real life

The reason this boy won't go to school will break your heart

TEENAGER

We all live in fear that our children will be bullied at school. Many of us have dealt with it already and it's devastating. Normally, once it's been reported, schools can deal with incidents and at home we can work on empowering our kids to stand up for themselves. But what if you don't even know there's a problem until it is too late? What if the bullying causes your child to completely withdraw from life, and nothing you do to try and help them works?

Isaac is a 16-year-old Brisbane boy who has refused to go to school for two years due to bullying. His mother is desperate for help. She says her son's anxiety has gotten worse and now barely leaves the house.

"It just started with him saying that he was feeling sick but then it went on to longer and longer periods between him going to school," his mother Anita told news.com.au

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"In hindsight I think I should have somehow managed to make him go but just couldn't."

The bullying began when Isaac was in Year 8. "Some boys picked him up and put him in the bin…and I think he found that really humiliating and another time they called him the 'Bogan from Logan'. I thought it was nothing but obviously it was to him because he still brings it up."

According to Kids Helpline, bullying is the fourth most common reason why children and young people seek help from children's help services. School-related bullying is one of the top four worries for children under 15.

One of Anita's issues is that she is a single mother-of-three who just didn't know where to turn for help.

"I also think a lot comes down to being a single parent of three kids. I know people say don't blame yourself, but unfortunately I do, I am his mother and shouldn't have allowed it to get this far."

Kids Helpline says parents should keep an eye out for bullying and get help for their children as early as possible. They say to look out for:

  • Unexplained cuts, bruises or pencil marks on the skin;
  • Being quiet or withdrawn;
  • Reporting vague headaches or stomach aches;
  • Ripped, stained or soiled school clothes;
  • 'Losing' lunch money or other things at school;
  • Falling out with previously close friends;
  • Being moody or easily distressed;
  • Not wanting to leave the house or reluctance to go to popular places such as shops or parks (they may be trying to avoid the bully);
  • Not wanting to go to school;
  • Difficulty sleeping at night;
  • Worrying about a lot of things;
  • Sudden changes in eating behaviour.

Isaac's reaction to being bullied isn't uncommon althought it is an extreme example. As a result of bullying most children will lose motivation and concentration at school, will become shy, socially isolated and scared to interact with people, children can also suffer poor self-esteem and loss of self-confidence and they can also suffer physically with anxiety or panic attacks, depression and even suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Anita organised for Isaac to change schools but he hardly attended. She then enrolled him into the Brisbane School of Distance Education but he never logs on to complete his work.

"Isaac says to me 'I want to go to school but I can't even make myself (log on to study)'," she said.

If you suspect your child is being bullied Kids Helpline suggests parents try the following:

  • Regularly talk to your child about their school life and about emerging issues. Encourage your child to talk about any bullying they may be experiencing;
  • Remain calm if the child discloses that they are being bullied;
  • Believe what the child is telling you and explore how the child may be emotionally reacting to the bullying. Recognise that this is an important issue for the child;
  • Tell your child that bullying is not acceptable and that it is not their fault;
  • Help the child or young person understand the power dynamic involved in bullying. Discuss ways to not give the bully power, for example by walking away from the bully if possible;
  • Reassure the child that you will help them to stop the bullying;
  • Find out what, when and where it happened and if anyone was present, then contact the school and make sure the teacher is aware of the problem;
  • Work with school staff to develop ways to stop the bullying;
  • If the school has no bullying policy, suggest that they need to consider developing one;
  • Discuss with the child your own experiences of being bullied and how you overcame this issue;
  • Help boost your child's confidence by encouraging them to join activities they are good at eg sports, arts, music;
  • Try to get support from other parents who have have faced similar problems.

Anita is now pinning her hopes on assistance she's finally receiving from Kids Helpline, a service run by BoysTown.

"We have been lucky in finding BoysTown and the local GP who is willing to come out to the house," she said.

"That appointment in a few weeks and BoysTown is my only real hope."

(Note: The photo above is not Isaac)

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