Three years ago, Grandson and his classmates were taken through a programme at school to stop bullying. These students now know how to name the different ways bullying can happen: be it physical actions, digital comments or spoken words, threats, body gestures and excluding or blocking. Many children are fearful on a daily basis because they are being bullied. There is a way forward. There are actions that can be taken and words that can be spoken to suit the different situations. The students learned such strategies as how to “report it” and how to “speak up and stand up for yourself.”
A strong yet simply worded message to bullies said their behaviour is “not ok.” What a bully says and does hurts others. Bullying is abuse. Friendship is no excuse for ignoring and doing nothing about hurtful words and harmful actions. Friends unwittingly enable bullying by not challenging and denouncing the hurtful behaviour. Bullies have lessons to learn about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. They need to find answers to explain the ‘why’ they do what they do. How they would feel if it happened to them? Who could help them through the process? They must face up and ‘fess up.
The transition from a rural primary school with 300 students to a city school with over 1,000 students is a big change. In conversation with Daughter-in-law, wife of Number 1 Son, the topic of bullying came up. D-i-L felt both her son and nephew, my 12-year old and 13-year old Grandsons who are both in the same year level at the same High School, and their mates have the confidence and the ability to cope with the challenges of new peer group pressures. She added these boys, in their own ways, are articulate and she has seen them confidently reject crappy behaviour.
My initial thought is that the school programme belongs beyond the school gate. As a family, we do talk. Number 2 Son’s insistence on family having dinner together at the table is a step in the right direction. Talk happens and no subject is taboo. But, listening is good too. Himself realises that what happened in his day, when boys physically settled their differences out of sight, is not what happens now. The harden up attitude is no more.
Beyond the family, social policies and programmes that address attitudes towards and the prevention of violence are a vital part of public education. Abuse victims feel crippled by fear. When can they ever feel safe? When an inspiring leader steps forward and is inclusive and has genuine empathy for the well-being of all people, then there is some hope. Schools are doing their bit towards preventing bullying. Families become involved. How brave are our now politicians? They need to have a voice that rings true. A voice that resonates, “I’m here for you. I’m listening.” Can they look beyond their next election prospects? Or do we wait for my Grandsons’ generation to make a difference?
It is not a soft option to meet, to talk, to listen, to question. It is a sign weakness to resort to physical means. It is not a sign of weakness to own your words and your actions. It is a sign weakness to blame and to lie. It is not a sign of cleverness to make personal put-downs. It is a sign of friendliness to show kindness and respect. It is empowering to tell the truth. It takes strength of character to do what is right. Facing up takes courage.