Safe Telling

Efforts to interrupt bullying are only effective when children and teens know they can talk about such problems safely with adults. One of the most powerful aspects of bullying is "secrecy". Students who bully others force those they target as well as bystanders to keep the secret, reinforcing the silence with threats of retaliation should anyone tell. This code of secrecy allows bullying to flourish. As a result, few children and few teens tell adults when they experience or witness bullying.

Creating a skilled community of supportive adults that is known and acknowledged by the students is essential to breaking the cycle of violence. To accomplish this, adults need to develop a range of skills and strategies to assure students that supportive adults are listening and will take action.

Furthermore, adults need to respect the risk students take when they tell adults about a bullying situation. Respecting students’ confidentiality and guarding their anonymity (wherever possible) are crucial factors in creating a safe environment for telling. However, if the situation is potentially dangerous, it may be necessary to intervene, to consult or to involve co-workers, the principal, or the Children’s Aid Society – even if the student asks you not to.

This may create a dilemma, since teachers will want to ensure that students who have experienced feelings of powerlessness through bullying are empowered when they seek help. There are many ways to communicate this respect, by giving the student as many choices and as much control over the situation as possible. For example, whenever possible, you can:

  • inform the student before the fact, when you need to tell someone else about the situation;
  • involve the student in choosing whom you will consult or tell;
  • involve the student in the timing of telling others.