Get the relationships right, watch the magic happen

This week is ‘Anti-Bullying week in the UK.  A week of action, raising awareness and togetherness to address a challenge which in many ways impacts us all.  Bullying in any form has, if unchallenged, the potential to poison any school, workplace or other setting where relationships support performance.

The Scottish anti-bullying organisation Respect Me defines bullying as Bullying as:

Bullying takes place in the context of relationships. It is behaviour that can make people feel hurt, threatened, frightened and left out and it can happen face to face and online. Bullying is both behaviour and impact; what someone does and the impact it has on the other person’s capacity to feel in control of themselves.

The theme for 2020 is ‘United Against Bullying’.  Such a relevant theme for this year’s campaign don’t you think?  In a year when we have all faced a common challenge, we’ve witnessed the positive power that society can have when we come together.

Addressing bullying is no different.  Bullying behaviours have long lasting effect on those who experience it.  Also, this negative effect is felt by those who witness the behaviours.  In all settings we know there are people who see friends and colleagues experiencing bullying behaviour.  Many ‘grapple’ with what they see.  They identify a problem, but often do nothing out of fear of becoming a victim themselves.  I often feel we don’t support the bystanders enough.

If we are to truly be United Against Bullying, we require approaches that help communicate this within peer groups.  Often, we simply communicate the message but don’t spend enough time creating the conversations that help reassure individuals that their own healthy attitudes are shared by the majority. 

Like many others, this week will see me delivering live or pre-recorded classes to young people in schools.  I often make use of social norms surveys prior to the classes to highlight the healthy norms that I know exist amongst our young people.  As I said above young people grapple with situations.  Balancing a need to support their friends with a desire to simply fit in.  It is often the case that perceived group norms are contrary to individual norms.  We often have a majority who don’t feel like they are in the majority and a minority who feel like they represent the majority.  It’s important schools and other settings work to change this.

In these surveys I place young people in situations and ask what they would do.  Alongside doing nothing or joining in with the behaviour I include responses such as: speak to a teacher, speak to your friend who is experiencing the bullying behaviour or to the friend who is using the behaviour.

In one school where the year group is around 100 pupils I got some of the following responses:

These are the norms that exist amongst young people and we need to help them share these views rather than simply communicating our own message.  The answers too many problems lie in the communities that are affected.  My approach has 4 keys aims:

  1. Raise awareness of the problem – what is it and what’s the extent of the problem
  2. Challenge thinking around the issue.
  3. Provide reassurance – this is key.  Open dialog and your audience will see that in the main they share healthy viewpoints and attitudes. What do you think young people will be thinking when I discussed the responses above?
  4. Inspire action – Provide tools and along with all of the above, watch young people be the friends they want to be.

In our efforts to solve a problem do we miss the fact that young people already know what it is we want to tell them?  To be truly ‘United Against Bullying’ invest in these conversations and do so all year round.  This week should be a stepping-stone to regular and ongoing conversations around healthy relationships.  As US Educationalist James Comer says – “No significant learning will occur without a significant relationship”

30 years as a police officer taught me many things but the most important lesson was the power of relationship.  Get this right and watch the magic happen.

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