2014 Partnership Award winner puts knowledge into action to help prevent bullying
The tragic consequences of bullying are seen daily in the newspapers and on the news. However, while high-profile cases continue to make national and international headlines, thousands of cases remain silent, escaping public notice. In the classroom, on the playground, and even online, Canadian children are suffering from an unprecedented wave of bullying and cyberbullying.
Wendy Craig, winner of SSHRC’s 2014 Partnership Award and scientific co-director, with Debra Pepler, of the Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network (PREVNet), is a leading expert on bullying and its effects. Together, Craig and Pepler have spent more than 20 years studying bullying, its impact on young people, and ways of reducing—or even eliminating—its threat.
Craig and Pepler have published widely on children's social interactions. Their research has been credited with laying the foundation for our current understanding on bullying and victimization, peer processes, sexual harassment and aggression in girls, and juvenile delinquency. They work regularly with parents and educators across the country, sharing their expertise in public forums, consulting with governments and organizations, appearing on television with Oprah Winfrey, and advising Lady Gaga on a bullying prevention-related project.
“A relationship problem”
Despite widespread recognition of the pain, stress and long-term effects of bullying, Canada has faced hurdles in preventing bullying and victimization. While the country has many local, provincial and national programs aimed at reducing bullying, few of these are evidence-based, and even fewer are regularly or consistently evaluated to track their effectiveness.
From a developmental perspective, the lessons learned in bullying within peer relationships generalize to other developmentally significant relationships, such as romantic relationships.
In direct response to the lack of systematic, evidence-based programs, Craig, partnering with York University's Pepler, launched PREVNet in 2006 as part of the Networks of Centres of Excellence.
“Bullying is a relationship problem,” says Craig. “It is the assertion of power through aggression …. In such a relationship, children who are being bullied become increasingly powerless to defend themselves. From a developmental perspective, the lessons learned in bullying within peer relationships generalize to other developmentally significant relationships, such as romantic relationships.”
Craig is heavily involved with the World Health Organization and is part of the United Nations' North American Roundtable on Violence Against Children. In 2007, Craig and Pepler were leaders in the development of the International Bullying Prevention Roundtable and the landmark Kandersteg Declaration in Switzerland. Outlining the key principles to address bullying, the declaration has since been signed by over 30 countries. Craig is one of two international consultants on the US Bullying Prevention Task Force and recently sat on a panel for the Centres for Disease Control to create a uniform definition of bullying.
Making a difference in the lives of children
A large, cross-Canada network of researchers and youth-serving organizations, PREVNet pursues the twin missions of stopping bullying in Canada and promoting safe and healthy relationships for all Canadian children and youth. Since 2006, the partnership has grown into a team of 127 researchers, 120 graduate students, 28 universities and 61 national partners, providing an unprecedented opportunity to change the way we understand and deal with bullying problems in this country.
[We want to get] research findings that have the potential to make a difference … out to the people who most need them … so they can use the information on the front lines.
“What we want to do with PREVNet,” says Craig, “is get research findings that have the potential to make a difference, and to have an impact on how children and youth function, out to the people who most need them—the practitioners, educators, adult leaders and parents—so that they can use the information on the front lines."
Through PREVNet, Craig and Pepler are bridging the gap between academic research, public policy and community action, providing people and organizations with the knowledge, strategies and tools to address bullying behaviour and to prevent violence. It is the first such research partnership in Canada, working hands-on with organizations to foster a deeper understanding of the importance of healthy relationships. Working together, PREVNet and its partners develop community- and organization-specific bullying prevention initiatives, including educational presentations, manuals, activities and resources.
Over the last eight years, the partnership has engaged in 150 knowledge mobilization projects across the country, linking researchers with organizations that have direct contact with children—from educators, psychologists, social workers, and afterschool-care workers to ministries of education and public health agencies to develop and disseminate programs that eliminate violence and promote healthy relationships.
A community responsibility
Wendy Craig’s Partnership Award recognizes the Queen’s University psychology professor for her work building a formal partnership that is outstanding in its achievements—a partnership that, through mutual co-operation and shared intellectual leadership and resources, has demonstrated impact and influence within and beyond the social sciences and humanities research community.
To Craig and Pepler, reducing or preventing bullying is a community responsibility. Not just educational systems and school boards, but parents, teachers and volunteers must all work together to create safe environments where everyone is treated with respect and healthy relationships are encouraged.
If we understand what bullying is about and we identify techniques to address it, believes Craig, we can change societal attitudes and actions, and perhaps put an end to bullying forever.