Shari-Ann Bracci-Selvey, centre, fights back tears at a vigil for her 14-year-old murdered son, Devan Selvey, at his high school, Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School, in Hamilton, Ont., Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Cole Burston

Zero-tolerance policies aimed at stopping bullying not working, say experts

The past few decades have seen innumerable efforts to tackle the issue

The shocking death of a 14-year-old Ontario boy who was stabbed outside his high school raises questions about the effectiveness of the anti-bullying campaigns that have gained prominence in Canada in recent years, those with expertise in the matter said Thursday.

The death of Devan Bracci-Selvey came after a month of relentless bullying from fellow students and alleged failures of the systems meant to protect him, according to his mother, who witnessed her son’s violent death on Monday.

Researchers who study bullying and parents who have experienced its devastating effects first-hand said any potential failures don’t stem from lack of awareness on the subject.

The past few decades have seen innumerable efforts to tackle the issue, with school boards, police forces, community groups and advocates all spreading the message.

But they all agree many of those approaches miss the mark, ensuring the cycle of violence goes uninterrupted.

Carol Todd, whose 15-year-old daughter Amanda took her own life in response to violent bullying, said in an interview from Port Coquitlam that she’s saddened to find herself discussing another case half a country away.

Todd, an educator with a Vancouver-area school board, said many of the bullying intervention strategies she’s observed since Amanda’s death are asking the wrong questions.

“We talk about bullying and we talk about how we can combat it, how can we end it,” Todd said Thursday — seven years to the day her daughter died. ”Are we doing enough to talk about the aspects of compassion, empathy, kindness and respect? Are we teaching our young people how to be respectful to other people and what to do?”

READ MORE: Mother of slain Hamilton, Ont. teen says ‘everyone’ failed her son

Todd said a common approach involves anti-bullying advocates making a one-time appearance in schools and delivering a lecture to students. She said that approach not only fails to resonate with students, but risks making sure the message gets lost entirely.

“In the school system, when you bring in an anti-bullying advocate now, kids are turning off their ears,” she said. “They’re tired of the conversation. We have to figure out different ways.”

Debra Pepler, a psychology professor at York University who’s done extensive research on aggression in children, agreed.

She said international research has clearly indicated that one-off interventions have little effect, saying the best approaches are usually implemented across an entire school and engage students and staff alike.

Early intervention helps, she said, noting such strategies become more difficult to implement as children age.

But such strategies do exist, she said, citing the Fourth R program developed at Ontario’s Western University. The title of the program refers to “relationships,” she said, noting emphasis on healthy human interaction is at the heart of effective anti-bullying efforts.

Another example of an evidence-based program is dubbed WITS, an initiative focused on elementary schools that also drew praise in a 2016 research project from Dalhousie University.

Pepler said provincial governments have a role to play too, noting those such as British Columbia that embed emotional intelligence measures into the curriculum are taking a step in the right direction.

“Schools are measured on how well they teach literacy and numeracy and science,” she said. “But … social emotional development should be included and it should start in junior kindergarten.”

One strategy she said has consistently fallen short is the “zero tolerance” approach popular among many school boards. She said highly punitive strategies do nothing to address the root causes of bullying and wind up reinforcing the kinds of behaviour they’re meant to eliminate.

“What we’re modelling is that the adult who has the power gets to control and distress the student,” she said. “On one hand, of course, there needs to be discipline. On the other hand, the child who’s bullying has so much to learn about how to get along with others … and they will never learn that by sitting on a bench.”

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cowichan Performing Arts Centre streaming new short film tonight

Standing By has been created and performed by Cowichan-raised actor Nicole Ratjen.

Original drums recovered amid offers to replace stolen Chemainus church set

Chemainus United Church grateful for actions of a caring community

Who’s running in Cowichan?

A list of Cowichan candidates for the upcoming provincial election

Shawnigan Lake’s Kubica gets 25 to life for murder in California

Former Shawnigan Lake man convicted of killing woman in 1990

Police seek help in naming Cowichan farmstand theft suspect

Video captured man prying cash box out stand on Norcross Road

B.C.’s top doctor encourages Halloween costumes to include masks

Dr. Bonnie Henry will soon be releasing guidelines on how to safely trick-or-treat this Halloween

Reincarnation, baby! Music-making B.C. couple celebrate ‘miracle’ pregnancy

‘I (said) to Adam, ‘I really think this is your brother reincarnated,’ Elise Estrada says

Survey finds doctors worry supplies of flu vaccine, PPE will lag demand

Canadian health officials have said additional flu vaccines have been ordered to meet expected demand

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Search suspended for Indigenous elder last seen mushroom picking in northwest B.C.

Mushroom picker Thomas (Tommy) Dennis has been missing since Sept. 16

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Ahead of likely second wave, 60% of Canadians relaxing COVID-19 measures

Proportion of Canadians following safety measures has dropped by 3 per cent in the past two weeks

Canada’s population tops 38 million, even as COVID-19 pandemic slows growth

Immigration, the top population driver, decreased due to the pandemic

Lightning strike: Tampa Bay blanks Dallas 2-0 to win Stanley Cup

Hedman wins Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP

Most Read