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Bullying in schools

It seems that children bully for a variety of reasons and when dealing with child bullying it's essential to identify who is the bully at the centre of the violence - there's usually one person who's the gang leader - and the reasons for bullying which include:

  • frustration - a child is impaired in some way and is frustrated and resentful because the source of their difficulty has not been identified - problems can include deafness, dyslexia, autism, allergy, being left-handed, undiagnosed PTSD or some unidentified learning difficulty - nevertheless the child is expected to perform at the level required by the school and no attempt is made to identify the source of the frustration
  • the child is being bullied, the responsible adults have repeatedly failed in their duty of care, so the child slowly and reluctantly starts to exhibit aggressive behaviours because that's the only way to survive in this bullying-entrenched climate
  • poor or no role model - the child has no role model at home, or a poor role model for one or both parents and has never had the opportunity to learn behaviour skills
  • abuse at home - the child is being abused and is expressing their anger through bullying
  • neglect at home - similar to abuse as the child's emotional and behavioural development is being retarded
  • undue influence - the child has fallen in with the wrong crowd
  • conduct disorder - the child has a conduct disorder, the precursor to antisocial, psychopathic or other personality disorder

There are very few programmes that will actively help an aggressive child learn to deal with their aggression. Many schools, under pressure of budgets, lack of time, overburdened with work (especially tick sheets and tests), lack of leadership, lack of local education authority support, lack of government support, and rising class sizes, either ignore the problem (in which case it gets worse), punish the bully (in which case it gets worse), punish the target of bullying when they stand up for themselves (in which case it gets worse), or expel the bullying pupil (in which case the problem is passed to someone else). All of these are short-term, short-sighted non-solutions which do not address the cause of the problem, which in all cases will get worse. It can result in the death of a pupil, either from suicide (at least 16 children commit suicide in the UK each year because they are being bullied at school and those in authority are failing to deal with it), or from violence

Bullying is the general term applied to a pattern of behaviour whereby one person with a lot of internal anger, resentment and aggression and lacking interpersonal skills chooses to displace their aggression onto another person, chosen for their vulnerability with respect to the bully, using tactics of constant criticism, nit-picking, exclusion, isolation, teasing etc with verbal, psychological, emotional and (especially with children) physical violence. When called to account, the bullying child will typically exhibit the denial - counterattack - feigning victimhood response to evade accountability, often with success. Child bullies are adept at manipulating the perceptions of adults, especially adults who are inexperienced or who have a low EQ.

If a child is exhibiting bullying behaviour, the questions to ask are "why does this child have a lot of internal aggression?" and "why does this child need to displace their internal aggression onto other children?", and "why has this child not learned how to interact with other children in a non-violent manner?".

I believe a school should create an environment whereby children understand from the moment they start school that bullying, aggression and violence are not acceptable. It is often the absence of such an ethos that potential bullies perceive as acceptance of their aggressive behaviour. A policy is a start, but it must be more than  just words on paper, it has to be a proactive policy, not just a rule book which is dusted down in the head's study after aggression has resulted in injury. Any anti-bullying policy or anti-bullying advice which fails to mention of accountability for the bully and for the responsible adults who are failing in their duty of care is likely to meet with at best limited success.

Positive behaviour should be part of the national curriculum, but unfortunately it is not a subject that produces statistical data that the government can use to show how wonderful its education policy is. Behavioural skills, assertiveness, parenting skills, financial skills, business skills, motivational skills, success skills - key skills for a successful life and career - are conspicuously absent from the national curriculum. I also believe that a whole-school policy should also support both parties. The target is taught assertiveness skills (this will not solve a bullying problem but enables a child to learn emotional and verbal self-defence), whilst the bully is taught how to deal with their aggression and how to interact in a socially responsible manner with other children.

I believe physical punishment is inappropriate, for it reinforces the bullying child's view that violence is an appropriate solution to any problem - if you don't like what someone else is doing, it's OK to hit them. The bullying child needs support, supervision, and mentoring, whilst being helped to understand that violence is not acceptable. If the bullying child refuses to respond positively, then an escalating response is appropriate, including ultimately the removal of the child from the class in order to protect the rights of the majority of children who do choose to conform to the required social norms.

The education system is still one where aggression and violence are dominant. The popular students tend to be the jocks, those with sporting prowess, especially in those activities which require physical strength. In classes, the most aggressive pupil tends to be the one around who all others cluster. Aggression rules. Those children who are non-violent, not physically strong, or physically small, are always vulnerable; their needs are often overlooked, as are their talents. It's the non-violent children who will go on to make the biggest contribution to society.

School environments tend to be one of "exclusion" rather than "inclusion". Children are left to form their own groups, or gangs, and you are either "in" or "out". I believe children should be taught at the outset to show dignity and respect to other children regardless of whether they are "in" or "out", and to be proactive in their relationships to other children, especially those who "do not fit in", for whatever reason. Conformity is high in the list of children's priorities, and rejection, for whatever reason, is particularly painful. Sadly, many children do not learn the best interaction skills at home, and this is where schools can make a big difference.

Much good work has been done on addressing bullying in schools, but much remains to be done. Research shows that at least 50% of children will be bullied at school. The incidence is probably much higher. Bullying prevents children from undertaking their studies and results in grades which are lower than they would otherwise be which means that the school appears lower down the league tables than they otherwise would.

If a child learns how to bully, and gets away with it, there's a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest they leave school and carry on their bullying in the workplace.