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Tackling bullying with care, respect, support

Experts shared strategies today in Sydney at the NSW Anti-bullying Strategy 2018 Conference.

Primary school student sits on a chair looking straight at the camera.

What can we learn from a 5 year old?

The NSW Anti-bullying Strategy 2018 Conference opened today in Sydney, with 18 international and national experts sharing strategies on how to prevent and address student bullying.

The conference, with its theme Care. Respect. Support, is an initiative of the NSW Anti-bullying Strategy, a $6.1 million government investment over three years.

The two-day conference will be supplemented with three regional conferences this week in Wagga Wagga, Dubbo and Ballina.

The power of social media

The Parliamentary Secretary for Education, Gareth Ward, said bullying was such a serious issue because students who were victims or perpetrators risked long-term academic and social dysfunction.

“Bullying of any kind is not acceptable in any NSW school,” he said.

The ubiquity of social media meant that “increasingly, our children are learning in a kingdom of glass”, susceptible to cyber-bullying and influenced by peer reactions such as the number of Facebook ‘likes’.

But social media could be effective in “spreading profound and powerful messages to support our students”.  The ‘You’re Wonderful’ video, produced by the Department of Education with students from Nepean Creative and Performing Arts High School, has so far notched up more than three million views across social media. A follow-up video, You’re Wonderful, Too, will be launched at the conference tomorrow.

Kindergarten students star in another anti-bullying video – Wise at 5 – launched today at the conference. The students from Ironbark Ridge Public School at Rouse Hill provide responses to hypothetical questions like how to respond to when friends are mean or exclude them.

“It’s never good to join in being mean to someone because it’s selfish and hurts their feelings,” one five-year-old said.

Video – Wise at 5

Duration – 1:08

Transcript for 'Wise at 5' video

Cyberbullying: what the experts say

International and Australian experts said the prevalence of cyber-bullying was low in comparison to traditional forms of bullying. Professor Michel Boivin, Research Chair of Child Development at Laval University in Quebec, said Canadian studies revealed that cyber-bullying accounted for around five per cent of bullying activities but was a strong indicator for later mental health issues such as depression and suicidal ideation.

Professor Neil Humphrey, Professor of Psychology of Education at the University of Manchester, said cyber-bullying “is not as widespread as what the media would have us believe”.

“And it’s not a new group of students being exposed to it [cyberbullying]. Most of the kids cyber-bulled are also bullied in traditional ways,” he said.

Professor Ian Hickie said today’s “digital interrupted world” tended to concentrate on the negative impacts of social media without looking at “the opportunities that are part of this large social experiment we are already living in”. He said as a parent he shared the anxiety about screens and teens “but I’m not sure the data is right”.

Adolescent stress was “much higher” before “social technology was invented, pre Facebook” and the teenage suicide rate was higher in the 1990s.

Technology and early intervention played an important role in young people’s mental health in the digital age, he said. “Our future mental ‘wealth’ depends on investing in what’s inside kids’ heads, not what’s under the ground.”

Best practice in Finland

Prevention and intervention should go hand-in-hand to address bullying, according to the team leader of Finland’s world-renowned anti-bullying program called KiVa.

Professor Christina Salmivalli, Professor of Psychology at the University of Turku, said schools often intervened in specific incidents and then would ‘keep an eye’ on the situation but this was not enough.

KiVa is a research-based anti-bullying program developed at the University of Turku and used in most Finnish schools. Data sets from 2009 showed the most critical factor in reducing bullying was systematic follow-up meetings with the bully and victim.

Social and emotional learning

The effects of bullying in schools “can last a lifetime” but the explicit teaching of social and emotional learning can create learning environments that prevent bullying, make children feel more connected to schools and feel safer.

Professor Neil Humphrey, from the University of Manchester, told the conference that social and emotional learning taught explicitly in classrooms had been shown to improve academic attainment, and reduce bullying and mental health problems.

Skills taught included intrapersonal skills such as self-awareness, emotional regulation and self-management and interpersonal skills such as empathy, sympathy, and responsible decision-making. This learning occurred within an environment of supportive relationships between teachers and students and positive relationships between schools and families.

Learn more

Education Minister Rob Stokes media release

Anti-bullying Strategy website

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