A pink shirt today says we can stop children bullying

A pink shirt today says we can stop children bullying

May 26, 2017

The latest survey by Pisa, the Programme of International Student Assessment, showed 20 per cent of New Zealand school students are bullied. That is the second highest rate in the OECD and double the OECD average.

In the past, ministers and officials have turned to the programmes being provided in our schools, saying they will fix the problem.

However, the unchanging rate of bullying in schools would indicate they have failed. All told, 150,000 children continue to be regularly bullied at school each year.

This means they are being verbally, emotionally and sometimes physically, beaten down. Made to feel unsafe and scared in a place where they should feel safe and confident.

Ministry of Education officials have told the bullying prevention advisory group that one in five students who are bullied will have suicidal ideation, the very thing the Ministry of Health says the draft suicide prevention strategy is meant to address.

The Pisa results and the draft strategy also indicate young people from poor families are more likely to be bullied in school and more likely to die from suicide, and boys are much more likely to die than girls.

When we combine our bullying and suicide statistics with our shocking violence and abuse statistics the picture is very clear - some of our young people are struggling and we aren't doing enough to support them.

New Zealand's culture of violence, abuse and bullying needs to change everywhere. Only changes in attitudes and behaviours will stop the isolation, shame and disconnection that follows violence, abuse and bullying wherever it occurs.

Ministers, officials and many NGOs are involved in a significant programme to change the rates of sexual and family violence. Now is the time for similar leadership in addressing our bullying rates in schools. We need to join the dots.

Three things will make a difference: leadership, investment, and measurement.

We need leadership from politicians and all of us involved in trying to stop violence, abuse and bullying in New Zealand.

Our vision should be of elimination and our immediate school bullying prevention goal should be to meet the OECD average of 10 per cent for a start.

In other words, stop 75,000 children being bullied each year. If done right, that will also reduce youth suicide and sexual violence.

We need investment in programmes, processes and systems that change the attitudes and behaviours that lead to violence, abuse and bullying.

There is already a programme being used by a handful of New Zealand schools that could be rolled out further.

The scientifically-proven Finnish Kiva programme, which focuses on bullying prevention rather than just responding to bullying behaviour, has been introduced in 14 primary schools in New Zealand, generating significant reductions in bullying rates.

We need measurement of the bullying prevention programmes to prove what works. Currently it does not happen other than in rare cases, like Kiva.

It has been said that schools cannot be responsible for everything and that parents need to take responsibility for ensuring their children know what sort of behaviour is acceptable, and what isn't.

But the fact of the matter is, bullying isn't an us and them sort of problem. Regardless of who provides the support, our young people need help to find the line between right and wrong, and they need to have clear avenues for help and support before feeling things can't get any better.

It requires schools, students, parents, whanau and communities working together. If we create an expectation when our children are young that bullying is not OK, they will grow into adults that share that same message in their workplaces, in their homes and in their communities.

This is a battle we cannot afford to lose. Bullying Free NZ week and Pink Shirt day are firm reminders of that. As are our youth suicide statistics.

However, preventative measures and programmes in our schools, that are thoughtfully developed using data and research, will give us a chance.

Conversations with our children about what we expect from them, teaching them right from wrong, and letting them know that bullying is never OK will give us a chance.

Letting our young people know that there is always support available whether you are a perpetrator of bullying or a victim of bullying will give us a chance.

Recognising that addressing our rates of violence, abuse, bullying and suicide is not the responsibility of the individual, but the collective, will give us a chance.

David Rutherford, Chief Human Rights Commissioner

David Rutherford was appointed Chief Human Rights Commissioner on September 2011. Prior to his appointment, he was the managing director of Special Olympics Asia Pacific and based in Singapore.

He has held senior executive roles in building materials and agribusiness businesses operating in New Zealand and Australia, has been chief executive of the New Zealand Rugby Union and has worked as a corporate, securities and commercial lawyer in New Zealand and Canada.

Mr Rutherford has a strong history of involvement in sports and has lectured in sports law at Victoria University. He has been a volunteer Board member in rugby union, netball, Paralympics New Zealand, Special Olympics New Zealand, Special Olympics International and for the Attitude Trust.