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9 October 2016

The Terrible Cost of Bullying

Bullying is a cause that is very close to my heart, and this blog is dedicated to the memory of those who lost their fight.  Exclusive behaviour has been a perennial problem in schools, but every teacher in the 21st century knows that the arrival of social media has increased the dangers and the impact of bullying exponentially.  In Challenges of Education I write about the zero tolerance policy that schools should adopt when tackling bullying.  In The Cycle of Bullying I put bullying in an historical perspective by describing the self-perpetuating vicious cycle of unkindness and its impact on young Evelyn Waugh in the early 20th century.  In The Dangers of Gossip I talk more broadly about the potential harm of mindless gossip, especially in an age where its distribution on social media can reach extremely large numbers of people within minutes. 


The ubiquitous nature of social media and the addiction of so many young people to these platforms also means that it is very hard to escape from it.  It is very easy for people of an older generation to tell young people simply not to look on Instagram or Facebook or to close down their accounts if comments hurt them, but this proves almost impossible for some, as they seem to fear that protecting themselves in such a way will increase their social isolation even further.  There is also an almost addictive desire to log on again and again to read the latest nasty comments – a self-destructive behaviour that is often hard to understand for those of us who grew up in the pre-Facebook era.  And sometimes the problem may not even be nasty comments.  Sometimes it is as subtle as silent exclusion from events and having to look at joyful pictures of parties and outings to which one was not invited or from which one was deliberately excluded.  Feeling ostracised can lead to an overwhelming sense of social isolation.


Having worked in five countries and seven different schools, I have yet to find one that is completely free of bullying, despite the admirable progress that pastoral care in schools has made. This includes proactive student codes of conduct, anti-bullying policies, wellbeing programs, PSHE or PDHPE lessons, counselling services, the provision of independent listeners and comprehensive staff training on mental health issues.  Ultimately, the most important lesson to impart to our children, whether we are parents or teachers, has to be on kindness.  And as always we have to model this behaviour as adults, be kind to each other, not display or tolerate unkind or exclusive behaviour, not gossip about each other, not do damage to each other's reputation, stand up and reach out for each other and treat each other with respect and dignity.


The three perennial questions people need to ask themselves before voicing, writing or proliferating thoughtless utterings are:  Is it true?  Is it necessary?  Is it kind?  Almost every day we hear on the news or read in the papers of yet another tragedy where a young person ends their life, leaving behind devastated families and friends.  It is a big responsibility on all of us, parents, teachers, educators, society as a whole, to try and prevent such tragedies wherever we can.  Reading statistics on teen suicide, however, often does not have enough impact, as numbers are abstract and don’t do justice to the real people and the real stories behind these figures.  It is more powerful to hear about individual cases, and we should have huge admiration for those brave parents who speak up for the sake of others when tragedy hit their own family. 


One such brave parent is Lucy Alexander from Worcestershire in the UK, whose 17-year-old son Felix took his own life in April this year.  The media coverage on this very sad loss of a young and promising life and the courageous interviews his mother has given since, including the one on the UK show “This Morning” last week, to which I link below, pay tribute to Felix and to so many (far too many) young people in similar situations and at similar risk.  We should feel gratitude and admiration for people like Lucy Alexander, who, instead of baying for blood and demanding revenge for their child, are simply trying to raise awareness of this issue and call for even greater improvement of preventative measures, services and strategies, not only for the victims, but also for the perpetrators.


Interview with Lucy Alexander on This Morning:

Alternatively, the interview can be watched in two parts on youtube:

Part 1:

Part 2:

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