This is a cyclical story put out by popular press. The student is different each time but the damage is similar (see an example here). The victim is hugely anxious and depressed or has attempted suicide. The parents have tried to get the school to do something about it and, apparently, the school has failed to take action. It makes a great story for the media and the gives the social media judges the chance to roundly condemn the teachers, school and principal and so spread the collateral damage to include the school. In this story no one wins but the media (they get to sell advertising).
The reality of what is
happening in the schools is usually vastly different from the story put to air.
I have never come across a school that didn’t take bullying seriously. The
problem for schools is that it is one of the most difficult problems to deal
with that they are rarely successful at getting things resolved. Here is why:
- Bullying is fun:
Think of the bully for a moment and their motivation for bullying. For them,
bullying gives them power over another and impresses their peers. This is the
reality for most bullies and it gives them a good feeling.
- Bullying is easy to hide:
It is easy for someone to be a bully and not get caught. A poke in the back; a
whispered threat; finding someone a distance from supervision; exclusion;
setting up a person as a friend and then turning on them, etc. The list of
things a bully can do and not even come close to being caught is endless.
- Teachers have to be like the police:
past a teacher who suspected bullying going on was able to react against the
bully. The teacher didn’t have to have any hard evidence and parents would
generally support the action taken by the teacher. Not any more!
Just like the police, the teacher needs to have clear and defendable proof that
the bully had been doing the bullying. Given that the bullying is so easy to
hide, it is nearly impossible for the teacher to have enough evidence to react.
Even a case that seems black and white is difficult. Imagine you have seen the
known bully punching the known victim in a playground fight. It seems black and
white and quite defendable. But what do you do when the bully claims that the
victim started the fight by trying to trip the bully as he walked by or that
the victim had been mercilessly teasing and insulting the bully until the bully
Suddenly the waters are muddy and, even though you are pretty sure the bully’s
claims are false, the bully will cling to the claims and you could end up
accused of victimizing the bully.
- If the victim complains, the situation will get
worse but go further underground.
See this from the bully’s point of view. When the bully is pulled up, they feel
they have lost face in front of their peers and they want to regain this. The
easiest way is to resume the bullying. They just make it more subtle.
The bully can also see this as a challenge by the victim and a bully will rise
to such a challenge.
- Bullying can happen anywhere:
Bullying today goes far beyond the school gate. Students engage in various
online platforms and they are able to use those platforms to create bullying
that goes on into the evenings and weekends.
- Bullying is often group behaviour:
In our quick
to judge world, kids are probably the quickest to judge. It takes little
evidence of a slight or a difference before the person becomes vilified by a
group. Such group behaviour is hard to isolate and change.
- Bullies are following behaviour patterns from
While not true in every case, a bully often learns their behaviour from
modelling at home. Parents of bullies do often exhibit behavior that gives the
child the impression that bullying is okay. A child may, for example, see the
behaviour of their father to their mother or overhear a mother talk
vindictively about another.
- The parents of bullies are a problem for the
When a bully is pulled up by the school, they have to deal with the parents of
that child and that is really difficult. No parent wants to hear that their
child is behaving in such a way so they may start a loud and often aggressive
defense of their child. This is highly stressful for schools to deal with and a
source of physical assault on teachers and principals.
- School programs on bullying have limited effect:
Schools do try to change behaviours by running programs related to bullying.
The programs usually have a couple of foci. One is to build resilience and
provide strategies for the victims and the other is to help the bully feel
empathy for the victim.
There are some really terrific programs that schools put into place, but the
overwhelming tide going the other way makes it hard for programs to be
- Victims crave acceptance:
When a person is bullied, a common reaction from adults is to advise the victim
to not hang around near the bullies. This is usually not an option for the
victim because such action can leave them isolated at a time of their lives
when acceptance by peers is perhaps their number one priority.
As you can see, schools have
a nearly impossible job in coping with bullying. This is not to say that a
school should do nothing or that a school could not be doing things better but it
is important to understand that the above is the current reality for schools.
I want to revisit this topic
again in the near future and look at how we as parents should be reacting to
and dealing with one of our children if they are the victims of bullying. If
you have tried to cope with a child being bullied at school, how did you go
about it? How did the school (no names please) react?