A number of books have been published for teens, covering the difficult subject of bullying. Bullying is ugly and destructive and it is important than teenagers understand what is involved, what the effects are and what can be done to help stop it. All teenagers – whether they are victims of bullying or the bullies themselves or the silent majority who see it but ignore it – would benefit from reading, and discussing, these books. (clicking on the book cover will take you to BT&M’s review of the book)
On a more general note, there has been a lot of press coverage about cyber bullying, and rightly so. However, this shouldn’t distract from the fact that bullying still exists outside the cyber world. In fact, the books I have listed above are not about cyber bullying. However, they do touch on a number of points that I discuss below. Whilst they don’t provide solutions to bullying, they do give the reader plenty to think about.
The fact is that some children still call their peers names and find ways to undermine them. This can take the form of racist name calling, or may refer to the child’s features or stature or perhaps to their academic or sporting ability. The name calling, when taken out of context can seem trivial – for example what is so offensive about calling a child yellow or Chinese when they are not even of that race? Is it even racist? Surely its more laughable than offensive? Actually it is both racist and bullying. The name caller thinks there is something negative about being Chinese. That is why he or she is using it as an insult. Often, what starts out as a simple comment about skin colour (perhaps started in an art class where, innocently, skin tone is being discussed) develops into more offensive language.
Furthermore, the name calling is never usually a one-off – it is repeated, day after day, lesson after lesson, and it undermines. It’s not about whether the victim is actually Chinese, or yellow, or short, or stupid, or slow – it’s about making fun of a child and singling them out. Relentlessly.
It is also about making the child feel very alone. Invariably the rest of the class puts their head down and does not interfere – who is going to stick their head above the parapet and defend a victim when it may attract the bully’s attention to them? Best to keep your head down; ignore, say nothing. It’s not that the rest of the class agrees, it’s just that they don’t want to get involved. To the victim, though, this silence means that the rest of the class is backing the bully, not them.
So, if your child is a victim of bullying, what do you do?
- tell the school and make a complaint?
- tell the school informally and ask them to keep an eye out for any signs of unpleasant behaviour?
- tell your child that this is what life is like – bullies exist and they need to learn to deal with them by:
- never answering back
- ignoring all comments and preferably showing no emotion
- finding a group of like minded friends so they don’t feel so alone – there is comfort in numbers
- and, sadly, never standing up for any other child in your class in case the bully’s attention ends up focusing on them
- change school in the hope that a fresh start will help
As a society, though, where have we gone wrong? Perhaps this behaviour always existed and nothing has changed. Or perhaps we have forgotten to teach our children some important lessons in life:
- if someone is being treated unfairly, you should stand up for them. If every child did this, the bullies would have nowhere to hide. It doesn’t mean you have to say something yourself, but you should tell an adult,
- if someone is clearly getting upset because they are being called yellow or brown or white, then it’s wrong – irrespective of whether you think it’s just a minor thing,
- if you call another child a name as a joke and they get upset or take offence then what you said was not a joke. A joke is only a joke if people find it funny – so apologise and don’t do it again,
- you cannot control the way people behave but you can control the way you behave – so if someone is being unpleasant then ignore them. Don’t exacerbate a situation by joining in the name calling.
There are lessons in these books for everyone – teenagers, parents and staff in schools. Ignoring low-level and relentless bullying is not an option. Read these books and discuss them with your children, your peers, your students. It is how, as a society, we can start trying to change attitudes.