Do schools need to do more to tackle bullying?
It seems like every few weeks you will read about some form of tragedy that arose from school bullying. It is and always has been a serious problem. A recent study done by Trinity College In Dublin found that approximately 31% of primary school students and 16% of secondary school students have been a victim of bullying at one point or another.1 However, upon glancing at similar studies from other counties such as the United States, The U.K etc.. I have found that these figures are more or less the same worldwide. As sad as this fact is, it is even worse when you think that these percentages are made up of individual and unique names and faces. Each is a name and face who must face a different struggle every day.
Bullying is usually carried out in the form of one or more of these three main categories:
- Physical Bullying
- Verbal Bullying
- Emotional Bullying
These three main categories can also be broken down into sub-categories. What I mean by this is that physical, verbal and emotional bullying can often be a result or by-product of racial bullying. Yes racial bullying can absolutely be considered a category on its own, but the method by which the child is bullied is is usually carried out either physically, verbally or emotionally.(For example, one child is prejudiced against another due to their racial background. This leads to hostility either through physical, verbal or emotional means, but the defining term would be racial bullying)
Physical Bullying; when you think of someone being bullied, it is common to think of bumps and bruises caused by some schoolyard aggressor. Just abut any child can be at risk and the bully is usually openly displaying aggressive behaviour . Physical bullying is the easiest form of bullying to spot as it has some very serious telltale signs such as bruises, cuts etc..
Verbal Bullying; Teasing and name calling is very often used as a form of bullying, Quite literally adding insult to injury. Children who stand out for any obvious reason, whether it be special needs, skin colour or poverty are most at risk. This form of bullying is harder to identify as it can be difficult to prove and usually ends up as being one child's word against another.
Emotional bullying; Emotional bullying can be considered to be potentially even more dangerous than physical bullying as it can have very serious and long lasting problems for the victim. Through isolation and constant personal insult, the child’s confidence and self worth is broken down bit by bit and this is extremely hard to recover from.
Why do people bully? The most common reasons for children to commit acts of agression toward others usually stem from factors in the family such as a lack of attention or an unstable home environment. The bully may be going through something very difficult themselves and not know how to vent their feelings and emotiions. Poor dicipline and supervision can also result in escallating violent behaviour. As the agressor is often struggling with something themselves, an act of bullying is part of a tragic story for both the bully and the victim, even though it may not always appear to be that way.
Do schools do enough?
Do schools do enough? If you read over any school prospectus or mission statement, you are bound to come across their highlighted Anti-Bullying Policy. Here they will reassure you about their zero tolerance for bullying and the safety and well being of your child. However, having seen first hand how schools and teachers fail to uphold this policy, you cant help but laugh just a tad when getting to that page. Both my sister and I had painful experiences with bullying (my sister more so than I), however this piece is not a self-righteous crusade against school bullies. But there is nothing worse than watching a child or sibling suffer so much, and for parents and family that have to have to continue to endure this, empty promises and spending a few extra cents to make a printed page more colorful than the rest is not enough to protect a child. Now of course I don’t believe that every school is the same, and there are an increasing number that take this very seriously and handle it with due care and attention. In fact if anyone has any stories of how a school they know handled an incident of bullying correctly I would love to hear about it in the comment section. But when other schools can clearly make the effort, why cant others do the same?
The scores of "Mean Girls" and incidences of "Horseplay" are too often dismissed as part of growing up. If that is true, it is terrifying to think what these children will grow up to become, and even more terrifying to think that it is acceptable for some to simply watch it happen. When you drop your child to school each morning, you are leaving them in the care of an adult whom you trust to guide them and educate them. And as you leave your child in their hands, you expect them to be protected. When a teacher breaks this trust, it makes you wonder why they chose the profession? Why choose a job with such responsibility if you cannot carry out the duty with the care and diligence required. A fireman would not tackle a blaze with a cup of water and then claim to have tried his best. Becoming a teacher is more than a social position. It requires them to not only teach, but to actually have a genuine interest in the well being of those whom they teach. I understand that being a teacher is an extremely demanding job. Nobody expects a teacher to be all smiles and sunshine.In some ways, teachers can also find themselves a victim of bullying too. Children are always a challenge and any teacher that takes their job seriously deserves tremendous praise and a lot of gratitude.
