Prince William makes headlines today as he lends his support to the anti bullying message. He rallies us to ‘stand up to bullying’ because “bullying affects young people in particular, and can have a profoundly damaging and long-lasting effect…research shows that victims of bullying can become more susceptible to depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts”.
This is not new ‘news’ and the Prince is to be congratulated for placing the spotlight on this issue and rallying us to “stand up to bullying”; but this is only a partial solution to the problem. It is a reactive solution – by standing up it means we have noticed the bullying behaviour but by then it can be too late, the damage could already have been done.
It’s time to re-engineer our response and implement a proactive solution.
Exclusion is very often the first form of bullying and as a society we should aim to encourage inclusion and a sense of belonging, especially in school communities. MATES is a social inclusion program which addresses this very issue, it’s an acronym for Mates Assisting To Engage Socially and it highlights the importance of Social Inclusion in our schools and in our society.
It’s a compelling metaphor because we all need a mate. Too many young people feel that they do not belong, this is so damaging to their self-esteem.
Imagine how schools would benefit from a peer led approach to encouraging and facilitating a sense of belonging, what would happen to self-esteem and motivation?
Imagine if schools could develop the leadership skills of more students and allow them the authority and autonomy to implement real social justice in their own school, to set the expectation and standards of inclusion rather than being told to follow prescribed standards?
For now we do have to follow the Prince’s call to ‘stand-up to bullying’ because it is a problem and in the Prince’s words, “it is our collective responsibility to be alert and to be ready to challenge the behaviour we see around us. We all have a role to play”, however we have to recognise that we must think ahead and create a paradigm shift by empowering students to set the standards and be accountable for them in their own schools.
For more about the MATES program contact Randa Habelrih.