Confronting School Bullying - The Age

Bullying is an insidious, constant feature of life at most schools. Any attempt to minimise, trivialise or employ band-aid techniques to reduce it will only lead to sad, traumatised students and parents. Bullying is like toxic vapour. It can flow from all sides. Teachers, students and other parents will bully those less powerful. Everyone becomes caught up in this mess. Research shows that like sheep, we are all influenced by own environment, if it’s cool to bully it will continue, if it is not cool to bully, then it is OUT. The peer group decides what is acceptable and what is not. Thus it is useless dealing with bullying in class if it takes place in the staffroom, the carpark or on the school bus and these areas remain unaddressed.

The solution is to develop a whole school approach towards dealing with bullying. This means developing a comprehensive school policy, based on confidential questionnaires, to find out who’s doing what to whom, where and when. It means creating a longstanding taskforce to develop and monitor training, crisis-intervention and related programs. It means creating an environment where everyone, from the library technician, tuckshop staff to the secretaries, respect and implement anti-bullying strategies. This means long range planning, collaboration and accountability. Everyone needs to work together to create a respectful and safe learning environment.

Despite the best possible programs, beware that schools can only reduce, not eliminate bullying. This means that parents need to share the responsibility for teaching their children how to deal with nasty or difficult people wherever they are. Let’s face it, once a child has left school for the day, or for good, bullies are everywhere, in the neighbourhood, on the road, in their family and in the workforce. Besides, some of us may be having a bad day and any interaction can lead to a confrontation and escalation of conflict.

The amount of bullying in the workplace is just as high as in the school and is even more devastating and destructive. Targets of school bullying can easily find themselves as vulnerable and traumatised as they were at school. Their lives fall apart, physically, emotionally, socially and their career collapses. Parents and schools need to understand that teaching children how to deal with bullying and harassment is an important social survival skill.

Nor can you think for a moment that bullies escape equity and justice. Some may actually view themselves as targets, others provoke or retaliate to protect themselves. At school they begin their down ward spiral, often reflected in poor marks, limited emotional skills and anti-social skills. They are more likely to have a criminal record by the time they are 30, bash their partners, abuse their children and have poor coping skills. At work they are used to further their employer's ambitions, may be provided with little support to change and when things go wrong and they may be the focus of an investigation which could penalise their health and career. Targets wait for opportunities to strike back. They delight in toppling successful bullies of their pedestals.

Thus, schools need to create safe, respectful learning environments where children feel empowered to express their concerns about the bullying and confront them in an assertive manner. The opportunities for reporting incidents, the consequences and the skills required to handle them need to be taught. Stress and anger management, mediation skills, communication skills, assertiveness skills and social skills can form part of the program. Schools can employ drama, discussion, project work to make this a successful learning experience.

As well as implementing changes at the whole school level, emphasising the collaborative approach, schools need to teach students appropriate skills. Bullies need to learn social responsibility, empathy and effective communication skills. The core of bullying is the loss of power. We need to teach targets of bullying how to maintain a sense or power, not lose it. We can do this by using the following practical tips:

  1. Don't show your fear or anger that makes a bully happy. Put on a blank face.
  2. Don't say or do nothing, because your distress will give you away. A neutral comment like "I hear what you say", or "that’s interesting" is far better.
  3. Just because you are being nice doesn't mean that the bully will be nice. It is simpler to expect people to treat you with respect, as you should do to them. If they are not respectful then don’t allow them to abuse you.
  4. Don't tell a nasty bully that you don't like it and you want it to stop, they will be glad to have upset you.
  5. A good friend should not bully, if they do and you ask them to stop and they don't, trash that friendship.
  6. Make friends with children who respect your feelings.
  7. Learn some effective communication skills and check the feedback, does the other person care about how you feel or don't they? Then respond accordingly. If they don't care how you feel don’t waste your time. If they do care, you can continue the conversation.
  8. Always report to teachers and parents if you can't cope.
  9. Learn neutral body language and some simple general and specific retorts:
    • "You are an idiot" - Your reply: "And I like icecream too."
    • "Nobody likes you" - Your reply: "Life's a bitch" or "What can I do about it."
    • "You're fat" - Your reply: "No I am enormous" or "Yes it's genetic" or "My mum is a great cook."
    • "You are a dickhead" - Your reply: "Can you show me a photo of that?" or "I heard you" or "Thanks for the feedback."

More Articles