It is important to know what something is, if you are going to try eradicate it, and in terms of bullying, a definition stops people defining it or dismissing it as something trivial. So, what is bullying? According to the Department of Education, bullying is: repeated aggression; verbal, psychological or physical conducted by an individual or group against others. According to one victim in a secondary school in Ireland: ‘Bullying first made my school a frightening place to be. Then it made my home a frightening place to be, then it made my whole world a scary place. The world became a place that I didn’t want to live in anymore. It started with being ignored when I spoke, then name calling and then they started hitting me. They even created a Facebook page to bring me down. They did.’
Unfortunately, it is becoming evident that bullying is becoming a serious problem in schools and for students on a daily basis. Currently, every school is required to have an anti-bullying policy in place. However, they seem to be a weak weapon in terms of fighting bullying behaviour today – which is affecting student behaviour and discipline. Whilst a policy in place provides those who bully and those affected with a document outlining what is not acceptable and the steps that will be put into place to remedy the behaviour and protect the victim; what has become apparent is how few schools actually follow school policy. It is difficult to comprehend parental complaints to the Department of Education that they were ignored by principals when they complained about their son/daughter being bullied. Yes, some schools have excellent, well thought out policies in place; they sit neatly in a filing cabinet, but in reality, they aren’t relied on or resorted to when bullying comes to light. Ironic, when the facts show that bullying breeds in secrecy. A report by Trinity College Dublin showed that 68% of parents feel that schools should take stronger action against bullying.
According to the Department of Education, there has to be an understanding of the factors that give rise to bullying. There also has to be sympathetic treatment of all those involved in the bullying behaviour. Furthermore, having regard to the nature of the problem, it must, in certain circumstances, receive the attention of others directly outside of the school community. Principals and staff in schools need to recognise the traumatic consequences of bullying when it is not dealt with appropriately. Without the support of the school; the victim will suffer and the perpetrator’s behaviour will not be rehabilitated. The consequences of no rehabilitative measures being put into place affect society at large.
The ISPCC recently ran an anti-bullying campaign. They stated: ‘bullying can impact greatly on a young person’s development – leading to isolation, loneliness, depression and low self-esteem.’ In recent years there have been some high profile and tragic cases, highlighting the detrimental and sometimes fatal effect of on-going bullying and harassment.’ Pieta House have recently reported Cyber-bullying and peer pressure has led to a massive increase in the number of teenagers seeking help for suicidal tendencies or self-harm.
The Minister for Educaiton, Ruairí Quinn, is accurate, when he states that staff have to become more aware of bullying and this will possibly be done through the inclusion of a module on bullying behaviour in the pre-service training of teachers. Also, it is considered that the expansion of in-service courses to teachers on aspects of bullying behaviour would be of considerable benefit to the teaching profession in the process of raising awareness and developing techniques to deal with such behaviour. With Guidance Counselling provision being cut, teachers and Principals will have to play a bigger part in identifying victims and assisting bullies in stopping their harmful behaviour.
It was much welcomed when the Minister opened an Anti-Bullying Forum at the Department of Education and Skills, to explore ways to tackle the problem of bullying in schools, earlier this month. This is the first time that the Department, together with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, has hosted a dedicated forum together with students’ and parents’ representatives, rights and anti-bullying activists, and other experts, to address this important issue.
Opening the Forum, Minister Quinn, said: ‘Bullying is a problem which I take very seriously. Bullying in school can ruin a young person’s enjoyment of some of the most important years of their life. In extreme situations it can also, tragically, lead to a young person taking their own life.’ He hopes that the Forum will focus on identifying the practical steps and recommendations that could be taken in the short term to improve how schools approach and tackle bullying. Alongside the Forum, Minister Quinn has established a Working Group on tackling bullying, including homophobic bullying, cyber bullying and racist bullying. The outcomes and recommendations from the Forum’s work will assist the Working Group in its deliberations. The Working Group is made up of representatives from the Department of Education & Skills (DES) and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and will also draw upon the expertise of a range of organisations during the course of its work.
