It’s been over a month, but I still catch myself smiling when I think of the memories made at the 2023 World Anti-Bullying Forum (WABF). For those not familiar, WABF is an international forum and biennial conference focused on understanding and preventing bullying, cyberbullying, and other forms of interpersonal violence against children and young people. Delegates (attendees) include school administrators, scholars, social media representatives, governmental policymakers, community leaders, and other youth-serving practitioners, and come from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds – including education, social work, computer science, information technology, nursing, pediatrics, adolescent development, psychology, psychiatry, and counseling. WABF was initiated by Friends, an incredible Swedish NGO founded in 1997 that provides adults with research-based tools to prevent bullying among children and young people.
The 2023 WABF was hosted by the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) from October 25 to 27, 2023. This marked the first time the event was hosted outside of Europe, having been hosted in Sweden in 2017 and 2021 and in Ireland in 2019. The forum was organized by my friend and colleague Dr. Dorothy Espelage, the William C. Friday Distinguished Professor of Education at UNC – who also was given the 2023 BRNET–WABF Career Achievement Award during this year’s forum. The forum also featured special guests such as Her Royal Highness The Crown Princess of Denmark, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, UNESCO Program Officer Yongfeng Liu, and the Dean of UNC’s School of Education, Dr. Fouad Abd-El-Khalick.
With Dorothy, I served as co-emcee. It was such an amazing experience as we had the honor of supporting almost 600 delegates from more than 30 countries who conveyed to cover emerging best practices in addressing youth and adult bullying, cyberbullying, harassment, abuse, toxicity. We also had an incredible youth presence, which is so critical as they have brilliant, non-derivative insights to share with the adults who serve them. Much focus was also given on how best to promote healthy and thriving peer relationships, schools, families, communities, and online spaces. I personally felt that the collective energy of the conference was palpable; such rich discussions ensued about policy, practice, programming, and creative initiatives that both youth and adults could spearhead. Networking opportunities abounded as we had incredible lunches and dinners, a formal outing to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, cocktail events, dance parties, and more!
First, my friend and colleague Dr. James O’Higgins Norman and I represented the International Journal of Bullying Prevention, a journal with Springer we founded and edit. We gave out the 2023 Best Paper Award to Deborah M. Green, Carmel M. Taddeo, Deborah A. Price, Foteini Pasenidou, and Barbara A. Spears for their piece entitled “A Qualitative Meta-Study of Youth Voice and Co-Participatory Research Practices: Informing Cyber/Bullying Research Methodologies.” It was rigorous, innovative, and youth-centric – and we believe it moves the field forward. As a side note, we’d love to feature your work on the causes, forms, and multiple contexts of bullying and cyberbullying – as well as your discoveries in identification, prevention, and intervention – so be sure to consider our outlet!
James, who serves as the UNESCO Chair on Bullying and Cyberbullying, also shared the results of his working group that tackled an updated definition of bullying through the lens of a “whole-education” approach that recognizes individual, contextual, and societal dimensions. The purpose, in part, is to aim for more consistency with how researchers are conceptualizing and operationalizing the phenomenon. If everyone’s definition varies, it precludes the ability to properly compare findings – and consequently to know exactly what works best to support youth and adults.
Across three full days, there were many amazing keynotes, including ones by Enrique Chaux, Heng Choon (Oliver) Chan, Debra J. Pepler, Kevin Runions, and Christina Salmivalli. The last day of the conference was incredibly busy for me. In the morning, I gave a keynote entitled, “Teens and Cyberbullying in 2023: What We Know and What We Can Do” where I shared new findings from my work with my friend and research partner Dr. Justin W. Patchin involving a nationally-representative sample of US youth, and also discussed numerous actionable research-based strategies that practitioners can implement. In the middle of the day, I partnered with Tami Bhaumik from Roblox, on a session entitled, “Fostering Civil Interactions in the Metaverse.” And in the afternoon, I helmed a keynote panel entitled, “How are Social Media Platforms Tackling Bullying, Harassment, and Abuse?” with Dayna Geldwert from Instagram, Viraj Doshi from Snapchat, and Tracy Elizabeth from TikTok.
There are so many people from the Forum that I’d like to shout-out, but need to keep this short and don’t want to accidentally miss anyone. I love our community of bullying and cyberbullying researchers and practitioners – as I mentioned from the podium, we really are a family. I look forward to WABF 2025 in Stavanger, Norway and am here if I can answer any questions you might have. I truly look forward to this Forum every two years, and I can unequivocally say that it is of the best professional events you will ever attend. Hope to see you there!