It’s a dreadful feeling dropping your child off at school wondering if they’ll be physically and emotionally safe that day. Still, I drop him off because that’s what I am meant to do. The school has assured me they will keep an eye on him. I watch him walk towards the school gate and realise that if I am feeling this way, he probably is too.
There’s something missing from our education system, that’s the only conclusion I can reach as to why bullying still occurs. While schools are quick to tout their “anti-bullying policies” and conduct meetings and information sessions during which all the right things are said, none of that has had a major impact on bullying.
All that has changed is how bullying is managed and discussed. Countless children around the country are still being subjected to violent behaviour, to verbal abuse, to intimidation, to cruelty and to mistreatment by their peers.
In isolation, some of these incidents of bullying seem trivial, leaving parents and carers being too dismissive. “Kid’s will be kids.” However bullying mustn’t be judged by the seriousness of the offence. Often it doesn’t begin with a dramatic episode that is obvious to everyone. It is the constant, targeted, repetitive behaviour that is the very nature of bullying. When judging the seriousness of it, we should be looking not to the details of the incidents themselves, but to the effect it is having on the victim.
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I was bullied as a child, which is why it makes it so much harder to watch my children go through it too. The sting of the experience never leaves you and while there are hundreds of examples I could give, there’s one day that stands out for me as the absolute worst incident of bullying I ever endured.
A mean girl at my new primary school informed the school population she was going to “tell me off”. Why? I’m still not sure. True, we had both become close to a new girl at school but was it something I needed to be told off about?
I worried about it the night before and I walked into school the next day knowing something bad was going to happen to me. No sooner had I put my bag down that I spotted her and the entire school population walking behind her towards me. I’ve never felt such terror. I slumped onto the silver seat and let it happen.
While I can’t remember everything that she said to me due to the trauma, I can remember some key phrases such as, “You think you’re so good”, “You’re so fat”, “You just a fat little girl with a fat little shop and a fat little life”, and so on, and so on. Everyone behind her. What damaged me the most was my choice to sit down and just take it. To this day I wish I had stood up to her and the entire school and yelled back at her. I wish I had pushed her, I know violence isn’t the answer, but I wish I had done something, anything to defend myself.
The teachers on duty watched it happen and eventually broke it up as I sat there smiling like a lunatic, my face burning, trying not to cry as one friend was kind enough to sit down next to me and ask me if I was okay. No teachers ever spoke to me about it, she was never spoken to about it and I never told my parents.
I disappeared into a quiet little shell for years and it was only later on in high school through debating and public speaking that I once again found a voice, however each day I struggle between two selves - the little girl who sat down and allowed herself to be verbally abused, and the one who sometimes finds the strength to fight back.
Now I'm having to deal with my children's experiences with bullying and it is the most difficult issue I have to face, harder than my oldest child's food allergies and my middle child's autism.
It takes the mere mention of bullying amongst groups of adults for the stories to begin. Soon enough friends, colleagues and I are shaking our heads together, comforting each other and sighing a lot as we try and comprehend the fact that our children are still being bullied, and nothing we do is stopping it .
What is apparent is that none of the schools we come from can eradicate bullying and it is left to us to make some very tough decisions in order to keep our children safe. Many of us feel we are left with no choice but to take drastic actions; removing our children from the formal education system altogether or changing schools in the hope that we can escape the suffering long enough for our children to learn to protect themselves.
This is what everyday bullying looks like
My son is on the autism spectrum and has trouble figuring out if he is being bullied. By the time he tells me about an incident, I know it has been going on for a while. This week he told me that two children in his class have been mean to him and have been poking him as he sits along on a silver seat. He has tried kicking them but they keep coming back. He said the teachers never see. Rachel, 39, mother-of-three.
My daughter has dealt with verbal name calling and being excluded during lunch breaks when no-one will play with her. Only this week a girl in her class repeatedly punched her on the arm over the simple fact that this little girl didn't like my daughter putting her name down on the singing list during music. It seems to have provoked this girl who called my daughter 'stupid' and told her she needed to stop singing and let someone else have a turn. My daughter stood up and told her she would stop. At this point the girl hit her. My daughter hit her back once but the girl punched her repeatedly on the arm. Tammy, 38, mother-of-four.
My son and daughter have both been bullied repeatedly throughout primary school, in the school yard, the class room and on the bus. The bullying has ranged from being punched, being sat on, throwing their pencil cases away, being teased, spat at, to general mockery. My son in particular is quite vulnerable and struggles to disarm the bullies with the usual approaches advocated by the school including telling them to “stop and I don’t like it” to telling a teacher. This has often made the bullying worse. He's fought back which got him into trouble. At times his friends have stood beside him to stick up for him, but because he has a tendency to overreact – most likely due to previous episodes they don’t always stick up for him and I often wonder if he is oversensitive! Belinda, 43, mother-of-two.
