The recent survey by charity BeatBullying shows that children starting secondary school are the most concerned about being bullied. The research identified that 56% of primary children feared they might be bullied for being too clever, or not clever enough, and 48% were afraid that they would be bullied for not being good at activities like sports or for not having the latest phones or games. Fear of being bullied can eventually lead to unhappiness, loneliness and a drop in grades.
Though schools already have an anti-bullying policy in place under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, it is important to revisit these policies to ensure that they are updated to protect students from new threats such as cyber-bullying.
With anti-bullying policies, staff members have a responsibility to recognise bullying and to take action when it is happening. However, unlike the traditional tell-tale signs in the form of torn or dirty uniforms or bruises, signs of non-physical bullying are typically more ‘hidden’ and not as easy to identify. In fact, according to the NSPCC research, one in five children is bullied online, so it is important that schools have a strong focus on cyber-bullying in their overall anti-bullying policy.
Cyber-bullying is when students are harassed in a deliberate, repeated and hostile manner through internet and mobile services like web-forums, social media sites and instant messaging. Almost all these activities take place outside school hours and off school premises. Schools can help victims of cyber-bullying by including a reporting plan where they can safely and discreetly seek help. Discretion is a key factor because cyber-bullies almost always conceal their true identities, meaning that they can be anyone. Reporting tactics such as ‘bullying boxes’ located in the middle of busy hallways would only deter action.
Technologies such as Text Someone are used in schools throughout the UK to encourage young people to report incidents of bullying via text message as it was designed to help those who are not comfortable reporting incidences by phone or face-to-face. Local authority Leicester City Council also uses the technology in schools in their area. Text messaging is instant and a great medium because it is a common form of communication with which 99.9% of students are familiar.
For many children, bullying results in sleepless nights, so having a system that allows them to text their concerns in the early hours is important, as is a facility which automatically messages them back with a text to assure them that help is at hand. Equipped with the full details, schools can address issues swiftly and efficiently.
Once schools have a safe reporting system in place, they should frequently notify students that they are there to help and remind them of the various help options available. NSPCC’s safer technology expert, Claire Lilley, commenting on the recent tragic story about Hannah Smith, said "It's unbearable to think any young person should feel there is no other option but to end their life because of bullying on social networking sites."
Text Someone is a reporting system for bullying that Contact Group developed to encourage young people to report incidents of bullying or any anti-social behaviour directly to schools and is currently being used across the UK.
Suggested box out: Looking out for the signs
Though there is no single way to identify if a child is being bullied, there are behavioural changes that teachers can look out for that may help identify the signs. Students may;-
- Appear unhappy being at school
- Become shy and nervous
- Complain of headaches, stomach aches and other ailments
- Act aggressively and want to be left alone
- Show signs of fatigue, possibly due to sleepless nights
- Experience an unexplained drop in grades
- Avoid after school activities
It could be a combination of these things that may signal a red flag but if you have a cause for concern the best way forward is to try talking to them. Every student is affected in a different way and it might take more than one conversation to get them to open up. But it is important to continue this dialogue with them because even if they are not a victim of bullying today, it will be reassuring for them to know that they know their options if they were threatened.