So what can teachers and school personnel do if they want to better tackle bullying?;
- Take every report seriously. It is true children overreact at times, but with something so serious, it requires serious attention.
- Promote understanding, diversity, warmth and respect. There is no point in making a class of children from all backgrounds and just expecting them to get along. They need help in understanding each other.
- Be observant
- Discuss the topic of bullying with students and colleagues.
What can parents do?
When you spot signs of bullying, or your child finally builds the courage to come forth and tell you what has been happening, how can you go about bringing an end to it? Firstly, you must comfort your child. I can understand that you might want to go straight to war over the situation, but making sure your child is ok is the priority. Talk to them and make them feel safe and secure. Secondly, make sure to document everything. If there are bruises or scrapes you can take photos or even bring them to a G.P (That may seem excessive, but try telling that to a parent when their child has been harmed) Then it is time to approach the school. When approaching the school, try to work with them in their efforts rather than in opposition to them. If your school has an anti-bullying policy in place then you are both working towards the same goal. If there is no policy in place, you can always work with them to establish one.2 It is important to be firm with the situation, but constant friction will not get the job done. In addition to this, you can always;
- Talk to other parents who are experiencing the same problem.
- Pay close attention to the mental health of your child. As stressful as the situation is for you, it is worse for the child.
- Provide positive reinforcement and love to the child at home. For example, if your child is bullied for being LGBT, reassure them that it is not their fault. Reassure them that it is important to be proud of who you are and that these tough times will not last forever.
- Teach your child to be resilient as well as moral. Talk to them about what bullying is and why it is wrong. And even though they are being bullied, they are still capable of doing amazing things and becoming whoever they wish to be.
- Realize it is ok if you don't know what to do. Seek advice from others, preferably others with experience. This is where your G.P is helpful. They might also be grateful when you come to them with something more complex than the usual cough and cold.
Children themselves also have a role to play in combating bullying. After all a child feeling that they are fighting a battle alone is only the case if everyone around them chooses to make that a reality. But for a child to display acts of courage, understanding and kindness, appropriate role models are necessary.
Earlier I mentioned that bullying is a tragic thing for both the target and the bully. And as much as people might dislike bullies, they themselves are victims too. That is why some sort of counselling should be made available to both the bully and the target if it is needed. If a child acts out in an aggressive manner, it does not make them any less deserving of help. If a student is taking on the role of the bully it is important to notify the parents and try an identify the root of the problem. This highlights the importance of having a school counselor. If it is a case where your child is the bully, you need to talk to your child and discover the cause of the aggression and unhappiness. Some parents can be offended when their parenting skills are called into question, but pride must always come second to the well being of the child. Here is some helpful information on the subject.
Bullying is a subject that cannot receive enough attention. If the system fails, it fails both the bully and the target. It is easy to highlight the changes needed, but making these changes is where the battle starts. I think that just as schools grade and evaluate the efforts of the children, the schools and teachers too should be evaluated in their efforts. A public rating system that shows parents and children's feelings and opinions towards the schools approach to bullying and similar issues would provide sufficient motivation to make these changes. To name and shame is a very effective method when it comes to getting people to improve their efforts.
Hopefully through whatever method, these improvements are implemented and children, parents and teachers can enjoy the benefits of a more tolerant and understanding environment. I hope this post has been of some value. Thank you for taking the time to read it.
Were you happy with your schools efforts to combat bullying on behalf of either yourself or your child /family member?
1 - http://bully4u.ie/bullying-in-schools/understanding/statistics-on-bullying-in-irish-schools/
2 - http://www.kzoo.edu/psych/stop_bullying/for_parents/general_information.html
© 2015 Sean Gorman