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07 Feb, Tuesday
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Montreal Families

How dads can help prevent bullying

There has been so much written over the years about bullying. Most writers correctly differentiate between the occasional schoolyard scuffle and the persistent harassment of an individual. Writers try profiling both the kind of child who is bullied and the kind who bullies. Scorn is generally heaped on those who stand by and fail to intervene. A plethora of “solutions” has been offered. And yet the problem persists. Worse, with social networking, it seems to be escalating.

Having taught in a variety of settings both in Canada and in Africa, and having been a high school principal for 18 years, I’d like to share my thoughts about this topic and offer a somewhat simple solution.

My first observation is that there is no rhyme or reason as to why a particular student gets bullied. The smart student, the short student, the bespectacled student, the wallflower and the jock — each has the same chance of finding him or herself locked in the crosshairs of a bully’s aggression. I have taught classes for students with behavioural deficits (also known as the “bad kids”). At this specialized school, there were times I had only two students in my class. Invariably, when a third student was introduced to the group, one of the three became the target! I have yet to decipher the teen code for target selection.

My second observation is that bullies come in all shapes, sizes and intellectual capacities. They are not all products of a background where they themselves have been bullied or abused. And most cannot articulate why they act the way they do.

My final observation is what led me to come up with my ‘simple’ solution. I have noticed that students whose fathers are present in their schools are far less likely to be bullied or to be bullies.

For whatever reason, many fathers leave school and all things academic (with the exception of math and science projects) to the mother. And the few fathers who may have darkened the doors of their child’s elementary school tend to disappear just when they are needed the most: at the high school level.

There are three reasons why children whose fathers are involved in their schools do not find themselves at either end of the bullying spectrum:

  1. I have been very involved in my children’s schools for the past 10 years and this has given their peers a chance to get to know me. To these young people, I am Micah’s or Sophie’s dad. And for a would-be bully, my presence at the school is a strong deterrent.
  2. Fair or unfair, as a principal, I grant more time to the complaint of a parent who has been involved in my school than I do to the parent I have never met. I have had more influence at the front office of my kids’ school because of my commitment to volunteering. My kids sense this and it gives them confidence; making them resistant to verbal and psychological attacks and occasionally secure enough to stand up for others.
  3. A father who is involved in his child’s school sends a clear message that he cares enough to take the time to know what is happening in his child’s life. This type of parent is more likely to have relevant conversations with his child. It is this father who will model to his son how to be a man.

So, dads, if you really want to bully-proof your child, get involved in his or her school. Go into the  office at school and ask how you can help out. Join the home-and-school organization. Stand for election for the governing board. Attend sports events. In doing so, you will be protecting your child, and other children, from the potentially damaging effects of bullying.

James Watts is the founder and principal of Education Plus High School, an alternative private school in St. Laurent, and chairman of the governing board of LaurenHill Academy in St. Laurent.

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