Bullies at School: The Background

Who are these bullies and what are they on about?

How do you recognise them?

  • Use their presence (physical & verbal) to intimidate others
  • Bully & bombard
  • Put others down
  • Base their decisions on their personal facts now and not the facts listed in books, libraries, surveys, etc.
  • Have a need to prove they’re right now

What is their basic message?

  • You’re in my way, move over or lay down or I’ll blow you away
  • I count, you don’t
  • Give in to me and I’ll pretend we get along

Surveys of 38,000 students in Australia for example, over a number of years by Dr Ken Rigby and a colleague of mine, Dr Phillip Slee, indicate that 15% of children said they were bullied weekly.

“He bullied, soothed and cajoled.  In fact, he’s awfully good at what he does, but how one wishes that he didn’t work quite so hard doing it.” 

(John Corry; 1666-1726, Irish Politician)

Other studies from a number of countries e.g. Norway, England, United States, Japan, Ireland, Netherlands, have shown similar findings.  Research also shows that the peak in bullying tends to occur in the younger grades (e.g. Grade 2) where 17% of students reported being bullied while in Grade 9 the percentages decreased to 3% of girls and 6.5% of boys.

Many teenagers however, will not let on that they are being bullied at school.

Adolescents may not want to say that they are being bullied because:

  • they don’t want to look or sound weak or “pathetic”,
  • they don’t want the parents to go to the school and somehow embarrass them,
  • they don’t want the teachers to know that they can’t handle it,
  • they are afraid of any further retributions if the bully finds out,
  • they don’t want to be seen as a “dobber” getting others into trouble.

Although the adolescent may not tell you initially that he or she is being bullied, typically, there are some signs such as the following:

  • becoming short-tempered, intolerant, with perhaps some outbursts
  • becoming teary, withdrawn or depressed
  • obvious panic or anxiety about going to school
  • a drop off in grades or a hint of school refusal
  • asking for extra pocket money or maybe stealing (to buy off the bully or placate the bully somehow)
  • continual stomach “upsets” or headaches that means that they need to stay home or frequent visits to the school sick room or being sent home because they are unwell
  • wanting the parent to drop them off at the school gate rather than take the bus or walk or ride a bike
  • trouble sleeping at night and awakening often through the night or difficulty dropping off to sleep

Clearly, the bullying has to stop.  The impact on self-esteem can be very severe and damaging – at times, permanent.

The adolescent has to face it with strong support from his or her family and school.  If the issue is raised at home, in whatever form, then the parents must do all they can to support and encourage their offspring.  The issue has to be raised at school and to this end, the parent has to find a compassionate, caring teacher who knows what to do.

Definitely, there should be no exposure of the victim.  I have had well-intentioned teachers who have thought that they were doing the right thing by mediating and bringing both bully and victim together.  It has then been then left up to me to try to redeem the situation where the bully’s power has now increased as he knows that his victim has been worried, anxious, scared and the victim is now terrified!

If the supportive teacher, counsellor or school chaplain can be found, then, the story of the bullying needs to be told in confidence.  The bully needs to be brought in for a serious discussion and the parents or family of the bully involved.  If the bullying continues, then the bully ought to be removed from the school.

If help is not forthcoming from the school, the adolescent who is being victimized needs to leave and find another school to attend.

What Do You Do If Your Child Has Been Bullied?

  • Listen – really listen
  • Don’t judge & keep calm – be supportive and understanding
  • Ask, don’t tell – ask your child, “What do you think should happen now?”
  • Perhaps prompt with questions like: “Is there any way I wonder that you could get him/her to stop bullying you?” or “What might happen if you pretended you didn’t hear them?” or “What would they do if you just walked away?”
  • If your child says “Don’t tell the teacher” – Ask gently why not – What is their fear?
  • If it’s OK to talk to the teacher, do so discretely – perhaps find out beforehand how the teacher might be expected to handle it
  • If you are not happy with the teacher’s response – be prepared to talk to the Principal about it – if you are not happy with the school’s response, you may need to consider leaving altogether 
  • Check how your child is going – don’t nag or always be asking – and watch for any tell-tale signs of continuing distress (eg. stomach aches, not wanting to go to school etc)