“Stop playing the victim” is perhaps the last thing you would think to instruct a bullied child, but Melbourne private boys’ school Brighton Grammar is under fire for endorsing precisely this advice.
In a post that is drawing backlash, counsellor and self-described ‘resilience coach’ Melissa Anderson told parents to ask themselves whether their tormented child was part of the problem.
She wrote on the school website: “If your son is currently being bullied, in the spirit of cleaning up your side of the street … is he part of the problem? Even 5%? Is he a whinger, a complainer, self-absorbed, an exaggerator, loose with the truth, a passive doormat, displaying negative body language, an approval addict, a try hard, critical or a bad sport?”
Ms Anderson, who is also the director of Shine Academy for Girls and Longford & Fraser Leadership Academy for Boys, then continued: "You might say but ... he is the target of cruel taunts because he has buck teeth, acne, a disability or a lisp. That’s not his fault.
"Of course, it’s not his fault, but owning his small part of the unpleasant problem may be learning to stand up for himself, developing grit, steely self-belief, strong self-esteem, choosing his friends wisely and reminding himself that the bullies are dealing with their own demons and that the problem lies principally with them and not him.
She closed with this bizarre message: "Time to own your part, and stop playing the victim. Be the victor, not the victim."
The school has since copped a blast of criticism on its Facebook page. Commenter Erin Johnston wrote: "Bullying while not always straight forward always leaves a scar, as a parent of a bullied child and a counsellor your message is way off. There is a vast difference between teaching resilience and victim blaming."
Another, Jan Tully wrote: "How on earth a professional can advise that those who are bullied are playing the victim is beyond me. If that is what you proudly teach boys then I can see why so many lives have been scarred forever in private schools."
Twitter has also been flooded.
Brighton Grammar School's response to bullying is telling kids to stop being bulliable. The victim becomes the victim.
— Chris Begg (@cbeggformercy) May 17, 2016
But some came out in defense of the school, including Brighton Grammar parent beyondblue ambassador Margie Warrell.
No irony lost on how many bullies have come out of woodwork to bully Brighton Grammar. They exhibit the very behaviour they rail against.
— Margie Warrell (@margiewarrell) May 16, 2016
University of Melbourne child psychologist Dr Peggy Kern told Mamamia she was confident Anderson's core aim was to empower bullied youths but this was unfortunately lost in the poorly chosen language.
"The heart of the message was to try get children out of a helpless state and motivate them to move forward but I think that message has been misread," Dr Kern said.
"There is a very fine line with mental issues between trying to motivate people and victim blaming."
She warned there was a risk that the tone of the post could be unintentionally harmful to targets of bullying.
"The way this was worded was much more 'suck it up, it's their fault', very condemning, and could be damaging," Dr Kern said.
We explore what bullying means to young children. Post continues after video...
The school today issued a statement from headmaster Ross Featherston acknowledging there had been "strong responses" to Ms Anderson's post.
"Bullying is an extremely sensitive issue and we deeply regret any upset or distress caused to parents – this was not our intention," Mr Featherston wrote.
He did not address the accusations of victim-blaming and the post remains on the school website.
He did, however, say Ms Anderson's advice was "independent" to the school and "highly regarded". She is presenting a seminar at Brighton Grammar tomorrow.