I remember when I was young thinking that the school summer holidays were way too long. I went to school in the UK until I was 14 and we had 6 weeks off in the summer. SIX weeks, wow that was such a long time. I loved school and I missed my friends and classmates over the holiday period. I couldn’t wait to go back to the ritual of the routine, and slot back in again to student life. It was a happy time. That was until I moved school because we moved to another country. I was made to feel unwelcome almost immediately, mainly by a particular teacher. I was different you see. I spoke with a different accent, an English one, a very unwelcome one, back in the ’70’s in rural Ireland. Even though my parents and grandparents and entire set of ancestors were Irish, I was an outcast from the offset.
I had a hard time a lot of the time. It was bad enough trying to readjust to my new surroundings, my new home, a new country, away from my friends and all that was familiar to me without the added dread of going to school to be ridiculed, ignored, picked on and verbally insulted. It was outright bullying. It gave me feelings that I didn’t care to have. It made me feel sad, bad, ostracised, unwelcome, angry. I went from loving school to dreading school. I went from thinking six weeks summer holidays was way too long to 3 months in Ireland being not nearly enough. Looking back, the only thing I am thankful for is that back then, when I got home, I was safe. Home was my sanctuary. Home was where I did not have to worry, I did not have to be on high alert, I would not be tormented there.
These days it is a different story for kids going back to school. This is the technocological age of progress and ‘all things can be done in an instant’. The sad thing is, that goes for bullying too, and there is no escape, there is no sanctuary of home anymore. Why, because these days most of the school age population (secondary school) have mobile phones, have some form of social media, whether it is snap chat, facebook, instagram and some other things I haven’t even a clue what they are! The bullying does not necessarily stop at the school gate, or the school bus stop. It follows you home. It doesn’t stop. It can be constant. It is exhausting. It is often SILENT. It is ALWAYS dangerous. It gets into the mind and can be so destructive that some victims cannot cope. They may appear to be ‘functioning’ on the outside, but what is going on, inside, inside their heads. Do they have regular tummy ache? are they distracted, quiet, forgetful, preoccupied, depressed, hiding in their room with their phone. Are they asking for more money? are they irritable, aggressive, weepy, off their food, having sleeping problems. Do they have unexplained bruises and pass it off as, ‘it happened in P.E’. Are some of their belongings missing, pens, bag, purse, books etc. Are they making excuses for skipping school, lessons, homework.
All to often the problem is that bullying has not gone away. Despite everywhere having an anti bullying policy. Despite the fact that there is more awareness and education about bullying in the education system, it is still very prevalent today. So what can be done if your child is being bullied or if you suspect your child is being bullied? Talk. Talk to them, talk to the school and if possible, talk to the person doing the bullying in a safe environment. Often a bully has issues of their own, that they are finding difficult to deal with and so take it out on someone else – a ‘kick the cat’, sort of response and misplace their anger and frustration onto someone weaker, more vulnerable, an easy target is the perfect option.
Monitor your child’s use on their phone. Have strict rules around the phone and do not let it go into the bedroom with them. Talk to them about keeping them safe and protected. They are young and have young and immature and very impressionable minds. You are their parent, you DO KNOW best. If they need a phone to contact you, consider buying a handset that is NOT a smartphone. Let home become their sanctuary. Let home be their safe place. Work on strategies that your child can use to help them protect themselves, to help them stand up for themselves and ultimately stand up to their bully. A bully will soon tire, if they are not getting anywhere with a someone they perceive to be weak, and leave them alone.
Out of all of the children I have had and looked after 2 were bullied at school and after school waiting for their bus. Two children separated by 12 years in age, but both were 16 at the time of their bullying and assaults. At the time of the first one, there was no such thing as social media, so she would come home and tell us what was happening and we dealt with it the best way we could and it was soon nipped in the bud. Home was her safe place. The second child that was bullied did have a phone at the time, but it was not a smart phone, so there was no social media bullying for her either. We chatted about what happened. We spoke about strategies and ways in dealing and coping with the bullying and how to build up my child’s strength and resilience. Not only to challenge herself but also to challenge her bully. To stand up to her bully, no matter how scared she felt, and let the bully know, in no uncertain terms, that the bullying behaviour was not acceptable and that there would be serious repercussions if it continued. We were lucky, in that it worked and the bullying stopped and my child’s confidence, resilience and resolve grew stronger.
There are however, cases of bullying which have dire circumstances and ultimately very tragic ones. I particularly remember the case of Phoebe Prince, the Irish girl who moved to America and was bullied so much she took her own life. The only positive to come out of that tragic case is that the people who bullied her were held accountable and were charged and convicted of harassment and civil rights violations. Stricter bullying laws were introduced also as a result. Many more children, home and abroad, are victims of bullying and have also attempted or committed suicide. Isn’t it time, we took stock, isn’t it time we did something more, especially as far as social media is concerned, to keep our children protected and safe. They may look fine on the outside. You may think they are just sullen, cranky teenagers, but maybe, there is something more going on.
It is very frustrating for parents who know something is going on but feel that they or their child is not being listened to or heard. We have a crumbling and almost broken mental health service. People are being left crippled with fear and anxiety over what can they do next. They say it takes a whole village to raise a child, so we need to come together, as a community to help and support each other. To help and support our vulnerable children. To talk and keep talking to our children. To reassure them, to empower them, to help them, even if it is they who are doing the bullying, understand why, get to the bottom of it. Lets stop treating the symptoms of bullying, lets try to get to the root of it and eradicate it ….. for everyone’s sake.