Any unwanted negative behaviour, verbal, psychological or physical conducted against an individual is the definition of bullying.
Bullying is happening in our schools, playgrounds, sports fields, colleges and workplaces. According to a study conducted by the anti-bullying centre in Trinty, bullying is experienced by 31% of primary school children and 16% of secondary school children. A study among irish workplaces showed bullying in irish workplaces to be one of the worst in Europe, we ranked 7thwith 6% of irish employees experiencing it. I was lucky enough to escape it in school, however I was rocking a phil linnet style hair cut thanks to the butcher hair dresser my mother brought us too, so I reckon I escaped by a curly hair!
So what are we as a society doing to stop this problem. There are procedures in school that try to mitigate against bullying, but the question is are these procedures working? Maybe from the perspective that the bullying has to be addressed by the school, but bullying is still happening in the schools. Anyone with school going children is unfortunately probably all too aware of this fact.
I think one area where the system fails is with regard to the person who is seen to be conducting the bullying behaviour, they are told not to do it again and to think about what they have done, but we fail to give that person the attention that they are clearly calling out for. What is going on in their lives, that has led them to behave and act in this way.
School is not the only place bullying is taking place, it is happening in homes between partners and also adults bullying their own children. So many people think that if they are not physically bullying someone, then its fine. Verbally bullying someone can do more damage than physical. The continuous chipping away at someone’s confidence and self-esteem can have serious repercussions for life, especially if it is happening in the teenage years. The scary thing is that if someone is used to being bullied when they are growing up, they become used to it and accept it as normal. They then go on to find partners who will treat them in the same way they were treated in their home and the cycle will continue or they will flip sides and become the bully.
Technology has also given a new dimension to bullying. Growing up in the 80’s, anyone over the age of 40 will know that we didn’t have phones when we were in school. I got my first phone at the ripe old age of 21, a late bloomer.!! We could walk away from school and if you were being bullied, it stayed in the school yard. Now kids are continuously attached to their mobile devices and as a result the bullying continues outside of school. Many parents see the device as a god send, because it means their teenagers are quiet and not moaning and groaning at being bored. Many Parents don’t want to understand the technology their kids are using and don’t know what they have installed on their devices. I worked for an internet security company for 19 years and as a result I am hyper aware of the dangers of the internet. There are so many social media apps that teenagers are using to talk to each other, but parents aren’t aware of them. These are the playgrounds where the real bullying is taking place. Keyboard warriors get brave behind the security of a screen and especially if they have an audience, they want to show off to and post bullying comments or worse still post incriminating pictures. Again for those of us old enough to remember, thank god we had no phones when we were growing up, what happened on tour, stayed on tour. There is no such thing now, there will always be someone in the corner with the camera phone waiting to catch someone out and there is a high possibility that photo will be circulated on social media.
So what is the impact of bullying?
Bullying of any kind and whether it is to a child or an adult in the workplace can cause extreme anxiety, people who are being bullied are continuously living in fear of what is going to be said or done to them next. This can result in absence from school and work, due to intense feeling of fear and panic experienced on a daily basis. Anxiety can then lead to depression and a huge sense of isolation and loneliness.
Worryingly Cyberbullying has been linked to an increase in self-harm among teenagers and also to suicide. How many times have we read the headline that a teenager has committed suicide as a result of online bullying. As a mother of an 11 and 8 year old, this scares the life out of me.
What do we need to do for the future generation of Ireland around this horrible problem of bullying, firstly I think we need to try and address bullying before it happens. We need to encourage our kids to speak up, if something is troubling them they need to talk about it, we need to keep the lines of communication open with them. Schools and parents need to teach their children what bullying is and how to stand up to it. Someone once told me that if you come across a bully and you don’t address it, life will send you something even harder to address, by addressing it when it happens, you will grow and you’re confidence grows. My granny used to have an old saying ‘as old the cock crows, so crows the young’ meaning model good behaviour to your children. They are easily influenced and do as they see.
In summary, it is worrying that this is a growing epidemic in Ireland, we need to educate our children that as humans, regardless of age, race, religion or sexual orientation, we are all the same, experience the same kind feelings and that everyone deserves to be treated with the same kind of respect.