“Lots of good kids bully”

Neither bullied nor bullier be.

It’s a good philosophy, but incomplete. So I learned from talking to Faye Mishna about Karen Klein. Mishna researches bullying – cyber bullying in particular – at the  University of Toronto. Klein is a 68-year-old bus monitor from Rochester, NY, made famous in a stomach-turning, 10-minute YouTube video of teenage boys intimidating and taunting her crassly, cruelly and mercilessly. They taunt her about her weight, her hearing aid, and most devastatingly, her son’s suicide.

However tempting it might be to write these boys off as monsters or budding psychopaths, Mishna doesn’t believe they can be written off so simply.

“The things they were doing were awful, but we can’t know what these kids are like just based on this video,” she said. In fact, as discomforting as it might be, their behaviour isn’t even that extreme or unusual for a schoolyard or workplace.

“The numbers are too high, the prevalence is too high,” she says. “So many kids bully – lots of good kids bully. Most people agree there should be consequences for those kids, but those consequences should be learning experiences.”

She resists getting too bogged down, though, pondering the mind of someone who bullies. A conversation that only focuses on consequences for the students and charity for Klein misses the bigger picture.

Bullying is not just a binary relationship between perpetrator and victim. Mishna is interested in how other people fit into the puzzle:

“Most bullying happens in front of bystanders. As a bystander, you can either do nothing, which means letting it happen, you can jump in and help the kid who is bullying, or you can protect the kid who is victimized. That’s a huge piece,” she says.

Klein has said in interviews that this was not the first time these kids had bullied her. That makes Mishna wonder whether Klein lacked access to the tools and support she needed to respond.

“If it had happened before, why didn’t she say anything? Maybe she didn’t feel she could say something to anybody,” says Mishna. “If you’re going to have a monitor on the bus, you need the whole system in place.”

What were the other students on the bus doing? What about the bus driver? Did Klein’s employer prepare her for such a situation, and provide avenues for her to seek guidance and support? Peers, authority figures, and support networks all play roles in bullying dynamics.

That’s why merely striving to avoid becoming either the bully or the victim doesn’t necessarily remove you from the equation. And even as Klein’s video became an Internet sensation, bullying itself is also expanding online.

“In cyber bullying, we’re all starting to find that the group of bullies and victims seems to be larger,” she says. “We need to understand that, and what that means.”

One of the things it means is that more people’s lives than ever are touched by bullying in one way or another. For researchers like Mishna, it also means maintaining a focus on the core issues of bullying and anti-bullying – power, humiliation, empathy, social support, education, and public awareness. There’s little point in simply understanding bullying in the context of a single medium – the technology changes too quickly.

“Even three years ago, tips would be ‘put your computer in a public place.’ Well now that’s irrelevant,” she said. “Now kids in grade two have a cell phone and are online.”

She believes that anti-bullying efforts must transcend technology – viral videos and all.

“Research has shown that if a bullied child stands up and says, ‘Don’t do it,’ the bullying stops more quickly. But a kid can’t do that unless they’re supported by a larger system. The child on their own has to be pretty unique to do that without extra support, so all that stuff has to be put in place both in the cyber world and the traditional world.”

As Klein’s story demonstrates, adults without such support also have trouble asserting themselves. The complexity and difficulty of addressing bullying issues can be dispiriting, but Mishna believes change is happening.

“At least we’re addressing these issues now,” she says. “Years ago, people would have said it was just part of life. I don’t’ think it will disappear, but as with child abuse or spousal abuse, I think one of the reasons it seems more prevalent now is because we’re more aware of it. And if it’s in the public consciousness, at least people know they have the right not to be treated that way. That’s a beginning.”

Tagged: Community, Health, Technology

Share: Print

Leave Comments

Blog Posts

From solar panels to ...

Sharon Oosthoek | July 26, 2016

University of Waterloo electrical and computer engineer delves deep into the health and safety of renewable energy Nanotechnology is poised to become the next big thing in solar panels, but before that happens Siva Sivoththaman wants to ensure workers who make the panels and consumers who use them aren't endangering their health. Most research into using nano particles in the manufacture of solar panels has focused on their potential for more effectively converting sunlight into energy. Scientists predict nano particles could boost efficiency from the current 20 per cent to about 60 per cent. But Sivoththaman, a University of Waterloo electrical and computer engineer, says we need to pay just as much attention to their safety. read more »

Green chemistry stars humble ...

