To assess whether a bullying prevention measure or a strategy included in the school’s Code of Conduct facilitates children’s and teens’ empowerment, ask whether the strategy:
1. develops children’s and teens’ abilities and strengths?
Empowerment-based strategies focus on what children and teens can do – or can learn to do – rather than putting the emphasis on what they can’t or shouldn’t do.
2. promotes attitudes, values and beliefs that increase children’s and teens’ motivation to ensure the respect of their own and others’ rights?
The notion of personal rights forms the foundation of empowerment-based strategies. The responsibility to respect others’ rights is inseparable from the respect of one’s own rights.
3. fosters children’s and teens’ autonomy?
Increasing autonomy, along with the continued, age-appropriate support and guidance of adults is a key element of healthy development for children and teens. Empowerment-based bullying prevention strategies build children’s and teens’ self-confidence and skill base, enabling them to act with increasing autonomy, while seeking help and support as needed.
4. extends children’s and teens’ mobility?
Freedom of movement is viewed as a fundamental right in our society. The ability of young people to access this right increases with their developmental level. Prevention strategies that restrict individual freedom of movement as a way of avoiding danger (e.g. avoiding certain places, taking a certain route home, or staying home altogether) also impede the healthy development of children and teens. Empowerment-based bullying prevention strategies foster children’s and teens’ healthy development by encouraging their freedom of movement in an age-appropriate manner.
5. guarantees children’s and teens’ freedom?
Bullying prevention strategies based on empowerment enable children and teens to identify their options and make decisions in their best interests. Since children’s and teens’ decision-making abilities develop as they mature (and as they are given opportunities to practise), adult supervision continues to be necessary. The positive use of power by adults remains part of our responsibility. Students need to learn that no one’s freedom is absolute and that one’s freedom is always limited by another’s right to be safe, strong and free, This means that our rights are tempered by our responsibility to respect the rights of others.
The following guidelines, based on the notion of children’s and teens’ empowerment, were created to facilitate healthy communication in situations involving bullying intervention. They are also relevant in developing a Code of Conduct.
1. Recognize the power imbalance underlying all bullying situations and all other forms of abuse.
Understanding the power dynamics that may underlie students’ social relationships enables adults to reduce, prevent and intervene effectively in bullying situations. Each time adults seek to unravel the roles played by each student (e.g. bystanders, witnesses, student who is bullied, student who initiates the bullying), an increase in appropriate responses results.
2. Perceive and treat bullying and other breaches of the Code of Conduct as learning opportunities.
Bullying is a learned behaviour, which means it can also be “unlearned”. Punishment is not an effective solution, since it does not create ways for students to learn new attitudes and behaviours. When teachers ensure that students experience natural consequences for their actions, there is opportunity to learn from their experiences and choices. It is equally important for teachers to provide students with support, as well as opportunities to acquire the skills they need to change.
3. Distinguish between a student’s behaviour and the student as a person.
Teachers can ensure that the rejection of a student’s bullying behaviour does not lead to the rejection of the student as a person.
4. Believe in each student’s ability to change.
This belief is reflected in teachers’ responses to bullying situations or other situations in which a student breaches the Code of Conduct. Assumptions should be optimistic that students can and want to change and should be reflected in language. Avoid labelling students as “bullies” or “victims”. Instead, refer to “students who are bullied” and “students who bully”.
5. Recognize and communicate clearly and unconditionally that the student who is bullied is never responsible for being targeted, and that there are no excuses that justify bullying, or any other form of abuse.
Certain types of behaviour – bullying, harassment, physical, verbal, sexual or emotional assault, racism, sexism, homophobia, and discrimination against other groups – are non-negotiable. In these situations, there are not “two sides to the story”. The goal is to enable the student who bullies to take responsibility for the negative actions, to take steps to repair the damage done, and to accept these and other consequences.
6. Distinguish between the use of positive versus negative adult power towards students.
Positive power can be defined as adult control exercised with the goal of facilitating children’s learning and their healthy growth and development. The negative use of adult power occurs when adults control children and teens for their own needs or for the express purpose of limiting, preventing or even undermining their healthy growth and development.
7. Recognize that, ultimately, it is the responsibility of adults to prevent bullying and to ensure students’ safety.
One of the most effective ways of preventing bullying is through the mobilization – with teacher and system support – of students who are witnesses of bullying. Witnesses can play a crucial role by supporting students who are bullied and by refusing to give power to the student who bullies. Small and simple acts of caring and support on the part of peers can have enormous meaning for a child or teen who is experiencing bullying. These stances on the part of witnesses can be extremely influential in changing the school culture by creating a collective impetus within the peer group to discourage bullying. However, the potential positive influence of these students, who are in the majority within the school, does not diminish the primary responsibility of adults to ensure students’ safety. Furthermore, it is unfair to expect witnesses to take the risk of offering support to students who are bullied without the active and consistent support and guidance of adults, grounded in the school’s system.
8. Respect children’s and teens’ abilities and strengths, as well as those of other groups of people who experience injustice in our society, through measures, actions and strategies that facilitate their empowerment.
There are many ways to promote the rights of children and teens in a school setting, to foster the development of their abilities and skills, to build their self-confidence and self-esteem and to encourage their participation and involvement in decision-making and problem-solving on issues of concern to them. Schools can pay special attention to the inclusion of diverse groups of children and teens through the Code of Conduct.