Reach out for help

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 December, 2006, 12:00am

Life Files : Gangs and Bullies by Rosemary Stone

All of us are bullied at some time in our lives, and all of us bully someone at some time in our lives. It might be quite minor, such as teasing or making fun of someone. It might have been quite major, and for the person on the receiving end, that means a great deal of upset and hurt, tears and distress.

So this is an important and useful book on a topic that we all know something about.

What is bullying?

A bully is someone who sets out deliberately to hurt or intimidate another person. This can be by harming them physically, perhaps by pushing or kicking them. It might also be psychological, by insulting them or making fun of them.

Bullying can take many different forms. Extortion is when a bully demands money by making threats. Racism is when a person is bullied on account of his skin colour or nationality. All these forms of bullying have one thing in common : the bully picks on a person because he or she is weaker than the bully and is therefore an easy target. That is what makes bullies such unpleasant and weak people : they never pick on someone their own size.

Who gets bullied?

Nearly everyone suffers at some time or another at school. It might be a brief episode, it might be something that goes on for weeks or months.

People can become victims for different reasons. It can be because their physical appearance is different - they might be fatter or thinner than others, or have different coloured hair. It might be because a person has low self-esteem or is particularly clumsy. They can given 'victim status' within a class. They make everyone else feel safe and superior. Whilst the class's attention is on one victim, everyone else feels safe.

Bullies and gangs

There is a close link between bullies and gangs. It's a small step for people who like to gain power over others to get into a gang. Being a member of a gang can also help people feel a sense of belonging. They feel accepted by the other members of the gang, and so they feel secure.

Gangs can be just like a club and harmless. They can have passwords and special badges and be a lot of fun. For children who do not have strong families, they can be a kind of substitute family and offer security.

But a gang can become just a group of bullies, using its collective strength to terrorise others and make their lives miserable. The line between high spirits and aggression can be very thin.

It's nothing new

A particularly enjoyable section of this book tells us all about gangs and bullies throughout history : there is nothing new about this behaviour. Back in Rome in 461BC, there are accounts of two men called Lucius and Volscius being beaten up by a drunken gang while they were on their way home.

In France in the 17th century, schoolboys organised a brawl that turned into a full-scale riot: all because one boy was beaten by a schoolmaster. The logbooks of English schools in Victorian times record incidents of violent attacks on pupils and teachers. The terrible attacks on Jewish people by Nazis were often carried out by gangs of bullies.

What can you do to keep safe?

If you feel you are being bullied, this book gives sensible tips on what you can do to help keep yourself safe. For example, you can stick with your friends so that you are not on your own.

Try not to react to bullies. They thrive on getting a reaction from people because that gives them the chance to bully even more. So try to ignore them.

Be aware of your own behaviour. What effect do you have on others? Do you irritate people without even realising what you are doing?

Of course, the most important thing is to tell someone. You must never allow bullies to get away with what they are doing, so you must tell a teacher or adult so that they can help. Victims often think that thing will get worse if they 'tell' on the bully. That is not true. Sharing the problem is the first step to finding a solution.

Have a happy life!


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