Understanding Bullying: From Research to Practice

Article excerpt

Abstract

The high proportions of Canadian students who report bullying or being bullied confirm that this represents an important social problem. This paper describes the development of a new network (PREVNet- Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence) to address bullying in Canada, through the Networks of Centres of Excellence-New Initiatives funding. PREVNet's mandate is to identify university, government, and community partners, develop relationships, and create a viable and effective working network for social innovation. The PREVNet strategy is aimed at providing understanding, assessment tools, intervention and prevention strategies, and policy and advocacy about bullying problems and healthy relationships to all adults who interact with children and youth where they live, work, and play.

Bullying is a form of abuse at the hands of peers that can take different forms at different ages. Bullying is defined as repeated aggression in which there is a power differential (Juvonen & Graham, 2001; Olweus, 1991; Pépier & Craig, 2000). Two elements of bullying are key to understanding its complexity. First, bullying is a form of aggressive behaviour imposed from a position of power: Children who bully always have more power than the children they victimize. Their power can derive from a physical advantage such as size and strength, but also through a social advantage such as a dominant social role (e.g., teacher compared to a student), higher social status in a peer group (e.g., popular versus rejected student), strength in numbers (e.g., group of children bullying a solitary child), or through systemic power (e.g., racial or cultural groups, sexual minorities, economic disadvantage, disability) . Power can also be acquired by knowing another's vulnerability (e.g., obesity, learning problem, sexual orientation, family background) and using that knowledge to cause distress. The second key element is that bullying is repeated over time. With each repeated bullying incident, the power relations become consolidated: The child who is bullying increases in power and the child who is being victimized loses power. Through our research, we understand bullying as a destructive relationship problem: Children who bully are learning to use power and aggression to control and distress others; children who are victimized become increasingly powerless and unable to defend themselves from this peer abuse.

In this paper, we present some empirical principles that have guided our efforts in designing a national strategy (PREVNet-Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence) to address bullying in Canada, through the Networks of Centres of Excellence-New Initiatives funding. PREVNet's mandate is to identify university, government, and community partners, develop relationships, and create a viable and effective working network for social innovation. PREVNet's vision is to stop the use of power and aggression in bullying and to promote safe and healthy relationships for children and youth. In this paper, we discuss the strategy and its proposed impacts. At this point, PREVNet includes 36 researchers from universities across Canada, and 38 national non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that work with children and youth. We contend that knowledge about bullying problems and strategies to promote healthy relationships are required in every place where Canadian children and youth live, work, and play.

Before PREVNet, the channels that researchers used for knowledge dissemination were inadequate for such a broad and deep reach. The many and diverse bullying prevention activities implemented at local, provincial, and national levels operated in isolation without an evidence-based national platform for coordination and implementation. As a national network, PREVNet is now bringing together researchers and national organizations to enhance awareness, build research capacity, assess bullying problems, and promote evidence-based programs and effective policies across Canada. …