Engaging with young people key to tackling bullying, expert says

Source: 1News

New Zealand has the second-highest school bullying rate in the OECD, and young people must be involved in the process of finding solutions according to one expert.

Karla Sanders is CEO of Sticks 'n' Stones, a youth-led anti-bullying organisation.

"We know that young people are the experts in what it means to be a young person today, so they're a crucial part of changing the norms, attitudes and behaviours that accept bullying," Sanders told Breakfast.

Sanders said the organisation was founded as an alternative to what young people saw as programmes and initiatives that "deliver things to them" without their involvement. She added that bullying is a "really complex" issue.

"We're hearing that the most common kind of bullying is verbal bullying, but because our devices are such an important part of our lives and they follow us home, they follow us at night, that bullying is then continuing into the online spaces.

"The issue with that complexity is, unlike when I experienced bullying and I could have respite and escape and family time without that at home, that's no longer possible for a lot of our young people and that's making the impacts much more significant.

"One of the things that we know, being a youth-led organisation, is that peer-to-peer support is a really important strategy."

It can be difficult for concerned parents to tell if their child is being bullied, Sanders said.

READ MORE: National's Sam Uffindell admits to being a 'bully' at school

"And a lot of young people that we speak to, they avoid going to whānau not because they're afraid, but because they don't want to burden mum, dad, or caregiver.

"So, one of the things you can look out for is those changes in behaviour ... but also keeping those communication channels open, making sure that young person knows that there's no problem too big or too small that they can come to you with.

"If you dismiss those smaller issues or things that you see as small, then they're never going to come to you with the bigger issues."

Sanders' advice for parents or caregivers concerned their child might be the bully is similar.

"Bullying is a behaviour, it's not a label on a human being, and we can have really fantastic young people who are getting swept up in bullying behaviours for a range of different reasons so they need support too.

"Talking through the behaviour, making sure there's consequences and a plan for making it better, going through owning that behaviour and what's going to happen next time."