Last updated at 4:20 PM on 14th November 2011
Most people have a tale of bullying to tell. It’s something of a national pre-occupation. From home and nursery, to playground and workplace. Wherever humans gather you can be sure to find them being downright mean and nasty to each other.
It’s been going on since the beginning of time and is nothing new, the only difference now is we talk and hear about it more than we previously did.
Living in our ‘Oprah Winfrey Generation’ – where everyone is encouraged to spill their emotional traumas for the voyeuristic dissection of others’ and the cleansing of ourselves – many people can recall a bullying experience, or several of them, that marked their lives.
Misery memoir: Kate Winslet has talked about how she was bullied for being overweight
And bullying – or the telling of it – is big business as any million-selling ‘Misery Memoir’ can testify.
MM’s are the book genre in which psychologically-damaged individuals re-live, for the delectation of the book-buying public, tales of extraordinary childhood abuse in their homes, and often at the hands of their own parents.
Many, many famous people have talked about their bullying experiences and how this may have impacted them. Actor Tom Cruise (for being dyslexic), Olympian Tessa Sanderson (for being black) and Kate Winslet (for being overweight).
People relate to others’ harrowing experiences because bullying, and all forms of abuse, are a global issue, from the street to the TV, examples of it are all around us.
Somewhere on this planet right now someone or something is pitting themselves against another, using words and actions designed to give one particular entity power over another. They will strike them at the lowest blow, find their Achilles heel and rip them apart mercilessly when they do.
Be that country on country or human on human.
So why has bullying become an issue again seeing as it‘s already a perpetual pastime of ours to discuss it?
The answer is simple. Today is the start of Anti-Bullying Week and to coincide with this annual event, new figures have been released regarding bullying for children between the ages of 11 to 16.
According to the study, 9 out of 10 children have some experience of bullying either as a witness or a participant. I’m only surprised it isn’t 10 out of 10 because, as we know, it’s everywhere.
As a nation we have analysed bullying in schools – and what drives children to be one or to be on the receiving end of one – over and over again. Why, then, have we systematically failed to address it successfully?
To mark the start of anti-bullying week, a survey reveals 9 out of 10 children have experienced bullying either as a victim or witness (picture posed by models)
Because, as any many sociologists and psychologists will confirm – and as we already know – school bullying is not in isolation, it is symptomatic of a wider problem and, until we get to grips with that, then we will continue to be ineffective in stopping bullying in children.
Roughly speaking, and that’s all you ever can be with statistics, but each year in the UK, at least 18 children commit suicide as a result of ‘Bullycide’ – the term coined for being bullied at school.
Children are picked on for numerous reasons. They may be new to the school, be impoverished, overweight, clever, from an ethnic minority or be a redhead.
The bullies, equally, do not fit a neat categorisation. They can be working, middle or upper class, male or female and any age.
There are, however, recognised gender differences attached, certainly in young people.
Whereas young boys tend to give each other a whack here and there – and not lessening that experience at all – young girls indulge in the lesser-spotted but no-less soul-destroying ‘Relational Aggression’.
Headteachers, by law, must have an anti-bullying policy (picture posed by models)
The modus operandi of girl bullying is extensive. They will deliberately whisper to each other in front of the bullied, they will exclude and indulge in smear campaigns. Girl bullying is more widespread than we have previously acknowledged but it is devastating in its impact.
Many parents are able to intuit when their children are being bullied. They recognise the warning signs (not wanting to go to school, becoming withdrawn, having unexplained cuts or bruises or losing appetite) but they often feel trapped and uncertain what to do. Worried about addressing it at school incase it antagonises further the bully and desperate not to see their child so beaten down, physically or metaphorically.
So is there more that parents and teachers can do? Yes, but some are reluctant or unwilling to.
Head teachers, by law, must have an anti-bullying policy. Schools frequently fail to admit that they have a bullying problem. While some parents are ashamed if their child is the bully or the victim.
All these positions are untenable and result in a stagnation of the issue and a worsening of the problem for the individuals involved.
Consequently, bullied children grow into adults with damaged self-worth because of the denial of their experience. And sometimes it is, quite literally, an issue of life or death.
