Oct. 19, 2005

Adult aggression sends mixed messages to children about bullying

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Tracy Vaillancourt is an organizer of the third annual McMaster Basketball vs. Bullying event, the largest anti-bullying rally in the world.

Hamilton, ON - Recent events in the news are undermining attempts to teach children about the dangers of bullying.

Tracy Vaillancourt, an assistant professor of psychology at McMaster University, says hazing rituals in sports, the tug-of-war over federal transfers to have-not provinces, the war in Iraq, and the assertions by religious fundamentalists that the flood in New Orleans was “God’s will” are examples of how adults belittle others and perpetuate the practise of bullying beyond the classroom.

“The common thread between these is the repeated negative actions directed at weaker, less powerful entities or people—this is the definition of bullying,” says Vaillancourt. “Especially problematic is that children – the very audience we’re trying to reach and teach about the dangers of bullying – are getting mixed messages from the adult world. It’s hard to teach a child something when they are bombarded daily with examples of anti-social behaviour.”

Despite the current situation, Vaillancourt maintains that a cultural shift can and is taking place, and the proof is in an annual rally she helps organize. This year, the third annual McMaster Basketball vs. Bullying event will attract more than 10,000 middle-school students, as well as 500 volunteers from McMaster University and Mohawk College. Communities from across North America will be sending delegates to study the model, including Vancouver, Saskatoon, Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, and Rochester, N.Y. It is the largest anti-bullying rally in the world, and this year Motorola Canada has signed on as a sponsor to encourage youth to speak out and raise their voices again bullying.

The rally, which will take place Oct. 24 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Copps Coliseum, will feature a play (You’re not the Boss of Me, performed by Youtheatre Ottawa), messages about moral engagement from members of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Raptors, and public service announcements about the dangers of bullying. The program culminates in a basketball game (this year it is the McMaster Marauders vs. the McGill Redmen) that demonstrates the skills of sportsmanship in a competitive environment.

Current statistics about bullying:

• 1 in 10 students are routinely abused by their peers in Canadian schools each day
• 8 in 10 athletes experience hazing
• 1 in 8 Canadians are victims of spousal abuse
• 22 children out of every thousand are reported by their caregivers has having been abused. This represents only about 8 per cent of all child abuse cases.

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