EXPERT ADVISORY: February 14 2024 – R0020
As Pink Shirt Day approaches on Wednesday, Feb. 28, Brock anti-bullying expert Tony Volk says parents, teachers and caregivers need to be mindful about their attitudes toward bullying.
“We know that in classrooms where the message is that bullying isn’t a big deal, we find it being perpetrated more often,” says the Child and Youth Studies Professor, who has spent time researching bullying in Niagara classrooms and beyond.
A member of Brock Research on Aggression and Victimization Experiences (BRAVE), one of Canada’s largest teams of child and youth bullying experts, Volk cautions that failing to consider bullying important actually makes it a more serious problem, and that with an abundance of research showing that the effects of bullying can last for years to come, ignoring or dismissing it as a rite of passage should never be an option.
He draws a comparison to physical injury when considering the potential impact of bullying.
“If you exercise your muscles, you make them sore and they become stronger, and similarly, if you experience social stress, you have to figure out conflict and navigate challenge to develop stronger social skills,” says Volk. “The problem in both cases is when you have extreme levels of stress and it causes a bone to break or causes damage to one’s mental well-being.”
Volk notes that even once a broken bone is healed, it is never as strong as it was before — and the same is true for those who are bullied.
“For some children, the stress of bullying is overwhelming, and it causes damage that we know impacts mental and physical health for decades,” he says. “But we don’t know ahead of time which kids are going to be resilient and overcome that stress and which kids are not.”
Volk says that parents may assume their child is insulated from harmful effects of bullying, but that they need to consider how different factors in a child’s life can combine to increase vulnerability at any given time.
“A child who is strong and athletic can slip and tumble in the wrong way playing a contact sport, get a concussion, and that’s the end of their sporting career,” he says. “In the same way, a child who hears that their grandmother is dying might then be called horrible names in gym class and that vulnerability causes the damage to happen.”
Volk emphasizes that there are no group benefits when it comes to bullying.
“Unlike in sports, where some risky play is good for child development, there’s really no positive for a group when it comes to bullying,” he says. “And because we can’t tell how any one child might be affected, there is no safe level of risk for bullying.”
Instead, Volk says that it’s critical for adults to step in when a child is being bullied.
“If a child is being bullied or says they’re being bullied, then we need to stop and take that seriously,” he says. “Adults need to be involved to restore the power balance. Remember, the bully has chosen this victim because they are not able to effectively fight back, so the fight is unfair. And if we trivialize it, we’re making it worse.”
Brock University Professor of Child and Youth Studies Tony Volk is available for media interviews on the topic. A video of Volk discussing Pink Shirt Day, and ways to support a child who is experiencing bullying, is also available on YouTube for media use.
For more information or for assistance arranging interviews:
* Doug Hunt, Communications and Media Relations Specialist, Brock University firstname.lastname@example.org or 905-941-6209
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