According to a study, several years back, at the University of Warwick, the impact of having a child’s bullying go unrecognised in school adds to the suicide toll of young people.
Children so desperate they are at their wits end and contemplate the ultimate escape often say, when asked why they didn’t get help: ‘The teachers didn’t see it happening and so they dismissed it.’
Well, the reason teachers aren’t witnessing the full scale of the bullying in our schools is because much of a child’s daily torture occurs in corridors and playgrounds that are inadequately supervised.
And bullies, like all abusers, are wily and adept and inflict physical or emotional hostility far from prying eyes.
Away from prying eyes: Many bullies inflict harm inconspicuously (picture posed by models)
As a nation, we need to tackle bullying root and branch. To see that all forms of bullying is atrocious and that one type is not greater or lesser than another.
Ross Hendry, Chair of the National Children’s Bureau’s Anti-Bullying Alliance, said: ‘Sometimes there is a tendency to see verbal bullying as being less serious than physical bullying. But the emotional and psychological impact can be just as damaging.’
Absolutely. The old expression ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’ is a nonsense. Conceived by someone who was trying to persuade themselves otherwise, presumably.
I am under no illusion, whatsoever, of the traumatic extent of bullying. The very real problems with bullying, unquestionably, is not just the immediate misery of the situation but the long-term implications of it.
I have several experiences of bullying to draw my knowledge from. The one I will recall here, because I believe that this experience more than the others shaped me and even made me more susceptible to future bullying, took place during my years at primary school.
I was a chubby little redhead and groups of children targetted me for these aspects, differences that they perceived as weaknesses in me. Added to which, we as a family, were experiencing our own set of problems that were isolating us from our environment.
We need to understand that all forms of bullying are atrocious and that one type is not greater or lesser than another (picture posed by model)
My mother, Elizabeth, was dying with kidney disease and certain matters – such as personal grooming – was not a major priority and were frequently overlooked.
Consequently, I was the archetypal scruffy and neglected kid who sits on the outside of school life observing in.
During my primary days I became increasingly isolated and spent play-times on my own. I was not invited to one single party in all those years (although I did get to hear the girls in my class, very loudly, invite each other to their parties and make points about not inviting me. Children can be adorable like that).
To this day, rejection is still an issue for me based on that experience.
However, life has a funny way of revealing its full hand when you least expect it.
About four years ago, I bumped into one of the girls involved in my torment, let’s call her Daisy. She was the most popular girl in my year at primary school and the main girl at the centre of my torment.
I was shocked when I saw her. Now in here forties, and looking a good 15-20 years older than that, she has had a difficult life and suffers from a degenerating disease that has literally wasted away her body.
We chatted. And I realised how different our paths had been. I have a full life doing a job I love and being a mum and she had never left home, due to her illness, never married, never had children or pursued a career.
It was a pleasant enough conversation – during which time none of us mentioned the bullying – but it effected me deeply.
I had spent years hating, literally, this woman, and now all I could feel was sorrow and pity for her.
I realised that we were both victims. And that, whether we have the compassion or not to see it, is the reality of the situation when it comes to bullying – particularly in children.
Children do not become bullies in isolation. The reasons they do it are as numerous as the ways in which they do it.
Bullies are essentially frightened and weak individuals who are desperate to fit in, have been bullied themselves or they have a psychopathic nature as a result of controlling parents.
And that is something fundamental we need to understand about bullying. Is that the victim is not just the one enduring it but the perpetrator too.
And we need to continue being more honest about how massive and widespread the problem of bullying truly is. Too see that it’s not just in the playground but on TV talent shows too (the X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing judges delight in their public intimidation and humiliation of their contestants) and even in world governments who routinely bully smaller and less powerful countries.
As far as I’m concerned, no form of bullying is too small or too big to address because it is all linked up. If it makes people feel bad about themselves – by making one side powerful and the other powerless – then it’s bullying and should be treated as such.
Once we accept that to be the case then, and only then, do we stand a chance of rectifying it for good.
Read Sonia Poulton’s RightMinds blog here
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