Sharon Oosthoek |

Trent University biomaterials expert tweaks crop-based oils to produce environmentally-friendly materials for wide range of products When a World Health Organization study recently linked hot drinks to esophageal cancer, Suresh Narine realized one of his more obscure inventions might just become his most successful. The WHO study concluded drinking beverages above 65C increases the risk of cancer, presumably because it burns esophageal cells on the way down. The problem is that most takeout coffee is hotter than 65C. But in 2015, the Trent University biomaterials scientist designed a 'Goldilocks' travel mug to keep beverages at a constant 62C —  not too hot and not too cool. The food grade liner in Narine's cup is made from soybean oil he tweaked in his lab to cool hot beverages to 62C within 15 seconds, and to keep it at that temperature for five hours. read more »

Making novel bio-based materials ...

Sharon Oosthoek |

Queen's University chemical engineer Michael Cunningham modifies natural products to safely and effectively replace polluting chemicals. A plant-based substance called cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) may be the most promising biomaterial most people have never heard of, says Queen's University chemical engineer Michael Cunningham. Stronger than Kevlar, CNC is the crystalline form of cellulose, which is the chief ingredient in the cell wall of trees and other plants. While only recently available commercially (and only from Canadian company, CelluForce), it could eventually be used to make reinforced plastics that replace steel in cars, boats and even airplanes. The resulting lighter weight would mean transportation that uses less fuel and emits less greenhouse gas. read more »

Indigenous art and the ‘...

Sharon Oosthoek | June 27, 2016

Gerald McMaster is fascinated by creative people who move in an out of, or are influenced by different communities and cultures. At once nomadic and connected, their experiences formed the basis of his early research. Today, the Ontario College of Art and Design University professor, curator, author, and artist is about to dive back into this area of research. He is launching a multi-year project that will examine the ways in which Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures interact, influence and inspire one another. read more »

2016 Women’s Health Scholars

Alex Hughes | June 22, 2016

Ten outstanding Ontario university scholars are being recognized for potentially life-changing research for women in Ontario and across the globe, as they look to develop health care in the areas such as HIV-care, contraceptives, and breast cancer. The Council of Ontario Universities, with funding from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care introduced the Ontario Women’s Health Scholars Awards in 2001 to ensure that Ontario attracts and retains pre-eminent women’s health scholars.  The awards aim to improve women’s health. The 2016 recipients include postdoctoral, doctoral and master’s students from six Ontario universities. They each will receive scholarships of $25,000 to $50,000, along with research grants of $1,000 to $5,000. This year’s recipients and their areas of research are: Alisa Grigorovich, University of Toronto – how to create effective policies that address the sexual harassment of female workers by clients in Ontario residential long-term facilities. Jocelyn Wessels, McMaster University – how female sex hormones found in contraceptives affect vaginal health and susceptibility to sexually transmitted infections. Lori Chambers, McMaster University – the challenges and benefits to African immigrant women who are living with HIV and choose to work in prevention, treatment and advocacy for others with HIV. Komal Shaikh, York University – assessing the effects of education-based therapy in treating and rehabilitating cancer survivors with cancer-related cognitive dysfunction. Amanda D. Timmers, Queen’s University – how sexual arousal patterns vary across genders and how these variations can inform the treatment of sexual dysfunction. Kelly Coons, Laurentian University – how to improve the ability of future health care professionals to counsel pregnant women on drinking alcohol during pregnancy. Sara King-Dowling, McMaster University – how the development of girls’ motor skills affects their overall health and activity levels over time. Denise Jaworsky, University of Toronto – how living in rural and Northern areas of Canada affects the ability of women living with HIV to access care. Justin Michael, Western University – developing tools to allow for a single-visit radiation treatment for women with breast cancer to make things easier for those living far from treatment facilities. Shira Yufe, York University – how to encourage breast cancer survivors to adopt healthy lifestyle and weight management habits. Each of the researchers has spent countless hours studying topics related to women’s health and improving the lives of women in Ontario.  Their research (full descriptions available here) will contribute to the way that Ontarians (and the global community) live, work and play.  Congratulations are in order to the award recipients! Stay Curious!
More Blogs »