Monday, April 27, 2009

Bullied at School
It doesn't matter whether you are Tom Daley, or anyone else - the truth is Bullying hurts and it HAS TO STOP.

I stayed up late this evening especially to listen to a radio show that was highlighting this issue that is a perennial issue in schools throughout the world – Bullying.

This is as a result of a high profile child, Tom Daley, who because of his high profile as an Olympic Diver for the UK, has become a target of terrible abuse, yes abuse, by other scholars at the school. (If scholars is the right term for them – probably scoundrels would be better). What he has had to endure is terrible.

My heart goes out to young Tom, who beyond his diving ability, sounds like a decent young lad, just trying to get on with his life. The constant jibes of 'speedo boy' and 'diver boy' and the physical attacks – being rugby tackled, and 'kneed' where they come up behind him and knock him in the back of the knee so he loses his balance and people threatening to break his hands and his legs. If I were Tom, I would be more than fed up – I'd be petrified – and that is exactly the effect that the bullies are trying to achieve.

Listening this evening, I was less than impressed with the statement issued by the Local Education Authority. They are simply issuing platitudes and have no interest or inclination to actually pursue the matter and hold the head to account for her lack of action in this regard. Are we to conclude therefore that they will only act when Tom is actually seriously injured – maybe when the boy carries his threat to break Tom's legs and one of UK's prospective Olympic medal hopefuls is unable or unwilling to compete?

I also want to commend both Tom and his parents for resisting the temptation of taking the law into their own hands. Tom's parents have, I believe, done their best to go through the right channels and only after finding that they have been ignored by the school and higher up, they decided rightfully to go public. What is happening to Tom is terrible – not because Tom is an Olympic Star but simply because he is a child and like EVERY child deserves to be protected.

In my previous two blogs, I addressed the issue of name calling and discrimination when it targets people with disabilities, and I objected to terms like spastic, cretin and retard. But this story has made me realise that being on the other end of the scale – being a bright, intelligent, gifted person, often also opens them up to unnecessary and uncalled for abuse. NERD, GEEK, WIERDO, BOFFIN, and the list could go on. Very articulate and artistic children often fall foul of the bully too. Tom targeted because he is a top class diver. Another father spoke about the abuse that his daughter was experiencing at school – I reiterate – I use the word ABUSE, because that's what bullying is and whereas people do not seem to be to perturbed by 'bullying', the moment the 'A-word' is used – it gets people's blood boiling – and I think people's blood should be boiling.

It's no good for schools and government authorities to wring their hands and express regret when one pupil kills another pupil by stabbing them. These actions NEVER happen out of the blue. It does not help, if the school sends a contingent of young school friends to the funeral of a pupil who killed himself after having not been able to handle the ongoing abuse of other students. The time to act is when the problem emerges – when the first signs of a child experiencing abuse are reported.

As was said in the programme this evening – there is no school ether Primary or Secondary where NO bullying takes place and any staff that are living under the illusion that there is no bullying at their school ought to extract their heads from the sand and open their eyes – because it is going on. This DUTY to protect goes beyond merely having policy and sticking a few posters up around the place. School staff should be very vigilant.

