I am very lucky to be able to say that I was never bullied. However, I do distinctly remember one particular boy being known for picking people at random and tormenting them for fun. I never understood his motives and I made it clear that I didn’t like the way he treated people. All I wanted to do was help, but I wasn’t sure how.
In order to help children develop and become considerate young adults, I think the discourse surrounding anti-bullying needs to have a healthy balance between educating children on what bullying is and why you shouldn’t do it, and supporting them to feel empowered, confident and proud of who they are regardless of what other people say. A recent poll found that over half of young people have experienced bullying at school, while 43 per cent of school staff said they have seen sexist bullying and 61 per cent witnessed bullying related to racism.
But what can teachers do if they don’t see the bullying? When I was at school, the bully’s power was held in the playground. Today, it’s increasingly becoming something children simply cannot escape. Technology and social media has unfortunately given them new opportunities to access people who are already at their most vulnerable in a constant manner that is almost impossible to switch off from.
Teachers are put in an awkward position because they are coming under increasing pressure to tackle bullying and are already strapped for time, so making full use of the resources available can really help. For example, the Anti-Bullying Alliance has free CPD online training as part of its All Together Programme. Using the skills and knowledge they develop, teachers can raise awareness within their classrooms too.
Designing workshops and lessons that encourage an open dialogue about what bullying is, what affect it has on children and adults, spotting the warning signs and how this all applies online can facilitate discussion among students and encourage them to see the situation from multiple viewpoints. Beyond the issues surrounding cyberbullying, teaching students about how to safely use the internet and social media can protect them and their data from a host of other dangers and adult content.
Research suggests that rather than bullies being victims of bullying themselves, as is often the assumption, the student who is “nearly popular” is the most likely to bully. The hypothesis is that this is due to the fear of rejection and isolation from the popular social circles. Therefore, I think another important feature of anti-bullying strategies is to broaden our remit to encourage students to embrace who they are. For example, body positivity initiatives, such as Dove’s Confident Me campaign, provide resources to schools to help their students’ self-esteem and confidence levels.
Storytelling activist Rosie King told TEDMED 2014 that “one of the best things about being autistic is that you don’t have the urge [to put yourself into a box]”. She pointed out that we don’t compliment someone by telling them they are normal, we compliment them for being extraordinary. I couldn’t agree more, and we need more role models like Rosie who are unapologetic about who they are to embrace the same sentiments among students. Let’s generate similar conversations in the classroom and show children they can be exactly who they are, regardless of what others say.
As society progresses, both socially and in the technology it harnesses, we must ensure safeguarding remains relevant and inclusive. Raising awareness of the consequences of bullying and supporting students in feeling comfortable to be themselves are important building blocks to raising conscientious, confident young adults that speak up to defend others from mistreatment.