Barbadians have been urged not to retreat from taking a stance on bullying but to remain ???a constant force in the face of all of it???.

This was underscored yesterday at the official launch of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme in the Garrison Room of the Hilton Barbados Resort, Needham???s Point, St. Michael.

Minister of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, Ronald Jones, speaking at the official launch of the programme which falls under the aegis of Supreme Counselling For Personal Development declared: ???Let???s call bullying what it is. It is a criminal act, straight up and simple??? when I deprive you of your valuables, of your cell phone, pen, pencil, [and] lunch money, that is a criminal act. You are taking possession of something that is not yours. And, you might assault me to get it. That is already covered by the laws of our country.

???We need to enforce the laws. Not because you are young that you become sympathetic???We offer enough excuses. Yet, on the other side we have seen people who have come through some of the harshest of deprivation but they don???t bully anybody. They look to transform and change their lives and to make a significant difference to the development of themselves, their communities and their country.???

Emphasising that it was a criminal act that had to be rooted out, he said: ???The damage which is caused to the psyche of some people by bullying is tremendous. Some people become psychotic, fear envelops them and this psychosis develops. There are some people who retreat into their homes and don???t want to ever leave. And, we [the Ministry] cannot keep shifting students, either the person who is being bullied or the person that is the bully from school to school.???

Meanwhile, Chief Executive Officer of Supreme Counselling and certified Olweus Bullying Prevention trainer and consultant, Shawn Clarke, said bullying, which was earlier seen as ???child???s play??? was now known to have long-term academic, physical and emotional effects on both the target and the person exhibiting the bullying behaviours.

He said: ???Taunts, social isolation, rejection, gossip, pushing, shoving and tripping were often dismissed as child???s play, or simply ???children being children???. Bullied children were told ???don???t let it get to you???; ???you are too sensitive???; ???toughen up???; and ???Are you a sissy????

Mr. Clarke, in denouncing this, said the problem was that while some children had the confidence and social skills to stop bullying when it happened, many did not. He attributed it to peer abuse and suggested that it must be treated as such.

???The effects of bullying are far reaching, in schools and on the well-being of young people,??? he added, noting that in schools where it occurred children felt uneasy and troubled, even those who were not directly victimised.

The Olweus programme is currently being piloted at Frederick Smith, Lester Vaughan and Grantley Adams Secondary Schools and Wesley Hall Infants. It is expected to reduce bullying which Mr. Clarke said caused general school climates to be filled with tension and intimidation.

???If children do not feel safe within schools they find it difficult to focus on school work and it is also more difficult for teachers who spend a great deal of their day focusing on behavioural management problems rather than their real work of teaching,??? he stressed.

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