  1. Reality ONE: Just because bullying is not being reported does not mean it is not taking place. Children are afraid to report it for fear that it will bring on worse bullying. Merely saying that they need to report it, and mentioning it in assembly is not going to convince the very frightened child to speak up. This is another reason why I believe the word ABUSE should be applied to this issue. Just as children are scared to tell if an adult is abusing them, and it is a teacher's task to take note of certain 'red flags' that may indicate that a child is being abused, so, teachers and parents should be looking out for 'red flags' that a child is being bullied. One such red flag is a child who was previously thriving and enjoying school suddenly either bunking, or trying to avoid going to school, or saying that they hate school.
  2. Reality TWO: Even the 'little angels' in the class can turn out to be bullies in the playground – oh and girl bullies are just as vindictive and nasty as boy bullies, though their tactics are usually less physical, but no less dangerous. We should avoid stereotyping a bully into a'bigger boy' and just deal with each child whether the bully or the victim of bullying as individuals and handle each case as it presents itself.
  3. Reality THREE: If a child comes to you (as a teacher or a parent or some other significant adult in their lives) with tears in her eyes, asking for help – she's not wanting you to load on her a lot of advice on how to deal with the bully. Can I say, if it has this stage, it is like telling a rape victim she shouldn't wear such short skirts. When the child comes to you, don't try and find out why your child being picked on – act to get it stopped. I refer back to the Tom Daley situation – given the nature of the threat made to him, his father is within his rights, especially since the school has failed to act, to report the matter to the police. It is against the law to threaten another person with violence. If the child had stolen something from the shop, most store managers would call the police, not the school. If someone threatens to do violence to your child, you are well within your rights to take the matter to the police.
  4. Reality FOUR: The rhyme that goes 'sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me' is the BIGGEST LOAD OF BALONEY. Whoever first came up with that nonsense, may be able to make a rhyme or two, but they have no foot in reality. The truth is words can ban be a very strong weapon. It has been said "The pen is mightier than the sword" – meaning that words – written down in this case – can do a lot more damage than beating up a few people. This whole recent government scandal that was exposed where the 'special adviser to the PM was going to use a website to make serious, but spurious accusations against key people in the opposition party, so as to damage their reputations – which fortunately was exposed before it could do any damage – nonetheless had potential to destroy people political careers. Name calling and any other form of verbal attack should not be dismissed as banter. Just because hurtful words come out of another child does not make the matter less serious. ACT on it, and ACT on it sooner rather than later. Asking the victim to modify his or her behaviour in order to avoid the bully or the bullying is, to my mind, to, to some degree, actually blaming him or her for that abuse.
  5. Reality FIVE: In the age of technology and the Internet, bullying is no longer confined to school grounds and outside the school gate, but is taking place online, in chat rooms, through social networking sites, and via the mobile phone. This online bullying is no less frightening than the child in the school grounds – indeed it can be MORE frightening as oftentimes the perpetrator is not easily identifiable – and so they issue threats – and the child does not know who to trust. If your child has a mobile phone, tell him that he may not divulge the number to anyone, even among his friends, unless he has first passed it with you as his parent/guardian. Friends do fall out, and sometimes when they have fallen out they can become very vindictive and may use the number to get at your child. Likewise email addresses should remain private. If they have social network profile (ensure that your child is legally old enough to have that profile.) – make sure you have access to it, and that you can monitor it regularly. The child may complain and say that his friends are being allowed to do whatever it is. Remind him or her that you will do what you believe is wise and best for them.
  6. Reality SIX: A child does not come out of a normal home background and bully another child just for the heck of it – there is usually something that triggers the bullying behaviour. THIS IS NOT TO BE VIEWED AS EXCUSING THE TERRIBLE BEHAVIOUR, but it is necessary to try and understand what it is that makes a child behave like this to another child and by addressing the cause, and helping the bully understand (because they sometimes don't understand it themselves) why they are hurting other children, they can be shown better ways to handle that problem and not resort to bullying behaviour. It is not sufficient to simply tell the child to stop bullying, taunting or teasing. The child will not stop, they will just become more sly and underhand about he or she goes about it. To stop the behaviour, the cause must be identified (and the cause lies within the bully and not the victim) and however long it takes, the child must be made to face the issue and deal with it, or if it is something like the child is being abused, as is sometimes the case – then that child needs to be protected – in whatever way is necessary and from whoever is meting out that abuse.
  7. Reality SEVEN: Below in the videoclip you will see an interview with lady called Barbara Coloroso who wrote a book entitled The bully, the bullied and the bystander. Many, not all, bulies do the bullying in an attempt to boost themselves in the eyes of their peers. They have this stange idea that if they victimise somebody, it will prove that they are big and tough and in-charge. Unfortunately the effect of this is to intimidate the majority of other kids into going along with the victimisation of the bullied kid, sometimes out of the fear that if they refuse to call names or join in they will become the next victim. Children must become aware that if they see someone else being bullied or become aware that someone is being being bullied, they MUST tell an adult. It may be that their friend tells them 'a secret' about somebody who is bullying them. Children as young as four or five these days are told there is a difference between a good secret (What Mummy will get for her birthday present) and a bad secret - and the secret that a friend is being bullied is a bad secret and it is RIGHT to tell an adult about it. The friend might be angry with you - but in the end, they will understand that you HAD to tell.

