The Anti Bullying Alliances’ theme this year for anti-bullying week is 'Power for Good'. What I understand this to mean is that we ALL have the power to help make something better and can make a choice whether we embrace and use it, or choose not to. Or more bluntly, whether we ignore those who we know are being bullied as we are too scared or reluctant to do anything about it perhaps
The key aims are of this year's theme are:
- To support children and young people to use their ‘Power for Good’ – by understanding the ways in which they are powerful and encouraging individual and collective action to stop bullying and create the best world possible.
- To help parents and carers to use their Power for Good – through supporting children with issues relating to bullying and working together with schools to stop bullying.
- To encourage all teachers, school support staff and youth workers to use their Power for Good – by valuing the difference they can make in a child’s life, and taking individual and collective action to prevent bullying and create safe environments where children can thrive.
Two perspectives on bullying: A mum and daughter
To help put some perspective on this I have asked two wonderful friends of mine, Amberely and Amanda to share their experience of bullying, a young lady's perspective and her Mum’s. I have to warn you it’s quite a harrowing read, but it’s aim is to help stamp out bullying.
I felt completely isolated and felt that I had no respect from anyone in my peer group at school. I dreaded going to school every single day, day in day out, month in month out, year in, year out. The constant feeling of anxiety made me physically ill, affecting my sleep and my general overall health and impacted my education.
Break-times were the worst. I could manage the lessons. Every break-time and lunchtime I had to try to find places where I could hide just to draw the least amount of attention possible to myself. I usually just ended up hiding in the toilets.
Among the taunts and insults that I’ve experienced over the last few years, I’ve been spat at, had food thrown at me and white spirit poured into my hair, and no-one ever defended me, looked out for me or showed any degree of concern for all that I had to endure each day. Every so often I’d be duped into thinking perhaps one of my peers wasn’t so bad after all on days when they bothered to talk to me, but in every single case, that thought was quickly gone when they became sheep and stood as part of a nasty, bigger group who were taunting me. Not one of them had courage to tell the perpetrators that what they were doing was wrong.
The worst thing about all of it was the constant and deliberate attempts to humiliate me. That’s what hurt the most.
What could the school have done to help me?
Take it seriously: The teachers taking it seriously would have helped. And when I say seriously I don’t mean punishing people just on my word, I know they can’t do that. I mean just really listening to how hard I found the humiliation and understanding how horrible it was spending each lunchtime in the toilets as I felt there was no alternative.
Educate everyone constantly: The school could have made it their mission to constantly remind and educate everyone about the effects and impact of bullying and to make it socially unacceptable, like drink driving or something like that (after all bullying kills too...). The school can educate pupils so that they understand that even if they stand in a group which is taunting others, but aren’t doing the taunting, they are still just as bad.
A safe place of choice: One of the biggest helps to me would have been to be able to find a place OF MY CHOICE to take refuge at lunchtimes. The school did provide one class to go to but I didn’t want to be in a classroom full of other people in the same position as me – that was just more depressing. I wanted to go to my own safe haven but I was never allowed.
Amberley's top tips
- Stay true to who you are: Don’t change to fit in with people you don’t like – you’ll only feel worse later
- Keep sight of the things you like doing and make sure you have your own goals and interests out of school and increase your own personal goals so that you can feel you are getting better at something – anything – it doesn’t matter what (I started running and just increased my distance. It didn’t need anyone else and I set my own goals and was then very proud of myself when I achieved each one)
- Try exercise! The endorphins definitely make you feel good.
- Plug in headphones whenever you are allowed to at school. It blocks out a lot of the rubbish people are speaking and means they cannot get a reaction from you if you are ignoring them (makes them look silly too).
- Keep reminding yourself it’s them with the problem and not you as happy people never feel the need to be nasty.
- Remind yourself it’s not forever.
Top Tips from Mum, Amanda
- Always listen to what your child is telling you. You probably won’t be able to fix it, but the most important thing you can do is validate your child’s feelings by really listening. Stand in their shoes and try to understand what the loneliness, fear and humiliation may feel like to them.
- Never dismiss anything they tell you. If you keep listening, they will keep talking. It’s when they don’t talk to you, things will become harder for them. You must be their trusted ally.
- Never make the feelings you have about the bullying their problem. If your chid is suffering, you will feel angry, sad, frustrated, confused to name but a few emotions. But that’s for you to deal with – not them.
- Weekend planning. I always planned things at the weekends (usually cheap or free and always of Amberley’s choice) which meant we had time together to share and a light at the end of the tunnel of each week for Amberley to look forward to. Those positive things really kept her going.
- Strong role models. Make sure you have strong role models in your own friendship group. My friends have been instrumental in supporting Amberley. They all reinforced to her all of her beautiful traits and she had constant positive messages about who she was from a variety of different sources – this helped her to see all the more that the bullies at school were the ones with the issues.
- Seek counselling. Counselling can help if you find the right counsellor. We found a fabulous counsellor who succeeded in making Amberley see that the groups of people who bothered her did not consist of people who were all the same and she was the different one. Instead, he taught her that no two people are the same; we are all different from one another. The group just all conformed to one set of bad behaviours. She had courage to stand apart and be true to who she was and he made her see that she was courageous.
My heart broke reading this. Two of the loveliest people I know who had to go through this without the support they needed and deserved.
I am delighted that Amberley is having a much better experience now, but it is important to acknowledge what she endured. Bullying is happening in most schools every single day. Despite schools having a ‘behaviour policy’, many do not follow it or offer the support they should. As Amberley noted, bullying, whether by individuals or groups, has driven many young people to end their lives tragically and needlessly. But bullies are only as powerful as their peers permit. If you can walk away and be that power for good, slowly but surely the bully’s power will diminish.
Also on SNJ: How to help a victim of bullying
Angela's extra tips for parents to tackle bullying
So just to add to Amanda and Amberley’s essential tips, I would suggest that:
- Contact the school as soon as you know that bullying is taking place – hopefully this is all you need to do and the school will know of what has happened and are taking action.
- Keep an incident log: If the above hasn’t happened, then keep a log of every incident you are aware of and each week email this to your child’s school. Try to get email addresses for the tutor, head of year, head teacher and head of pastoral care and cc each one in to every email.
- Alert a governor: If even this isn’t working (!), find out which school governor is responsible for behaviour and include them in the communication too.
- Reassure your child that you will listen and do whatever you can. And do really listen to what they want you to do and don’t make assumptions. If they don’t want you to contact the school because they fear the situation will worsen, then talk to them about why they feel like this and explain what the potential benefits might be if you all work together.
- Counselling: And finally as Amanda writes find a good counsellor who can give support from a personally non-involved perspective. Often this can give the young person a different experience and enable the young person look at things differently.
There are independent counsellors like myself who can see young people, but there are also many organisations that offer free face to face or online support. Some of these are listed at the end.
Autism advocate, Anna Kennedy OBE has also been running an anti-bullying campaign, Give Us A Break with the #giveusabreak hashtag. My son, whose bullying I've previously written about and I, are backing the campaign, as you can see below.
Some useful resources for a bullied young person
- YMCA National organisation – The YMCA often have local branches that can provide peer support or counseliing – either free or for a small fee. In Surrey, where I am, these are Heads Together or YMCA Dialogue although there may be a waiting list. The YMCA have branches in many areas of the UK
- Kooth – Part of Xenzone
- Young Minds