Bullying in schools
I was shocked to read in a recent OECD Survey that the UK is one of the worst countries in the world for intimidation and bullying in schools and that the problem has got worse over the last 5 years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a significant element of this problem is hurtful information on the internet.
Why is a small country like ours one of the worst? It is not the simple availability of technology, since countries like Japan and Korea have some of the lowest incidences of bullying. I can only conclude that it reflects attitudes that our children are learning from others around them – including their parents, peers and the media. Messages of kindness, respect and tolerance are seen as boring and un-newsworthy compared with sensational headlines of celebrity or political spats. Thoughtless tweets, programmes like the Jeremy Kyle show or the Apprentice present rudeness and criticism as entertaining and acceptable. Unkind messages on social media are ubiquitous and quickly shared many times over.
All forms of bullying can have a serious long term impact
All forms of bullying can have a serious, long term impact on a child’s confidence, mental health and educational attainment. Online bullying can be particularly devastating due to the fact it can take place 24/7 and can be very public. The anonymity of the internet can facilitate the bullying and a victim can feel that there is no escape.
So, what can we do about it? There is no easy solution but evidence from the few countries identified in the OECD Survey as having reduced the levels of bullying in schools (Estonia, Chile and Alberta Canada) suggests that there are steps that can help. These include bullying prevention and awareness campaigns with a focus on recognition, observation and tracking of bullying behaviour, mechanisms for reporting bullying, and response plans for dealing with bullying which involve parents and carers. In Alberta, State resources encourage promotion of positive behaviour alongside awareness of the impact of bullying and what peers can do to support the victim. This peer support aspect is also promoted by various UK anti-bullying charities which encourage students to stand up to the bully.
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In England the incidence of bullying, both off and online is much greater in the lower secondary school level than in primary schools but it seems to me that the effort to change the culture in which our children are growing up needs to begin as young as possible so that its effects carry through into the secondary years. Part of this effort begins with us as parents: setting good examples, looking at posts together and calling out bullying behaviour as unacceptable, pointing out when the media exploit or manipulate situations for financial gain. We also need to encourage our children to think really carefully about what they post online, who might see it, how might it be interpreted, what might happen to it once it has been shared, who might it hurt and what effect it will have on their digital reputation.
We also need to encourage them to tell us if they are being bullied and not keep it to themselves. I do feel we have lost our sense of community and have become selfish. We carry on with our own lives with very little interaction with others around us. Only last weekend my son fell and hit his face whilst scootering at a local skate park. I had a call from a parent and of course I drove back to the park. The parent commented how amazed he was that so many parents just walked past, when it was obvious that a child was upset and had blood pouring from his nose and mouth. Imagine how much less likely they would be to intervene if his injuries were caused by a bully. Are we too scared to get involved? What example is this showing to our children…walk past and don’t care?
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Anti Bullying Policy
In schools, the anti-bullying policy needs to cover all aspects of prevention through promotion of good behaviour, celebrating differences, awareness of early signs, awareness of the impact as well as reporting mechanisms, appropriate responses, including support of the victim, but we must also, address underlying issues with the bully. The policy needs to be explained and well-understood by staff, not just posted on the school website. Our online safety lessons need to focus around the actual platforms that children are using, with examples that they understand. It needs to include the WHOLE SCHOOL community.
We need to reach everyone.
We need to teach children to tell and not keep the bullying to themselves – this is easier at primary level than at secondary which is why peer support and awareness is so important and we need to show children how to block unwanted messages, not allowing the bullying to go on. Schools call the office all the time asking how to do this on the major platforms that we created videos showing how to do it. Let’s have a conversation openly in the class. Not just about how it feels on the surface; let’s go deeper and help children to understand the real impact of bullying and how to pause and think before posting anything online, to think about the consequences both for themselves and others.
Instagram are also taking steps to help combat online bullying and have some good videos showing how to block other uses. This is a great step forward but there is still a lot to do.