In every school there is an anti-bullying charter with a guide for teachers to follow and what to do if a child is bullied or if bullying occurs. There are TV campaigns, on line guides and leaflets by the bucket load. But still, so many children are being bullied. Last year 1.5 million young people[i] were bullied, with nearly half of those going on to experience depression as a result and well over a third say they are now socially anxious. 33% of the young people who were bullied said they had suicidal thoughts because of the bullying.
Bullying has changed since my day (I was bullied for a year until the bully was expelled for a different reason) where the playground was the place of doom and to be avoided at all costs. I felt the lessons were safe and I was ok to walk between classes but unlike most children, I dreaded lunch breaks and the end of school. My bully was physically imposing and much bigger than me, but what was scarier was that she was much more streetwise than me and her threats pushed me into the land of fear. Her punches and kicks hurt too, but her real weapons were the dread and trepidation she gave me. I was relatively lucky as my experience didn’t last long as she was regularly not in school and eventually forced to leave. Looking back now with my adult mind, I can see how hard life was for her, and my adult self wants to hug the child bully and give her some comfort. She came from a notorious family and she was placed in care and eventually a ‘children’s home’ where she learnt to survive with her street smarts. Although this is not an excuse, it was part of the reason.
Nowadays bullying is multifaceted and layered, meaning there is no escape at the school gates. Almost every child over 11 has a phone with a camera or the ability to text, Snapchat and Instagram a damning photo within seconds. Bullying based around religion, race, disability and sexual orientation has sadly always been around, there is now sexting, cyber and social media bullying as well as good old fashioned playground bullying.
When M first came to me, she was caught filming a girl she didn’t know being bullied by 2 bigger girls near her new school gate. She was caught and stubbornly refused to see how she was at fault along with the 2 girls pushing and teasing their victim. Her school naturally had a zero tolerance approach and as her new foster carers we were marched to school alongside M to discuss the incident. Several years later M was praised for her intervention with an ongoing bullying situation in her class and for standing up to the notorious bully. She stood in the way of the girl and refused to move. I was very proud of her and her actions. She’s come a long way and as well as being funny, clever (too clever by half!) and a good friend to her close network, she has also proved herself to be a decent human being with a strong moral compass.
Bullying leaves a lasting impression on a life. Someone very close to me was bullied throughout their entire secondary school experience and without a doubt, it changed his life. Super intelligent (part of the reason he was a target), tiny in stature with a shock of unruly hair, he went through his school years running from one bullying experience to the other. Instead of achieving his fierce potential, he shrank from answering in class and made himself as invisible as possible. With little support at home, it wasn’t until he grew to match his bullies in height did things change. One summer he said he realised he was no longer the kid with the concave chest under 5ft but now a strapping 6ft with muscles.
The bullying marked him forever. He experienced homelessness as a result and came out of school with virtually no qualifications. He changed his life for the better over the years, becoming educated and qualified and a man with a huge sense of fairness and a total zero tolerance for bullies. I’ve seen him wade in and stop fights in public, even putting himself in danger, but he will not tolerate a bully.
If you have a child or Looked After Child who is being bullied, particularly online, on their phone or social media encourage them to talk about what’s going on, report it and help them build their confidence in ways outside of the area they are being bullied. For example, help them to try something new that will empower them e.g. rock climbing. They should block the person who is bullying them on the phone and social media and not respond. Taking screenshots is helpful. There is some really useful advice for parents and carers on each different type of bullying on ChildLine and other websites such as NSPCC but also advice for the children and young people to read for themselves.
ChildLine 0800 1111
NSPCC 0808 800 5000 (advice for adults)
The Samaritans 116 123
[i] Ditch the Label. Annual Bullying Survey 2016.