Bullying, cyberbullying and your children

The high prevalence of bullying in New Zealand schools is concerning, but it can present opportunities for families to develop resilience and support for each other, said Dr John Fenaughty at a recent Combining Parenting and a Career (CPC) seminar hosted by the CPC Consultative Group, which includes the Equity Office, TEU, HR and a staff representative.

A lecturer at the Faculty of Education and Social Work, John’s presentation explored key differences between bullying and harassment, and explored how parents and caregivers can support their children and their children’s schools to deal with bullying.

“While harassment can be a one-off incident, bullying is repeated, and requires a power imbalance which makes it difficult to defend oneself,” said John.

John noted the digital era creates new challenges when it comes to bullying, and that bullying through social isolation can be even more harmful than physical or verbal bullying. John explained that cyberbullying tactics can include sending hurtful messages to the target, distributing real or fake intimate images of someone, or spreading rumours about a person online.

“Cyberbullying can be more distressing because it can happen 24/7. If someone has made a mean video about you, you can go back to it and watch it multiple times. There’s a ‘re-victimising’ effect, and adults are perceived as being largely powerless to do anything about it,” said John.

However, John also explained that not all children who are bullied experience negative outcomes. He said parents and caregivers can play a key role in helping kids manage the situation.

“As parents and caregivers I encourage you to foster an open, caring relationship with your children, so you can take action when bullying happens. Intervene when siblings fight, so aggression isn’t normalised. Work cooperatively with staff at your child’s school, and raise issues when they occur. If your child is old enough, share in the decision-making about how to address the bullying, so you don’t exacerbate their sense of powerlessness,” said John.

“Although bullying is highly undesirable, some children say they’ve developed more supportive relationships with their siblings and family members through their experiences, and some reported an even stronger connection to their school after a positive resolution.”

John’s presentation includes suggestions for how to discuss bullying with staff at your child’s school.