English: this is my own version of what bullyi...

I saw in The Sun newspaper recently the tragic story of a boy who had committed suicide due to bullying. His parents who must be experiencing unimaginable sorrow and anger towards the bullies were asking other parents to sign a petition to pressure the government into making bullying a criminal offence. This story is a complete tragedy and I feel for both the parents and what this boy must have gone through. Bullying can take many different forms, for example, name-calling, spreading rumours, offensive texts and emails, physical harm and messing around with other people’s belongings. Experiencing bullying can destroy a child’s self-confidence and lead to anxiety and depression. It should be taken seriously and schools should act quickly to stop it happening. However, I am not sure we should be criminalising bullies. One problem with making bullying a criminal offence is that it occurs at very young ages. Even amongst 5-year-old children, you will hear bullying in the playground. For example, the other day I heard two 5-year-old children ridicule another child for speaking in a funny way. Needless to say, I did intervene but I won’t be taking them to the police station. Another problem is that some bullies are also victims of bullying; as bullies they may just be copying behaviour shown towards them. Yet another issue is that both bullies and victims are more likely to have low self-esteem and mental health problems. Salmon, James and Smith (1998) found that children who are high in anxiety are more likely to be victims of bullying and that bullies tend to be more depressed. Perhaps we need to look at why children feel the need to bully in the first place and how to stop vulnerable children becoming victims of bullying.

So what can be done to stop bullying?

Schools and parents need to teach children about the problems of bullying from a young age. Involving children and teenagers in the development of anti-bullying strategies is important so that they take ownership of how to stop bullying themselves. Children can often be bystanders in a bullying situation but feel helpless to do anything. However, once they are involved in developing anti-bullying strategies, they are less likely to stand back and let bullying happen. Some schools produce posters with the help of students with captions such a ‘98% of students think bullying should be reported to a teacher.’

Peer-support can also reduce bullying. Increasingly, schools have peer-mentoring programmes, where some students act as mentors to other students after training. Children can discuss issues with other children of a similar age that they can’t with teachers and so this can reduce the likelihood of bullying.

If parents find out that their child is being bullied, they should contact the school immediately. Parents can speak to their child’s tutor initially and ask them what can be done to tackle the bullying. If the bullying is occurring within the tutor group, it may be possible for the tutor to discuss bullying during tutor time. If the bullying is being carried out by children outside the tutor group, for example by other children in the year group or by older children, parents should contact the relevant head of year/house who may be able to do an assembly on bullying. Parents can also ask the head of year/house whether they have an anti-bullying programme that is delivered by tutors during tutor time. Sometimes parents may need to contact the school several times to inform them that the bullying is continuing. Otherwise, busy teachers may think the problem is solved.

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