Confronting and Coping with Bullying Behaviour - 19/03/07

Newspaper article of Monday March 19th 2007.

Question: There is bullying at my son's secondary school, especially on the bus. Should I drive him to school and back ?

Answer

THE term "bullying" is being used more frequently these days, often to describe behaviour that may or may not accurately represent the type of behaviour that is evident. Bullying usually includes behaviour that is repeated, threatening , either emotionally, verbally or physically, and has some intent to cause harm. At times teenagers and primary aged children will experience some teasing or rejection - for example, "I don't want to hang out with you anymore, your not my friend". The first thing for teachers and parents to do is a double check on whether the types of behaviour being described amount to bullying. If it is, then action from the school is most important in recognising, confronting and working with the student or students involved. However if the behaviour is a one off, something that is not repeated and generally out of character, then the strategies we might choose to use will be different. Whether technically it is bullying or not, if the behaviour causes upset or fear or harm to someone else, then something has to be done. During the teenage years, it is hoped that adolescents, while perhaps being critical of each other at times, will generally accept their peers. Some will be in what is perceived as an "in" group others in different categories of groups that the teenagers often give their own labels. At times picking on others, in spite of being socially or behaviourally inappropriate, are part of life that we all need to bounce back from, assert our needs and rights and to move on from. This is not always easy for teenagers, where the need to belong and be accepted in developing their sense of identify can leave them feeling vulnerable and outcast at times. If a teenager is the target of some form of bullying at school, it is important that both the school and parents and students discuss and organise a range of strategies that will not only help the one who is the target but also address, in a more general sense, the culture or actions within the group that lead to the bullying. At times, deciding on what action to take can be quite difficult. On the one hand, driving your son to and from school may avoid some of the instances of bullying and provide a positive and safe start and finish to the day. But it may exacerbate things if the group that are bullying use the fact that he is being driven by a parent to add fuel to their fire. From the question, it sounds like bullying of some sort is occurring at the school and on the bus. This needs to be addressed most urgently by the school. It is important that the school has in place a range of strategies and checks and balances that will do a number of key things. Manage the safety and wellbeing of each student at school as well as arriving and leaving. Work with the parents of the student who is bullying so that they can also be supportive and provided with clear direction and support to minimise inappropriate behaviour. Work with the whole school in providing a range of proactive strategies that help to minimise the incidence of bullying. This may include student council, student mentors and buddies, and group discussions for consequences of behaviour. Ensure the student who has been bullied is also given some of the following strategies that may help: Assertion skills such as "I want you to stop". Being able to discuss their emotional responses with a teacher and parent and not feel ashamed. Practice in concrete steps what to do if confronted with that situation. The issue of whether to drive the teenager to school or not will depend on a range of factors. There is not an easy straightforward yes or no to that question. How might the teenager feel ? Will it make them feel less adequate or ashamed ? Will it provide and highlight the issues to others ? Will it provide a break in the current pattern and provide at least some respite and one less anxiety while other strategies are being put in place ? Other options to consider could include: Instead of the parent driving, perhaps a friends parent who already drives their teenager to school could pick him or her up and, in that way, it is a more ordinary event. Perhaps getting a different bus or using a different form of transport might break the cycle to some degree. Continuing to use the bus, but having a few buddies or friends to support them. If it is a school bus, having the school or bus company provide staff who might supervise for a short period of time. The teenager must feel equipped with support people or skills to handle some of it themselves - the bigger picture is the school and parents working together to stop or minimise the bullying.

Copyright © Kathy Walker 2007

Kathy Walker is an education consultant specialising in early childhood and primary years and a former lecturer at RMIT University.