Let's not trivialise Bullying as has been done for far too long – we really need to understand the real effect it has on the victims – and as individuals, as school communities, as government, act vociferously to tackle bullying head on and let us have statistics relating to bullying regularly published in the papers an on the media. Just as we watch the unemployment and the inflation figures avidly, and parents look to school league table to try and find the best schools for their children we should be publishing official figures relating to bullying in schools and these figures should be on the decrease year-on-year or the minister of education should be called to account for the fact that there is no improvement. If the figures either continue to rise, or simply remain static, for two years in a row, the minister responsible should be asked to resign. That's how strongly I feel about the matter.

I am no fan of permanent suspension as they call it these days. (We used to say 'expelled') I do believe that that should be very much a last resort for only the recalcitrant offender who despite several attempts to reform his/her behaviour, still persists in the victimisation of other children. However, if the last resort needs to be resorted to, the suspension must mean something. It is not a licence for the child to go to another school and continue the with the abuse.

My suggestion would be that it would be far more useful to reassign the child to another school - but that for a predetermined period (based on the child's age and the nature of the abuse that resulted in the suspension) the child will not be integrated into a class but will have to attend school but learn in a secluded environment under the supervision of a teaching assistant, with academic work supplied by the class teacher and sessions where tutoring can must be organised so as not to disrupt other students learning program. The period of seclusion should also be used to counsel the child concerned and to prepare him or her for reintegration into regular learning. The goal should be reintegration. After reintegration, the new school must monitor the situation closely for the safety of all concerned. It should be kept in mind that a previous bully may become a target for bullying by children at a new school and that would not be a good outcome.

I attach some links for you to look at and listen to in relation to Tom Daley's story as well as other relevant articles.

Some more general sites that can be of help to young people who are being bullied and their parents.
If you are a young person who has come online – searching the words Bullying and come on my page – welcome – thanks for stopping by. I urge you to look at these sites – they will reassure you that you really are not alone. Most importantly you need to tell someone – the same advice goes out to any child whether he or she is 5 or 17. Do not suffer in silence. (watch the video clip) "Bullying is not just an education issue – it is a community issue."

For the parent whose child is being bullied: Lots of resources here for a desperate parent – haven't looked through them all but my guess is that they will have sound advice – if you feel I am mistaken feel free to draw my attention to it.

I do not speak as some academic expert o this subject. I'm just another Joe Bloggs (excuse the pun) sharing my thoughts – I however did experience it myself to a certain degree when I was at school because I was perceived as being weaker than they were. I'm also a teacher and care very much for my students well being – physical and mental.

I came across this teacher's blog - quite by chance and thought he had an interesting approach. .

"Bullying is not normal, natural or necessary" Watch this video clip that highlights the issue.

In this video there is an interview with Barbara Coloroso, auther of the book"The Bully, the bullied and the bystander." Details of the book, are below.

The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to High School--How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence
By Barbara Coloroso
Edition: reprint
Published by HarperCollins, 2004
ISBN 006001430X, 9780060014308
240 pages

Please comment on my blog – I really appreciate the feedback.


Plumbline said...

I totally love Reality 4...Words do hurt..a lot too...I was verbally bullied a good deal in high my primary school, it was easier..I was d bright kid who enjoyed 'teachers' protection' but in high school, to report a bully to the authorities is to set yourself up for being ostracized! it was 'cool' to bear the punishment 'dumbly' I recall a senior student warning us that if he's reported, he'd be expelled, then he'd come back to school to kill us..we believed him!

John Blog said...

Thanks Plumbline - I have just noticed there are some errors in the typing of this. I will put them right, but can't do it right now.

I will alsopost the link to a podcast of the radio show later.

Ruth m f said...

Well said, Johnny. Good for you to speak out against school bullies. This is a perennial problem and has been part of scholl life since school' were invented. Awareness is the only deterrant. Bullies shd be identified and given specialised treatment by the school psychologist (If there is one)Victims need protection, and all children should be thoroughly aware of wat bullying really is and its dangers. They should be encouraged to speak out in an anonymous way to alert teachers,who should become more observant of any action taken by named bullies so they can catch them at it and act accordingly and suitably.

Ruth said...

Well said, John