This week is anti-bullying week and one of the slogans is “make a noise about bullying”, the idea being that a united voice demonstrating how communities will not tolerate bullying enables victims to speak up and bullies to think twice. It is interesting too that, increasingly, campaigns such as this are social-media-based e.g.#makeanoise and #antibullyingweek. This is interesting because schools and parents worry that the vast majority of bullying of young people now takes place online and specifically over social media. It isn’t that social media is intrinsically bad; it is just that it is the most convenient and popular way to communicate and therefore is the obvious place to communicate positive messages as well as negative ones.
At the heart of bullying, whether it is carried out in corridors, classrooms or online (and therefore at any time of the day and night), is the underlying nastiness of a bully who seeks to exert power and influence over others through fear and the victims who feel powerless to stop them. Sometimes it feels that we can never keep up with the seemingly infinite methods of communication children have at their disposal. However, if we keep in mind that bullying and bullying behaviour have the same traits, regardless of the way it is delivered, then we can still have those conversations which help to keep children safe and to talk about issues early on. The school has just reviewed its Anti-Bullying Policy and we’ve added an appendix which we think helps everyone in the community to identify what bullying is. In the appendix we describe what different types of bullying may involve and also what the common signs of bullying may be. We hope that in doing this we are providing another route for parents, students and teachers to identify and talk about bullying.
There are ways to help protect your child from online bullying (these also help protect them from other online dangers too):
- Know which apps they have on their phone/tablet and how they are using them. If they use Snapchat, make sure they also have an app to capture the posts.
- If they game online, talk to them about how they will use chat facilities and how they can save or close down conversations they don’t like or don’t want to be a part of.
- If they use chatrooms or other group messaging online, talk to them about how being a bystander (whether virtually or in real life) makes them no better than the bully.
At school we find that, when we are dealing with bullying issues (and there is no school which does not), the vast majority of the conversations we have are around bullying behaviour, rather than bullying itself. This is because more often than not the “bully” has no or little idea of the impact their words and actions are having on the victim. In other words, there is no premeditated targeting of the victim but rather thoughtlessness, resulting in a person feeling bullied and humiliated. We talk a lot about bullying behaviour at school in assemblies and PSHE lessons in particular, and in the last year there has been a concerted effort to highlight the potential damage done by thoughtlessness and banter. At home talking about and discouraging banter and other actions which can damage already fragile self-esteem is a consistent message which will go a long way to educating our thoughtful, bright and articulate children to use their gifts wisely.
The other challenge facing school (and this is not a new one) is that bullying can be targeted and persistent, but also at such a low level or so subtlety done that it can be hard to detect or prove. In these cases we invariably ask victims to keep a diary or log of incidences and we alert staff and senior students so they can keep an eye out for bullying behaviour. It helps us to help our students as soon as there may be a problem; keeping a log early on, even if in the end the problem appears to go away, can be useful for all concerned and great to help communication at home.
So, in general, what can parents do if you think your child is being bullied?
- Keep calm and avoid threatening to deal with the bully yourself.
- Praise them for telling you and reassure them that they have done the right thing in letting you know what is happening.
- Avoid a conversation about how your child should change themselves – it gives them the impression they are to blame and they are not.
- Try to find out the facts – what exactly has happened.
- Use your best listening skills. Accept your son or daughter’s feelings, encourage them to talk about their worries by listening, and don’t belittle what they are going through, however minor it may seem to you.
- Don’t jump in with advice or immediately try to solve the problem. Listen to their ideas and, unless they will lead to danger or serious trouble, let them try their ideas out. Help them to think about what they would like to happen and ask how you can help. This may take days (unless they are in immediate danger and then you will need to act quickly).
- Bullying destroys confidence and your child will feel vulnerable: show you love them, value them and that they are important.
- Talk to them about why people bully to reinforce the point that they are not to blame.
- Often fighting back or saying something “clever” to the bully may end up making things worse because they get into trouble or laughed at more. Try to avoid advice which may exacerbate the problem.
- Talk to school sooner rather than later and make sure we understand what has been going on and what you and your child have been discussing at home.
And finally, what if your child is a bully?
- If you are told your child is a bully or has exhibited bullying behaviour, try to avoid the natural and immediate response to defend your child and dismiss the idea or, indeed, to rush in and punish them.
- When you talk to them about the issue make it clear that it is their behaviour you are unhappy with, not them and that you love them.
- Listen to what they have to say, establish whether it is bullying which is going on and, whatever you think, make it clear that you consider bullying wrong in all circumstances.
- Talk to them about how the other person might feel – they may see what they are doing as a bit of fun or banter and not realise how much it is hurting the other person.
- If there is evidence that they have been bullying, consider where this behaviour may have come from. Are their family members who are aggressive, friends or groups they are involved with who behave in this way? Children become bullies for all sorts of reasons including loneliness, low self-esteem, jealousy, hurt from something else that is going on in their lives and because they were themselves bullied.
- Given the above, talk to your child about why they are behaving in this way and then look for solutions. These are likely to be strategies which build self-esteem and confidence and give them more reasons to make friends and enjoy life e.g. new activities/hobbies.
Fundamentally people who are happy with themselves do not need to bully other people.
Some useful links: