Stand Strong NZ: What the experts say we can do to help our kids with bullying

 

It's every parent's worst nightmare - your child has become quiet and withdrawn, and the things that used to make them laugh barely even get a smile.

You know something's different but you can't put your finger on it - how can you help when you don't know what to say, or how to start the conversation?

All week, Newshub's anti-bullying campaign Stand Strong NZ has been raising awareness about New Zealand's bullying problem, and today we're finding solutions.

According to UNICEF, one in two children in New Zealand says they are bullied at least once a month.

It is an issue that affects a vast number of our children and young adults. But what can be done to help? 

Registered psychologist Sara Chatwin has been practicing for 25 years, and has seen all of the "faces and forms that bullying can take".

 For parents trying to help their kids, Ms Chatwin emphasises the importance of having a "safe place, and a safe person to go to, to talk about these issues. If parents have left those communication pathways open, that is so helpful."

"If your child starts behaving in a way that is not normal for them - for example they withdraw, or act manic then that could be a sign that there is something going on at school.

"When you notice something is wrong, try to broach the subject with them, try to find out what's going on. Allow the communication pathways to be open and listen to them. They need to be able to offload this; it [bullying] can be very damaging and debilitating for a child."

Radio host Sharyn Casey said during her Stand Strong NZ interview earlier in the week, the ability to be able to tell the difference between a good friend and a bad one is a vital coping mechanism for someone who is being bullied. Ms Chatwin believes this must be taught to children early.

"Delineate to them what makes a good friendship and a bad one. Therefore they can differentiate. Say to your child ' a good friend is someone who... and allow them to fill in the blanks. Give them the skills to differentiate between a good friend and a bad one. And that will stand them in really good stead going into relationships, or into the workplace."

Alongside being a supportive presence in children's lives, Ms Chatwin says bullying behaviours are learnt through reinforcement - "if they get away with one instance of bullying then they will perpetuate those behaviours. That's why it's so important to for parents to step up and teach those really nice core values - kindness, consideration, reliability, loyalty. It's so important to underscore those values in our families and in our communities."

Stand Strong NZ: What the experts say we can do to help our kids with bullying

The culture of New Zealand and our "she'll be right" mentality is something she says is part of the problem 

"[New Zealanders] are perhaps a little inclined to negativity and inclined to not be empowered to dealing with this bullying. We tend to put our blinkers on and just let it go when we should actually address the issue - until we do address it and talk about it, as people like Patrick Gower have done, there won't be an end to it. It will just be something that insidiously goes on. Until we have the really courageous conversation - honest conversations about how to stop bullying, we're never going to stop it."

Following the Stand Strong NZ series, Newshub received interest from multiple organisations launching initiatives to help our kids cope.

From apps, to peer mentoring, New Zealanders are putting networks in place to ensure safer environments for kids.

One of these support networks is Stymie a new website that allows kids to anonymously report incidents of bullying, self-harm, drug use or unsafe behaviour to an appointed member of staff. 

Stymie spokesperson Amy Walters is working towards her goal of having the site in every high school and intermediate in New Zealand. 

The site has been up and running at Massey High School since last year. 

Ms Walters says that Stymie addresses bullying by giving kids "the tools that empower them to be who we want them to be. It (the anonymity) removes the barrier of fear and intimidation that often stops people reporting these incidents."

Another organisation helping children struggling in school is Youth Cyber Zone - a peer-to-peer mentoring group, supported by Netsafe. 

Elizabeth Hauraki, the manager of the initiative told Newshub Youth Cyber Zone is giving kids the skills they need to deal with bullying. 

"Coordinators go into schools and train leaders from the student body. It's very successful because the students have input into how they want to deal with situations -it's not adults going in and telling them what to do, it's the students deciding with our support what they want to do."

Like Ms Chatwin, Ms Hauraki is also a believer in the responsibility parents have to open up channels of communication between families and schools "parents need to have these conversations with their kids, even if it feels uncomfortable. Parents should be seeking, through the schools, what programmes are available."

Newshub.

Stand Strong NZ is a series exploring the issues around bullying and what's being done to reduce the harm. Use #StandStrongNZ on social media.

 

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