Bullying refers to the deliberate and systematic verbal, physical and/or emotional harm inflicted from one individual to another where the recipient feels unable to defend themselves. Regrettably, bullying is an all too sad fact in the lives of our children with 69% of pupils claiming to have experienced this within the past year; according to statistics from the National Bullying Survey 2006. ChildLine has also reported that bullying is the single largest reason for children and young people calling their helpline with proportionally more boys than girls doing so.
Considering the centrality and incidents of bullying is so high in our children’s lives media coverage of this issue is sporadic and sparse at best. It is all too often the case that the experiences of children are ignored or trivialised rather than being given the spotlight and attention they deserve. If a large volume of the adult population were subjected to the same treatment on a daily basis this would be considered a serious breakdown of civilised society and a human rights crisis of monumental proportion.
Children are most likely to experience bullying between the ages of 12-15, although, within the 5-11 age group the incident rate is still high at forty percent. Bullying can and does take many forms (in order of frequency);
- Name calling / teasing
- Physical bullying
- Verbal or written threats
- Racist bullying
- Sexual bullying
- Caller bullying
- Isolation bullying
- Homophobic bullying
- Family bullying
The vast majority of bullying goes on within the confides of the school, however, this often spills out into the community and many children find themselves continually harassed and bullied in their own neighbourhoods. This quote from a ten year old girl demonstrates this point; “I am getting bullied at school and I live near the bullies so it happens when I go out and play as well. I told the teacher and she said I should avoid them. I don’t feel like going to school sometimes.” For these children there is no break from the relentless cruel treatment they are subjected to and with the increase in mobile technology and social media they can literally carry their tormentors around in their pocket.
Cyber-bullying is the use of information technology to harass, ridicule or otherwise degrade another person through text messages or postings on social networking sites. The sheer scale of the potential audience and participants in cyber-bullying means the impact on the individual can be immeasurable. Research carried out for the Anti-Bullying Alliance by Goldsmiths discovered that 22% of 11-16 year olds had experienced some form of cyber-bullying. The insidious and invasive nature of cyber-bullying makes it particularly distressing for the victim, as they are stripped of privacy and personal space, as well as being publically ridiculed. This quote from the study demonstrates this point; “I felt that no-one understood what I was going through. I didn’t know who was sending me these messages, and I felt powerless to know what to do.” Children are not the only victims of cyber-bullying, as it has been reported that one in five head teacher’s are finding themselves the subject of abuse by pupils and parents via online campaigns.
Bullying can and does have devastating consequences for the individual that they often carry around for the whole of their lives. Victims of bullying are likely to suffer from low self-esteem, low self-confidence, poor education performance, medical complaints, depression and anxiety, as well as have suicidal thoughts. In extreme cases children make the devastating choice to take their own lives; as they feel they are unable to cope with the torment, isolation and loneliness that has become their daily existence. Research carried out by Beatbullying revealed that between 2000-2008 44% of child suicides within the United Kingdom were linked to bullying. This tragic, needless and senseless waste of life does not and should not be an inevitability, as teachers, parents, friends or bystanders we need to be proactive and not sweep this issue under the carpet. We need to protect our children and take their concerns and worries seriously and not minimise what there are experiencing, as ‘kids being kids’ or telling them ‘to sort it out themselves’. It is our responsibility, as adults, to ensure our children are free from fear of violence and intimidation.
Children find it very difficult to talk to their parents or other adults about bullying, as many believe it is their own fault and feel ashamed. There are some signs that parents can look out for, which may give them an indication that their child is being bullied. Here is a list provided by Kidscape the bullying prevention charity. Your child may:
- be frightened of walking to and from school
- change their usual route
- not want you to go on the school bus
- beg you to drive them to school
- be unwilling to go to school (or be ‘school phobic’)
- feel ill in the mornings
- begin truanting
- begin doing poorly in their school work
- come home regularly with clothes or books destroyed
- come home starving (bully taking dinner money)
- become withdrawn, start stammering, lack confidence
- become distressed and anxious, stop eating
- attempt or threaten suicide
- cry themselves to sleep, have nightmares
- have their possessions go missing
- ask for money or start stealing (to pay the bully)
- continually ‘lose’ their pocket money
- refuse to talk about what’s wrong
- have unexplained bruises, cuts, scratches
- begin to bully other children, siblings
If you suspect your child is being bullied then you need to ask them and listen carefully to what they tell you. It is helpful if you note down dates, times and incidents of bullying along with who was involved and how long it has been going on. Your child will need your reassurance that they have done the right thing. The next step is to take your concerns to your child’s teacher; if you feel that the school is not or has not taken your concerns seriously then the following organisations can help you:
- Parentline Plus helpline: 0808 800 2222 (Monday to Friday 9.00 am to 9.00 pm, Saturday 9.30 am to 5.00 pm, Sunday 10.00 am to 3.00 pm)
- Kidscape helpline for parents: 08451 205204 (10.00 am to 4.00 pm)
- Anti Bullying Campaign advice line for parents and children: 020 7378 1446 (9.30 am to 5.00 pm)
- Advisory Centre for Education (advice for parents and children on all school matters): 0808 800 5793
- Children’s Legal Centre (free legal advice on all aspects of the law affecting children and young people): 0845 120 2948
On the flip side if you believe that your child is bullying others then you need to make it clear to your child that this sort of behaviour is not acceptable. You will need to talk to your child’s class teacher about how you can make positive changes to prevent your child from bullying in the future. If we all play our part and work together then hopefully we can stamp out this damaging behaviour and provide a brighter future for all our children.