The constant bullying and being put down by other girls made my daughter feel self-conscious, angry and hostile towards herself and her family. She hated going to school and her learning suffered as she was more focused on trying to develop friendships. The girls would remark on how she dressed, how she looked and the group excluded her because she wasn't a certain nationality and was called names. This went on for almost three years. She switched groups but it kept happening. My daughter would break down every week asking me if there is something wrong with her. Melissa, 42, mother-of-two.
Many of these parents have tried their best to help their child, with mixed results.
My main strategy has been to suggest he ignore it and remove himself from the situation and to, most importantly, not react so the bully bores easily and leaves him alone. This has worked on the whole as the bullying has been more verbal than physical. However, this year he has been bullied by a child who has a great capacity to continue his verbal bullying. This has been very upsetting for my son. He told the child he no longer considered them friends and that the child was no longer welcome to our home. This worked for a short while and then the bullying started up again more intensely. With the earlier episode I also spoke with the mother of the child. My son is not sure what to do and neither am I. He continues to try and ignore him however it can get very wearing to be constantly taunted and followed around. Jennifer, 44, mother-of-one.
I spoke to her teacher who I believe addressed the issue. But, honestly, this little girl is a pain. My next step is to talk to her parents. Bullies, in my opinion, are kids who seek out those weaker than them to make themselves feel better about who they are. There is usually something happening in their lives that they feel the need to act out at school. Earlier this year I registered all three of my girls in Taekwondo in order to teach them some self-defense, discipline and most importantly give my daughter the confidence to know she can protect herself. I've told her not to be afraid to use it if she ever feels she is in danger or someone is trying to hurt her. Tammy, 38, mother-of-four.
I have directly reached out to parents in a very non confronting way and explained the facts of incidents and admitted to them directly that I believe there is likely to responsibility for both children involved. In one case when I spoke to parents about my daughter, the response I received was an apology and the parents overcompensating with chocolates, etc. The bullying did stop in this case and my daughter now tries to support the girl when the other girls tease her and is comfortable enough to tell her to stop when she thinks the girl has stepped over the line. The girl, however, does continue to bully others so the issue for her has not really been addressed. I don’t feel comfortable to approach the parents of the children targeting my son on the other hand. I have observed the siblings, the general behaviour of the boys who target him and notice similar kinds of behaviour in the family. Belinda, 43, mother-of-two.
I would talk to my daughter and about new ways to handle situations and also met with the teacher on three occasions. Two weeks ago they started a new school which is a co-ed education and so far so good. I think schools need to start early in Kindy and send a very firm message about bullying. Melissa, 42, mother-of-two.
These parents have some ideas as to how schools and communities can tackle bullying more effectively.
I don't think bullying will end in schools. I think teachers need to be made aware and school counselors need to step in and get to the root of the problem. The issue is very deep. I also think we need to empower our kids, help them build their confidence, but also identify the difference between whether they are being over-sensitive to a situation. My daughter is super-sensitive. It doesn't mean I dismiss her feelings or what happens but sometimes needs to be in the 'that's life' basket and others are a little more serious. Tammy, 38, mother-of-four.
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I am struggling with this and even though I do believe the school talks to the children in general, they do not appear to talk directly with the kids and facilitate a conversation where they have to come to some agreement on how they will interact together in future. As far as I can see it stops at saying a half-hearted sorry and waving the finger! Children who engage in this behaviour like adults lack the skills to resolve conflict, and my son in particular is over being targeted, largely because he is not good at sport and is quite quirky. We need to go further than saying sorry and need to bring the kids together to resolve conflict focusing on the future and also needs to bring their friends together more directly rather than generally in the class room on how to support the person. Schools seem to pussy foot around so children don’t feel like they are being singled out when this discussion comes up but most of the kids seem to miss the point and bullying continues – the problem in Australia is that we are too PC and don’t know how to have direct but appropriate and respectful conversations with people; children and parents included!! Belinda, 43, mother-of-two.
I know this is completely unrealistic, however schools need to treat play time as a lesson and teach them how to treat each other. It's not enough to walk around and only intervene if someone is in obvious trouble. There have been times when my son has asked a teacher for help only to be dismissed. The children at our school feel that teacher's won't help them in situations where they are bullied because they've tried to get help before and been turned away, or because even if the teacher tries to help, nothing changes. Rachel, 39, mother-of-three.
My wish would be that the kids that observe the bullying have zero tolerance for it. Kids should be taught in school what is acceptable behaviour and that once that line is crossed to not associate with the bully. If the bully is ostracised like this by his/her peers they would quickly have to reassess the way they communicate and play, take responsibility for their actions. I see bullying behaviour in the workplace and it is effective as people do nothing, try to avoid the bully and don't step in to protect the bullied. This is a huge issue and primary school is the time to tackle it. Jennifer, 44, mother-of-one.
These parents, and countless others, know bullying may not be a crime, but it is an offence against a person, and it needs to be treated with more seriousness than it is now.
Steps have been taken to protect the identities of the families involved in these incidents of bullying, including name changes. If you suspect your child is being bullying, please contact Kid's Helpline on 1800 55 1800.