The first phase of this will concentrate on homophobic bullying as per the commitment in the Programme for Government. The Working Group will also be reviewing the 1993 DES Guidelines on Countering Bullying in Schools in order to update them to reflect the realities of modern communication. Cyber Bullying is a new strain of bullying which has emerged amongst children which utilises web pages, e-mails, and text messages – all used to abuse, intimidate and attack others either directly or indirectly- rumour mongering etc. Studies do show us that bullying is more prevalent now than ever, but with modern technology, it has become more sophisticated and sinister. Worst of all, many parents have no idea this type of bullying – cyber bullying – even exists.
The Facts and Figures:
It can be easy to dismiss bullying as something children go through and there is the frightening attitude out there that ‘it is only messing’ or that some students need to ‘toughen up’. The facts and figures cannot be denied, however.
– In Ireland, a recent study has shown that up to 14% of students aged 12-16 have been cyber bullied, while 9% reported that they have bullied others in this way.
– A nationwide survey of bullying in first and second level schools conducted by Trinity College Dublin estimates that some 31% of primary and 16% of secondary students have been bullied at some time.
– Research indicates that individuals, whether child or adult who are persistently subjected to abusive behaviour are at risk of stress related illness which can sometimes lead to suicide.
– Furthermore, passive bystanders in any bullying situation also risk suffering from anxiety that is brought on by the shame and guilt of not intervening or defending a victim.
– Out of over 2,300 calls every day to Child line, a huge percentage is related to bullying.
Sometimes to find a cure, you have to look at the cause of bullying. While people can have a natural aggressive constitution; it is recognised that factors within the home, school or wider society influence the development of aggressive behaviour. If aggressive behaviour is not challenged in childhood, and then there is the danger it can become normalised and habitual. Research indicates that bullying during childhood puts children at risk of criminal behaviour and domestic violence in adulthood.
Who Gets Bullied? Anybody is a potential victim of bullying. There are no set characteristics that determine you will be bullied. Sometimes, the victim might bring up something on an emotional level for the bully that justifies the way they behave towards them. Sometimes it is being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Research shows that bullying has no boundaries, it affects every type of person, and it can take many forms, it can be short term, or it can continue for long periods, even years.
The Symptoms of Bullying:
– Reduced ability to concentrate, lack of motivation/energy
– Poor/Deteriorating school work, anxiety about going to school
– Loss of confidence and self esteem
– Lack of appetite/comfort eating
– Alcohol, drug, substance abuse
– Aggressive behaviour
– Panic attacks
– Attempted suicide.
By not challenging bullying behaviour, valuable opportunities are lost in shaping societies needs for respect of each person’s dignity. Most of us know that bullying exists; yet it is something that is often unchallenged until it either directly impacts on someone we know and care about or as a problem that has become too serious to ignore.
Blame, shame and punishment will not eradicate bullying. If somebody is resorting to this behaviour, it is obvious that there is a serious need not been fulfilled; there is emotional pain that hasn’t been dealt with, and sadly in a lot of cases it is because they were once victims themselves. No, none of this excuses bullying behaviour but it often explains it. Bullying will only genuinely cease, when the bully enters into some sort of therapy or support group. It is the promotion and development of empathy for their victim that will stop them bullying the victim or another person again. Empathy is the ability to step into somebody else’s shoes and feel what they must be going through on an emotional level. Empathy is curative and it is a response that our schools need to foster by promoting the use of emotional intelligence in the classroom.
Bullying costs both children and adults their right to feel safe and happy. Sometimes it costs lives. As The Manic Street Preachers sing: ‘if you tolerate this, well then your children will be next.’
Members of the public can make submissions by email to the Department at firstname.lastname@example.org up to the 29th June. Details of the Forum and the format for submissions are available on the Department’s website – www.education.ie.
If you have been affected by bullying, please talk to a person you can trust, a counsellor or The Samaritans.