Bullying is an insidious fact of life in most school, from early entrance right through to secondary schools. Some schools boast zero-tolerance policies and the Ministry of Education supports a raft of programmes in our schools with mixed results. Why is it that after years of commentary and schemes to lesson bullying that we have actually made little progress?
Firstly, as I have said in other blogs, schools reflect the societies in which they exist. If bullying in its many forms is tolerated in other institutions and in our homes, then why would schools be any different? Take a look at family structures and workplace reality and the examples of bullying will abound.
“A new student arrives halfway through the term in her year ten. If she is shy and not obviously in the so called ‘in-group,’ life can be hell. If she looks even slightly different, then she is immediately at risk from other students who will see her as a natural target. Kids can be so cruel to one another. They spend many hours thinking about avoiding unwanted attention from other students and one way to achieve this is to focus on someone ‘different.’ It takes the focus off them and gives them an artificial sense of worth and belonging to ‘the group.’ My heart goes out to the ‘new arrival,’ who finds her/himself in this position. For busy teachers, these kids are often missed, despite their ever vigilant observations of their students. I hate to say it, but girls are more prone to this ‘isolation bullying.”
This ‘isolation bullying’ is mirrored in the work force and regularly goes unchallenged from the employers and management. Why then would it be any different in our schools? At least schools attempt negate the worst forms of bullying but they are fighting a losing battle, with the advent of social media sourced bullying.
Teachers, youth workers, nurses, counsellors, deans and school management spend a huge amount of their time on the implications of social media sourced bullying, most of which occurs outside school time and beyond the watchful eyes of parents. Most Parents wouldn’t have a clue what their kids are up to online and through texting. Students can be looking at you (teachers and parents) while they are texting with their little fingers, busily creating chaos with a smile on their faces. That bullying text can go around dozens of phones in a matter of minutes, destroying the happiness of another victim.
It is this speed that can potentially do so much damage. Our teenagers (and younger) are not so resilient that they can ‘ignore such’ cyber-attacks. One can no longer say---‘just ignore them dear--- they are only words.’ I doubt that this advice ever gave any solace to the recipient of any form of bullying. Now, a piece of gossip can be the talk of the ‘jungle-yard’ of our schools in a matter of hours. Teachers and support staff can do nothing to prevent such actions; we can only try to mitigate the damage.
Schools try to fight back. They make rules about the possession of cell phones at school, but they are fighting a losing battle. As to the use of computers and sites like YouTube and Facebook--- well that is way beyond the school’s control. What we now have is a form of ‘cyber-terrorism.’ What company, making huge amounts of money is going to help make their businesses safer for our young people? They will publicise some safety policies by creating mechanisms to ‘report cyber bullying’, but they are fighting a losing battle; one that they help to unleash in the first place.
We must ask---- has the horse bolted and are we going to be faced with even more technology that is ‘made for bullying?’ I would hope that the effort put into planning ever-new devises could be balanced with a counter effort to create an inbuilt ability on the part of the yet-to-be designed devises, to block messages of hate, intolerance and other nasty characteristics. But I suspect I am once again being my naive self, when it comes to human nature.
I am not a pessimist. I believe that we have the capacity to face the challenge of bullying, but we have to start by looking at our ‘adult selves’ and the messages we project. One can always hope!