Bullying: It's time for change

29 March 2018

Dear Friend,

I hate bullying. I will not tolerate bullying in my class. I don't and I won't because in our class we are a family. In our class we practice emotional literacy. In our class I never ignore a comment or an unkind word said, we talk through and we deal with all issues as and when they occur even if that means our Literacy lesson is shorter. Why? Because it matters.

I would say that most issues I encounter are simply power struggles  and that young children can have less tolerance for power imbalances. 'He's got all the lego. She isn't sharing.' But things that seem small to us as adults can be immense in the mind of a 6 year old and if we don't act can only grow and grow and... suddenly small problems can be seemingly insurmountable issues.

As a parent the word bullying scares me. As the parent of a child with special needs this troubles me more as I have seen the statistics around bullying (8/10 children with disabilities are bullied.) And as a parent living in an age of rapidly expanding technology the thought of my children being bullied in their own home, whilst sitting on our sofa is terrifying. Parent's are more aware of bullying than ever.

I can also speak as a 'victim' of bullying. I was bullied at primary school and for a while it made my life thoroughly miserable. I did not want to go to school, I did not know who to trust, I felt totally alone! One of the most difficult things for me was trying to understand why 'friends' became idle bystanders. It taught me not to follow the crowd and to be careful who you choose as a friend.

Bullying Policy

Over time I have seen changes in the approach to bullying in schools. Pre 70's bullying had largely been seen as 'character building'. In the Mid 70's Dan Olweus, a research professor of psychology, was the first to conduct an intensive study on bullying among students. He is often considered the pioneer in bullying research.

When I was bullied in Primary School, during the 80's we never talked about emotional intelligences and my head teacher certainly had no idea what to do. It was down to my parents to sort things out. 

When I qualified as a teacher we operated, 'Zero tolerance policies' (similar to those for drugs and sexual harassment) there were harsh consequences for those who bullied others in the 90's and noughties, predominantly exclusion or expulsion. But the definition of a bully gradually changed as we started to realise that bullies often brought their own insecurities, challenges, or backgrounds to the table or were reacting to being victims themselves. 

The most recent change and a really welcome one in my eyes is recognising the role of the bystanders in contributing to or solving bullying.  We now recognise that bystanders rarely play a completely neutral role in bullying. We need to prepare children to be helpful bystanders. 

I really like the work that the Diana Award Anti Bullying campaign are doing in training Anti-Bullying Ambassadors. The Anti-Bullying Ambassadors programme has trained over 24,000 young people across the UK to lead on anti-bullying campaigns in their schools.

In their role they help educate their peers on bullying, lead on anti-bullying campaigns, promote a culture which celebrates and tolerates difference and help keep their peers safe both online and offline. 

Do you know what the definition of a bully is?

I was first alerted to this back in November 2017. The Diana Award launched a campaign to change the dictionary definition of bullying during #antibullyingweek. When I read the definition, it shocked me.

Diana award

Merriam Webster

Oxford Dictionaries

I am a victim of bullying but I would never consider myself weak! 

In my opinion (with over 20 years of experience as a teacher) it is the strong kids, the individuals, the out of the box thinkers, those who dare to just be themselves, who are bullied. I strongly believe that my bully chose me because I was a threat to her and that she wanted to keep her position on top of the social hierarchy at school, not because I was weak. I also know it takes a lot of strength to speak up against those who hold power! 

We appear to have come so far with regards to our thinking about bullying and our policies and treatment of those involved in bullying. However, the definition remains firmly behind the times. 

Is it time that we change the definition of bullying? 

I think so!

I asked some of my fellow bloggers who also happen to be teachers what they thought...

I honestly didn’t know the term “weak” was in there! ...as a teacher I see children that are unkind and children who take things to heart. I don’t believe that any child is born mean but they can learn bullying type behaviour to cope with the disappointments in their own lives. So a “bully” is a child in crisis just as much as the victim. Terrible as it is for the “victim”, both “bully” and “victim” need help. I purposefully put these terms in inverted commas as I would prefer to use the term child in both cases. I do more work with emotional literacy for my class of 6 year olds than maths. Empathy is the key to a successful life.
Weak is a stupid term... as it’s the “bully” who is often weaker....
- Sophie from Old House in the Shires

In my experience as a teacher those who bully have many issues. They often feel out of control and I think that bullying is either used as an outlet for their pain and hurt, as a method of control as they have no control over the issues in their own life or as a way to cry for help and try to gain attention when other things haven't worked. Sometimes the bullying behaviour is copied from their own experience of being a victim. When I was bullied as a child it was a way of the bully to keep her as the popular girl and belittle anyone she saw as a threat to take her 'popularity crown'. Her self esteem must have been really weak to resort to such behaviour.
The people who the bullies target are often people who don't surround themselves with the 'in crowd' because they don't need to. They are people who are independent, strong and unique and proud to be so. They also target others who have difficult lives and are already dealing with lots of their own issues and have isolated themselves because they are so busy with the thoughts in their head.
These so called victims (which is a word I don't like as it has images of weakness) are usually very strong but don't have the protection of a 'pack' of friends. Bullying can make you feel weak and you can question yourself but you are often strong as you have to have the courage to deal with it and keep on going. You have the strength to still be you and not conform to the social stereotypes that might be easier. You have the strength to tell someone and to make it stop. Sometimes people can't take it anymore. That still doesn't make them weak it just means that they were dealing with so much more than others.
Bystanders often play a key but far lesser known role. They can support a bully without intending too and they can make a victim feel lonely, isolated and weak. Bystanders must also be brave and stand up to protect those being bullied. Bystanders are usually the weaker members of the scenario for they often don't speak up to protect those being bullied.
- Laura fromAdventures with J

I have never really thought of the defnition of bully as precisely as this before. I have witnessed bullying in the workplace over the years and have had kids tell me about being bullied over the years too. I don't believe the bully is using their strength over someone who is weaker- influence maybe but it is too simplistic to pigeonhole people as strong and weak. Often the people picked on are particularly strong in a particular area and others are jealous of this. Often it's the insecurities of the bully that motivates them in my mind and that is weakness.
- Hayley from - Mission Mindfulness

Bullying is a really unhelpful word. It’s misused, under appreciated and people are way too quick to use it. I’m a secondary teacher and I have parents call me most weeks with this bad boy word in their vocab. 95% of the time it’s not - it’s just children (teens) working out social hierarchy’s and failing miserably. Sometimes it’s parents attaching their childhood traumas to their own kids, and rarely like your quote suggests it’s a bullying case that is about power and needs addressing - with adult intervention. I feel like if we used the word more appropriately we could deal with it more effectively. I also think this word isn’t exclusive to schools as I’ve certainly experienced it in the work place”
What My Fridge Says

What do you think? Is it time for change?

A huge thank you to all the lovely ladies who gave their fantastically well put opinions for this post.

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