Bullying, Interventions, and The Role of Adults
Bullying is a relationship problem that requires relationship solutions. Over the past 20 years, the dominant perspective has been to view bullying as an aggressive behaviour problem that requires consistent punishment of those who bully (1, 2). Recent research has demonstrated considerable diversity among children who bully. Although some have serious problems with aggression and behavioural regulation, others are socially skilled and central members of a peer group who have learned to acquire power through bullying (3, 4, 5). Given such diversity, behavioural management and punitive approaches may not be well- suited for those socially competent children who understand the dynamics of their peer group and use power and aggression to keep their high-status position. Punitive approaches also fall short of meeting the needs of children who bully because they have not acquired the skills, motivation, and understanding that are essential for positive social behaviour and healthy relationships.
Bullying as a Relationship Problem
Through our research, we have come to understand bullying as a relationship problem, suggesting that this behavior arises from complex interpersonal dynamics rather than an individual child’s problem with aggression or another child’s inability to defend him or herself. When viewed within a relationship context, those children who bully are learning how to use power and aggression to control and/or distress their peers. While children who are repeatedly victimized become trapped in abusive relationships that are increasingly difficult to escape. A relationship problem requires relationship solutions. The goal of interventions, then, is to enhance children’s interpersonal capacity in order to promote healthy relationships both in the present and throughout life. In addition, we must consider children’s age and gender, so that our relationship solutions match the students’ developmental needs.
Children develop the capacity to form healthy relationships from moment-to-moment learning experiences starting at birth (6). The lessons for successful social interactions are complex: they require understanding of one’s own behaviors and emotions and those of other people. The people children interact with are highly variable and often unpredictable; even a single person varies from day to day in warmth, responsivity, and emotionality. Given the complexity of social interactions, there can be no simple recipe for finding the appropriate relationship solutions. Adults need to provide extensive, dynamic, and ongoing support to youth to enable them to learn how to relate to others positively, be effective in achieving social goals, and use power in a positive manner.
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