects of the anti-bullying programmes have been identified as the promoting of a victim mentality in students which encourages bullies to become more anti-social, wrongful punishment for victims, diverting class time from academic study to deal with bullying issues, turning students against each other, and creating family feuds.

It was philosopher David Hume who stated that “a wise person goes in the direction in which the evidence leads” – if only wisdom was a pre-requisite for the implementation of Social and Educational policy in our schools, and with our children.

As parents, the State charges us with the responsibility of being the Guardians of our children. Part of this role involves parents teaching our children how to stand up for themselves, and (while it may sound unpalatable to some) this includes physical self-defence. The State cannot reasonably expect parents to teach children how to look after themselves in every other area of their life (e.g. self-care, sexual health, alcohol use, and social media) whilst ignoring the very real need to also teach our children how to fight and fend for themselves in the world.

What was both sickening and revealing in a recent case in Wanganui, whereby a student received 24 punches, 2 knees to the head, and 1 head stomping in a school bullying assault was that each and every one of these blows made by the perpetrator went unanswered by the victim – the resources the victim most desperately needed (the ability in that moment to fight back for her potential survival), were absent http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10715815.

“I’m sure the last thing on the students mind was the urgent need to call for a Restorative Justice conference with the person who was making her bleed”.

Any programme, philosophy, or law that undermines or chastises a person for legitimate self-defence, is, in light of the above evidence, itself an abusive bully.

If we truly want to protect our children from the multiple harms of bullying, then we are going to need to side with the evidence, as opposed to myth, popular opinion, and utopian ideology. It is time for so-called experts, social policy developers, and Government to tell the truth to the parents, families, and caregivers of New Zealand – that what they pay for and what they advocate for as answers to the problem of bulling – are not” says Mr. Taylor.


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