Anti-bullying week: Children are scared to be brilliant, to shine
With Anti-Bullying Week running from 19-23 November, Lauren Seager-Smith from the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA), which is hosted by the National Children’s Bureau, discusses the effects of bullying on our children and young people and what can be done to tackle it.
Bullying is not a new issue but in days gone by it was often viewed as ‘just a part of growing up’ and mainly took place in playgrounds, classrooms and corridors during the school day. However, with the recent rise of technology, I have seen the devastating impact of bullying following children into all areas of their lives. Bullying can escalate much quicker now through instant messaging and social networks, and is hard to avoid and manage emotionally – whether you are a child or an adult.
Through my own work in schools and time spent at the Anti-Bullying Alliance, it’s clear that children and young people who are seen as ‘different’ in some way are vulnerable to bullying – such as children from ethnic minorities, children with disabilities, children with glasses or red hair, children who are big or small, or children who can’t afford to keep up with the latest trends.
But according to the latest research we conducted to mark Anti-Bullying Week, children are also vulnerable if they stand out for being too good at something. A third of 11 to 16-year-olds are telling us that they’ve been bullied for being more intelligent or talented than other people. One girl told me a heartbreaking story of how she wanted to be a singer but when she practiced her song for a school performance a group of girls tormented her. They told her that she was a loser and an embarrassment, and if she didn’t quit they’d make her life hell. She quit.
What this frustratingly sad story says to me is that children are scared to be brilliant, to shine, because of bullying. Around 11 per cent have stopped singing, eight per cent have stopped doing drama, nine per cent have stopped dancing and eight per cent have stopped doing sport, for fear of being bullied. And it’s not just involvement in the arts and sport that are being affected. One in 10 children say they’ve played down their ability in science, while one in five girls and more than one in 10 boys are deliberately underachieving in maths to evade bullying. We’ve heard a lot this year about the importance of encouraging young people to take part and excel for the future of our economy – yet I’m concerned that we’re not tackling this fundamental barrier to achievement.
During my career I have seen some really good practice in schools when it comes to bullying – but I’ve also seen a good deal of negligence and denial. The role of teachers in modelling positive behaviour, setting appropriate boundaries, protecting those children that are most vulnerable, and being a listening ear to a child is critical in anti-bullying work. But we all have a role to play, as parents and carers you may be genuinely concerned about the threat of bullying and how best to protect your child – particularly when it comes to cyberbullying.
Some children run rings around their parents when it comes to technology but rather than worrying about how to navigate your way around the latest social media craze, the most important thing is to teach your child about healthy and positive relationships – both online and offline. Also, to make sure that you are always there to listen to their worries and reassure them that they are not alone.
I want all of our children to grow up without the fear of bullying – to be happy, healthy and confident, and to have faith that teachers and parents will always listen and take bullying seriously. I hope you will all join me in spreading this message during Anti-Bullying Week.
If you find out that your child is being bullied, here are the Anti-Bullying Alliance’s top tips for staying calm and in control:
Don’t panic – try to keep an open mind: Your key role is to listen, help to calm, and provide reassurance that the situation can get better when action is taken. To provide a quiet, calm place where they can talk about what is happening.
Listen and reassure them that coming to you was the right thing to do: It may not be easy for a child to talk about being bullied, so it is important to try to find out how they are feeling, what has happened, when and where. At this stage it is not so much about establishing a set of facts as encouraging, talking and listening.
Assure them that the bullying is not their fault and that you are there to support them: Remind them that they can also have the support of family and friends.
Find out what the child or young person wants to happen: Help them to identify the choices available to them and the potential next steps to take, and the skills they may have to help solve the problems.
Discuss the situation with your child’s school: The law requires all schools to have a behaviour policy which sets out the measures that will be taken to encourage good behaviour and respect for others, and to prevent all forms of bullying among pupils.
If you feel like you need extra support and want to talk through your concerns with someone outside of the situation – there are lots of great organisations out there to help both you and your children.
For more information visit www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk
Tagged in: Anti-Bullying Alliance, Anti-Bullying Week, bullying, education, school
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