Updated: Sep 12, 2020
In Jamaica and around the world, the anti-bullying movement is slowly becoming a rallying force. From business and community leaders to government entities such as the Child Protection and Family Services Division (CPFSA), or advocates such as Bully-Proof Kids International (BPKI), the problem of bullying in schools is gaining heightened media attention and is increasingly being tackled by joint initiatives geared at awareness and prevention.
BPKI and the CPFSA are among those institutions which agree on the critical nature of the problem. Studies in the USA have shown that bullying leads to increased incidence of mental health issues later in life, as well as lower achievement levels. In fact, according to a Harvard Medical School study, verbal abuse — even without physical abuse — acts like a neurotoxin, having serious effects on brain development, most markedly in students in their middle-school years.
A study on bullying among Jamaica’s children was commissioned by UNICEF for the Child Development Agency (CDA now CPFSA) in July of 2015. The study found that 64 - 69% of children have experienced bullying in the schoolyard. Out of that study a partnership, led by the CPFSA has been forged among several stakeholders to address the issue of bullying within Jamaican schools. The study “Investigating the Prevalence and Impact of Peer Abuse (Bullying) on the Development of Jamaica’s Children” can be found here.
On a global scale, the actual numbers of students who have committed anti-social behaviour following repeated harassment from peers may never be fully known. School guidance counselors insist that those numbers are high and are reminders of the urgency of keeping our schools safe. It’s even more difficult now that student life no longer stops when the school bell rings. With social media and the Internet, the potential for bullying to become a brutal and devastating form of harassment is bigger than ever.
It’s a constant problem that has never been seriously considered before. So many children "live" online now. One nasty rumour posted online about someone on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter can have disastrous consequences for a child or young adult.
Children themselves are also responding collectively to bullying. Around the country, students from primary school to high school have begun to attend awareness sessions, become active in anti-bullying activities and stand together in solidarity to demand safe school environments.
And while the need to end peer abuse is clear, what isn’t so clear is how seriously school authorities are taking the problem and what should be done to resolve it. Are policies that punish bullies what we need — or would that be putting us down the wrong path? Resolving cases of bullying will take more than just policy directives. It will take teams of guidance counselors and school administrators, parents and other stakeholders, working together to address the challenge. So, what are the most effective ways to spend schools’ already-limited resources?
While it’s necessary to hold institutions accountable for addressing bullying, a strategy geared toward prevention (rather than punishment) may be absolutely critical. We are now seeing more partnerships between public and private sector stakeholders which should go a long way in addressing the bullying phenomenon in our schools and communities.