Dealing with Bullies
Bullying in schools is nothing new. Traditionally, a child perceived as weaker or in some way different from his peers is targeted by the bully or bullies. Bullying may involve physical intimidation; excluding the victim from a recognised 'clique' or gang, or cyber-bullying which manifests itself as anonymous psychological abuse.
A bully seeks to control his victim often with threats of violence which are almost always realised. The target is usually more mature emotionally and more able to deal with conflict through dialogue than the bully whose level of emotional development is much less advanced. The victim believes that violence is an unacceptable means of resolving conflict; they have been taught this by their parents and teachers and perceive physical retaliation to be morally wrong. Unfortunately however, when bullying occurs parents will often contradict their own moral teachings by advising their child to answer violence with violence and to "stand up for yourself."
Schools have a duty of care to protect their pupils from physical and emotional abuse. They cannot abdicate this by laying blame for the bullying on the victim because they didn't stand up for themselves.
Advice for victims
You have a right not to be bullied so do not ignore it and allow the bully to go unpunished.
Bullies are weak and cowardly. This is why they crave control. Do not give the bully the satisfaction of responding to his threats or provocation. Understand that every accusation, criticism and taunt levelled at you is totally unjustified and has no foundation whatsoever. You are in no way to blame for the bully's behaviour. This is not your fault. You may feel embarrassed, guilty and afraid. This is understandable but is just part of the strategy used by the bully to try to control you. Try not to succumb to these feelings.
As soon as you realise that you are the victim of bullying, begin keeping a diary. Make a note of every incident of abuse you suffer including times, dates, what is said to you and any physical attacks that you suffer. Keep your notes well hidden in a safe place.
Tell a parent or trusted teacher immediately. Do not suffer bullying in silence. If you feel unable to approach anyone close to you because of the bully's threats, call a helpline: Childline (UK) 0800 1111 or Safe Schools (USA) 1-866-285-5437. Both these numbers are free to call and they will advise you on the best course of action you can take.
Advice for parents
Your children will not tell you that they are being bullied. A bully will threaten his victim with violence in order to intimidate them into remaining silent.
If you suspect that there is a problem, chat informally to your child about bullying. Explain to them how the bully thinks and why he does what he does. Reassure them that the victims of bullying are not in any way to blame and emphasise the importance of alerting someone close to them as soon as they feel that they are the victim of a bully. When your child takes the difficult step of confiding in you, agree a course of action with them before taking any actual steps.
Be alert to the signs that your child may be suffering the attentions of bullies at school. Does he suddenly try to avoid going to school? Are his clothes, books or other possessions frequently damaged excessively or missing altogether? Have you noticed a change in his demeanour; is he more secretive, not eating properly, not sleeping? Does he ask you for money with no real explanation as to what he needs it for?
Be aware that the school is legally obliged to deal with bullies and that failure to do so is effectively exposing your child to 'degrading treatment' and that they may therefore be prosecuted under the Human Rights Act.
Advice for teachers and schools
Make sure you are aware of how much bullying, if any, goes on in your school. Have an effective anti-bullying procedure and ensure that it is implemented properly. A preventative proactive approach to bullying is essential to stop the problem becoming established.
An inclusive climate where all pupils feel safe and supported and able to approach staff members with their concerns is essential in preventing the development of a culture of bullying. Pupils in such an environment feel empowered and able to take action against those who would seek to become bullies whereas children who feel excluded and isolated are victims waiting to happen.
Educate pupils to understand exactly what bullying is, in all its forms. Emphasise to them that such behaviour is wholly unacceptable and will not be tolerated under any circumstances, whether it takes place on school premises or outside of them.
The teaching of interpersonal skills should be integrated into lessons wherever possible. A child can learn to be assertive without being aggressive and this lesson will serve them well in the outside world as well as in the safe environment of the classroom.
About Alison Page
Alison is a freelance writer and author. She is a member of the UK national panel of dressage judges, holds a degree in Equine Science and a Diploma in Business Studies.