Bullying is a form of mean, hurtful behaviour with four essential characteristics:
it is mean and harmful
it is repeated, persistent and ongoing
it is carried out on purpose with the intent to cause harm, fear, or distress
there is a perceived or real power imbalance between the perpetrator and victim
Not all aggressive or harmful behaviour is considered bullying, and it is important to use the term carefully and accurately. Bullying evolves through childhood and can take a number of forms, including physical, verbal or social bullying as well as cyberbullying.
New Zealand has one of the highest reported rates of bullying among OECD countries. In order for teachers, schools and communities to identify and implement appropriate strategies and interventions to address and prevent bullying, a consistent approach to defining and understanding bullying is essential.
Bullying is known to have serious immediate, short- and long-term physical, social, emotional and psychological impacts, and ongoing harmful behaviour has been shown to impede the healthy development of a child. In addition to the risk of physical injury, bullying can lead to a lack of social connection, lowered self-esteem, anxiety and depression. It also has an impact on children’s learning and academic achievement. Bullying is not a normal part of childhood and children do not go through a bullying ‘phase’.
All adults are crucial in creating and maintaining a safe and supportive school environment. The school’s behaviour policy about bullying is an important place to start to establish a shared understanding of bullying and how best to respond. It is important that everyone is looking for the same types of behaviours before labelling a person as a bully, as incorrectly labelling a child as a bully can also lead to stigmatisation and harm.
Adults also play an important role in responding to and intervening in bullying behaviours. Many young people do not report being bullied because they are too embarrassed, they are worried that the bullying will get worse, or that the adults won’t believe them or won’t stop the bullying, so it’s important that adults are aware of the signs that could indicate a child is being bullied.
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