OTTAWA, Ontario, OTTAWA, Ontario, ( – A Canadian marriage and family think tank says that “actively engaged parents,” not government legislation, are the solution to bullying problems in schools.

“Families are an important part of the solution to bullying, a solution that has been overlooked for too long,” the report by the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) states.

The report, titled “Family responses to bullying: Why governments won’t stop bullying until families step up,” underscores what it calls the “serious limitations of anti-bullying legislation.” It notes that Alberta’s new anti-bullying legislation is another “wrongheaded solution” that only confirms the reality that adults are no longer present in the lives of children.

Senior researcher Peter Jon Mitchell said the Alberta legislation leaves it to kids to manage bullying by giving schools the authority to suspend complacent bystanders who witness bullying, even when the bullying occurs online and after school hours.

“It’s essentially saying that as adults, we’ve left the playground, and that it’s up to kids to police bullies on behalf of the school and parents,” said Mitchell to the National Post. “Certainly there might be room for bystanders’ [involvement], but I hope we’re not passing the buck to kids and saying, ‘Solve your own problems.’”

The IMFC says that the research shows that what is needed is a “family response” to bullying because “this is where real, effective change happens.”

“The bottom line is that bullying requires less emphasis on refereeing and more focus on authentic relationships between kids and adults,” said Mitchell.

The report highlights the findings of Canadian clinical and developmental psychologist Gordon Neufeld who argues that human beings naturally form hierarchical relationships. If adults aren’t involved in their children’s lives, however, they will naturally seek it among their peers, which sets the stage for bullying.

Neufeld writes that the “underlying problem [of bullying] is not the behaviour itself but the loss of the natural attachment hierarchy with adults in charge.”

The only way to “unmake” bullies, for Neufeld, is to get children and parents more involved.

The IMFC report points out that the “typical Canadian approach to anti-bullying programs assumes that a power imbalance is the root of the bully problem. The solutions often focus on democratization – imposing egalitarian values on childhood environments with the hope that students will develop these values among themselves.”

But according to Neufeld, this “works against human instinct to form hierarchical relationships that are evident even in observing young children at play.”

The IMFC has highlighted what role parents, educators and government must play in combating the bullying problem.

Parents must be “proactive in speaking to children about bullying.” They must “monitor screen time and establish limits and expectations around use of internet devices.” Finally, they must cultivate “primary attachment relationships with children and pursue an authoritative parenting style characterized by warm and caring communication with sufficient supervision and clearly expressed expectations and limits.”

Educators must “facilitate educational opportunities for school staff and parents, connecting stake holders with experts and resources.” They must “invite parents to partner in developing a school response to bullying behaviour.”

Governments must “legislate very cautiously and promote community based responses.” They must “consider parents as the primary educator when developing education policy, evaluating how policy initiatives empower parents.”

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Read full report here.