OPINION: Program aims high to eradicate bullying

 BULLYING is an issue commanding significant public attention. This is as it should be. Bullying, like other serious social problems such as domestic violence and child sexual abuse, is no longer relegated to the ranks of private pain and suffering endured in shameful silence. 

Families, schools, workplaces and policy makers now recognise the  impacts and high costs of bullying, and are looking for effective strategies to address this serious public health issue.

Action to address bullying requires the collective and sustained efforts at the family, school and community levels.  

As with all public health issues, such efforts should focus on prevention and early intervention, as well as ensuring that those who experience bullying are supported to access appropriate services to aid their  recovery from the damaging physical and psychological fallout of being bullied. 

Access to effective programs that foster the acquisition of pro-social skills in children and young people is a critical component of prevention and intervention. Rock and Water, run by the Family Action Centre at The University of Newcastle, is one such program.

Rock and Water develops skills to take a stand against aggressive or challenging behaviours from others.  The program promotes resilience by exploring concepts and developing skills to enhance self-control, self-confidence, self -respect and personal safety. 

 Importantly, Rock and Water helps children and young people link their physicality with their social skills.  The program assists boys and girls to reflect on how they feel when they act and stand in a particular way, and how to use this understanding to communicate positively with others.

Since 2002, more than 35,000 educators and human service professionals throughout 14 countries have been trained in Rock and Water.  As a result more than two million boys and girls have been taught the Rock and Water Program in their school or by a local community service provider. 

  In recent years, specialised training programs in Rock and Water have been developed for primary schools; girls and women; and children living with autism.  

The University of Newcastle organises training in the Rock and Water program for teachers and other human service workers. The University’s Aim High initiative incorporates the program into the year 9 summer camps and also supports  schools to incorporate Rock and Water into their Positive Behaviour for Learning (PBL) program, with some early signs of very positive results. 

In early 2013 as part of the University of Newcastle’s Healthy University Strategy, video footage of a Rock and Water workshop was posted out to community members.  Feedback from parents in response to the video was: ‘‘We want our child to be trained in this program.  How do we find out more?’’

In response to this interest, the University has organised for Freerk Ykema, founder of Rock and Water, to provide a presentation for parents during his annual visit to Australia.  The presentation will be held at The Forum, University of Newcastle, tomorrow, from 11.30am to 12.30pm.

This is a unique opportunity chance for parents to learn more about Rock and Water, and in so doing join the collective effort to intervene in the bullying epidemic. 

Penny Crofts is acting director of the Family Action Centre at the University of Newcastle.

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