This week is Anti Bullying Week and it’s made me think a lot about everything I went through during my school years. I was bullied relentlessly at school and I’ve written about it quite a few times now but it’s only recently that I’ve looked back and realised that the abuse I suffered, if you remove the word bullying associated with it, is something the police should have been involved with.
I know, times have changed. The world and society now is not the same as it was twenty years ago. But, back then, I was spat on by other teenagers as they got off a bus, I was smacked repeatedly with a metal woodworking file in design technology. I was bruised for weeks and it drew blood in places. On my last day at the school before our GCSEs started I was followed all the way home – from Teddington to Surbiton, around 2.5 miles – by a group of half a dozen 16 year old boys. I was too scared to stop to wait for a bus so I just walked all the way home and only felt safe when my front door was closed behind me.
Add to that the constant verbal abuse, getting tripped up or my chair pulled out as I went to sit down and getting litres of water poured over my head as I walked through the PE changing rooms and really you have a catalogue of harassment and abuse that should not be happening and if the school cannot make it stop the police should be involved. Obviously, reporting something like this to the police is an absolute last resort – parents and teachers need to be the first port of call. But, if nothing changes and a child has experienced violence, hate crimes or repeated harassment or intimidation then they have grounds to report it to the police.
So much has changed in the last twenty years and a big part of that is the rise of social media. I’m so thankful that I didn’t go through my teenage years with social media around. I’m glad that I could get respite from the school bullies in the evenings. But now there is no let up on the harassment that children receive. It can happen day and night – every single day and even at weekends. There is no escape – so is it any wonder that so many children just cannot cope?
There is so much more awareness around issues that affect children and teenagers today. Bullying, mental health, eating disorders and even the rising rates of suicide amongst young people. I think a lot of these issues were around when I was younger but there wasn’t the same awareness of them that there is now and there also wasn’t the constant pressure of social media making them so much worse.
But what is the solution? I think that any parent with a child who is being bullied needs to remove the term bullying from the situation and look at what is happening factually. Are they being abused physically/emotionally/verbally? Is it constant, are they being harassed? Are they being attacked online – having photos or videos of them shared? All of this can create a case for criminal prosecution. All of this is something that, in an adult world, would be taken much more seriously. The term bullying is valid but it shouldn’t be used to tone down the experience that someone is going through. Bullying is abuse.
Parents need to talk to the school, talk to the other children’s parents if you can. Talk to anyone who will listen to make the bullying stop. Children get bullied for all sorts of reasons – and no reason at all – and it just isn’t fair that their school years – and often the rest of their lives – should be tainted like that.
There is only so much that a school can do. They can give detentions, exclude children, talk to the children’s parents and deal with situations as best they can. But, if the children’s parents can’t or don’t do anything to help the situation there isn’t much else that can be done. So if a child is being abused or harassed and it continues to happen despite talking to the school then the police should be involved.
Looking back I really wish that my parents had at least sought advice from the police. When you’re 15 and too scared to stand still to wait for your bus, when you spend every lunch break at school hiding and when you do anything you can to get out of PE lessons as you end up being hurt every time, something has to be done. It has to be taken seriously and it’s only now that I really appreciate the severity of what I went through. But, I also know so many people have it so much worse.
If you have a child who is affected by bullying please seek advice as soon as you can. BullyingUK and the Anti Bullying Alliance are great place to start. And services like BetterHelp can offer fantastic counselling services to parents and adults too.