Combating bullies is everyone's responsibility

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 January, 2012, 12:00am


My daughter tells me her best friend is being bullied by another girl in class. I don't want her to become involved in the situation. My father used to tell me to fight back, but I don't think this is the best advice.

Bullying is a serious issue in schools. It can be defined as hurting, scaring or leaving someone out on purpose. You do not say what type of bullying is involved here. While bullying is often painfully obvious, the more subtle and hidden examples of it can be harder to detect. But they can be just as harmful, maybe more so.

Both boys and girls can be bullies. They either act alone or in groups. They hit, shove or kick, call people names and are mean about how others look and act.

Bullies can hurt feelings as well as body parts and malicious gossip can be just as destructive in the playground as at a dinner party.

Although anyone can be bullied, it is often the case that the victims are quiet and timid. Nobody deserves such treatment and schools should have a zero-tolerance policy towards anyone who behaves in this way.

Your first step might be to refer the matter directly to the school and find out what policies are already in place. Most schools have a well-structured set of systems and protocols to deal with all kinds of behavioural issues including this one. It is likely the school will want to and be able to take the lead.

But there are a range of self-help strategies that can help children who may find themselves at risk. Ideally, these children should stay away from bullies and avoid situations where they will be alone and vulnerable. They should try to play with a supportive group of friends.

They should not react to any intimidation with words or actions that make a bully angry. This will merely provide an excuse for retaliation or retribution and exacerbate the problem.

The best advice is to simply walk away. They should then report what happened to a responsible adult at school. If children cannot tell their teachers, then the parents should do so. A good friend should also take responsibility and report any incidents or provide corroborative evidence. If such contact is unavoidable, then children should literally as well as figuratively try to stand tall and appear as confident as they can. They should look any bullies directly in the eye.

Bullies generally tend to be cowards who prey on those they see as weaker than themselves.

Remember to reinforce the message that doing the right thing actually helps the bullies to stop their bullying.

Bullies are often children who need help and support to break the destructive cycle of behaviour they have adopted.

Many are sad and lonely and may require professional help to resolve their own personal issues. Most bullies intimidate others to feel better about themselves.

Students learn best in a positive and safe environment.

Everybody has a responsibility to change any behaviour that diverts vital energy and resources and threatens to disrupt the running of the educational process.

Positive self-esteem and a willingness to come to school to learn are crucial underpinnings for students' success.

This open-minded and positive attitude is also a crucial life skill for children to develop as they progress beyond the walls of academia to the outside world.

Julie McGuire teaches at an international school