This Anti-Bullying Week, Tasmin Gyamfi, Safeguarding Officer at School-Home Support discusses what constitutes bullying, the signs, the risks and how best to prepare and protect young people.
School-Home Support works to get children in school, ready to learn – whatever it takes. Using early-intervention we partner with schools, local authorities and communities, and our expert practitioners work one-to-one with vulnerable families. We look past the classroom, tackling issues like poverty and mental ill-health, providing bespoke support to overcome barriers to learning.
What is bullying?
Generally speaking, bullying is the act of individuals or groups seeking to harm, intimidate or coerce someone perceived to be vulnerable. It can involve people of any age, and can happen anywhere – at home, school, work or using online platforms and technologies (cyberbullying).
More specifically and in relation to safeguarding children, bullying can also be described as unwanted, aggressive behaviour among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behaviour is usually repeated, or has the potential to be repeated over time. Young people and children are not always able to identify incidents of bullying, some are reluctant to acknowledge experiencing it and children may not realise an experience was an instance of bullying until adulthood.
Bullying can be a form of discrimination, particularly if it is based on a child’s disability, race, religion or belief, gender identity or sexuality.
According to the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), research shows that 30% of children have experienced bullying in the last year alone, with 17% of that bullying being carried out online.
What impact does bullying have?
Bullying has a significant impact on a young person’s life, and this can last into adulthood. The NCB states that adults who were bullied as children are more likely to:
- Experience a range of mental health issues
- Earn less money
- Be unemployed
- Be obese
- Not be in a stable relationship
- Leave school with no qualifications
What forms can bullying take?
- Verbal abuse – name-calling, saying nasty things to or about a child or their family
- Emotional abuse – making threats, undermining a child, excluding a child from a friendship group or activities
- Physical Abuse – any form of touching that a person does not want can be bullying, including shoving, tripping, punching, hitting or sexual assault
- Cyberbullying/Online bullying – excluding a child from online games, activities or friendship groups, sending threatening, upsetting or abusive messages, creating and sharing embarrassing or malicious images or videos about a particular child, creating fake accounts, hijacking or stealing online identities to embarrass a person or cause trouble using their name
- ‘Trolling’– a word used to describe sending menacing or upsetting messages on social networks, chat rooms or online games, voting for or against someone in an abusive poll, setting up hate sites or groups.
Statistician’s comment: “Greater use of smartphones, social media and networking applications means online bullying can follow a child anywhere they go. Using new data from the crime survey we can see that around 1 in 5 children between the ages of 10 to 15 had experienced some form of online bullying in the previous 12 months.”
“This compares with 2 in 5 children who experienced bullying in person, and whilst these data (sets)were collected before the coronavirus pandemic, children’s isolation at home and increased time spent on the internet is likely to have had a substantial impact on the split between real world and cyber bullying.” (ONS, 2007) Source: ONS Bullying Statistics
Increasing access to the internet and social media through mobile phones and personal devices has created an environment in which bullying can take place with less opportunity for adults and professionals to monitor and control.
In contrast to face-to-face bullying, cyberbullying can allow perpetrators to remain anonymous, and they do not have to witness their victim’s reaction. The potential audience for cyberbullying is also far greater as comments and images can be spread to the entire internet immediately.
The effects of cyberbullying on young people is of a high concern when managing risk and wellbeing as many young people who have experienced cyberbullying report feeling low self-esteem, anxiety and depression.
An example of the effects of bullying:
Alan was 14 years-old when School-Home Support began working with him after he had moved school at the beginning of the previous term. At the beginning of Spring Term Alan’s attendance had suddenly decreased and he was struggling to be at school for even one day a week. Alan’s mum had physical health needs and school professionals were also finding it difficult to engage with her. Teachers had tried speaking to Alan when he attended school about the reasons for his absence, however Alan consistently responded that he had been unwell and did not want to talk about it further.
When Alan’s School-Home Support practitioner Daniel met with the family, Alan’s mum explained that she didn’t know why Alan did not want to go to school but that he often complained of being unwell. Due to her physical health difficulties and emotional well-being, mum was reluctant to challenge Alan about his attendance and allowed him to stay at home.
Initially, Alan told Daniel that he often had headaches and stomach aches, but that there was nothing wrong at school and he enjoyed it when he attended. Daniel noticed during his first visit to the family home that Alan had a mobile phone which buzzed on several occasions, and when asked what he used it for, Alan refused to talk about it.
Daniel and Alan planned a routine to help Alan prepare for school, but over a two week trial period there was no improvement in his attendance, regardless of extra support from his mum and Daniel. During this time, Daniel undertook several home-visits and noticed that Alan was constantly on his phone. After discussing his concerns with Alan’s mum, Daniel sat down with the family and discussed ways of keeping safe online as well as the risks involved in using social media and related sites.
During his next home-visit, Alan eventually disclosed that he had been receiving daily text messages and messages via social media from a group of boys at his new school. These messages had been extremely hurtful and were often threatening in tone. Alan said that he was scared of going to school, had been sleeping badly and felt very low and sad.
Although initially reluctant, Alan agreed to allow Daniel to arrange a family meeting with his head of year at school to discuss this cyberbullying and try to resolve the issues. The school was extremely understanding of Alan’s concerns and put a plan in place immediately to deal with the issue so that Alan could feel safe in returning to school. Daniel also organised a referral to the local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) to help Alan manage his anxiety and low self-esteem.
The school ran an assembly discussing cyberbullying, as well as supporting Alan in building his online safety and his confidence in managing the risks he might encounter online moving forward. Daniel also continued to support the family, working with Alan one to one, and with his mum to ensure she was aware of the risks and how to monitor them effectively.
As his confidence grew thanks to support from School-Home Support, CAMHS and his school, Alan’s attendance improved over the next months as his safety and wellbeing needs were met. This also increased his self-esteem and improved his mood, and he is now flourishing with a positive friendship and peer network.
What can be done to prevent face-to-face and online bullying?
- As well as government and public campaigns, it is important that schools address the issues with students directly and this can be done through the curriculum and devising specific lesson plans around anti-bullying messages and promoting the positive use of ICT.
- School-Home Support practitioner service works in schools across England to provide support to the family to get children back in school ready to learn. This service helps schools and teachers to deal with underlying causes of absence including bullying.
- Adults can help encourage children and young people to “Tell a trusted adult”. It may help to talk to a guidance counsellor, teacher, or trusted friend. Talking can be a good outlet for the fears and frustrations that can build when you’re being bullied.
- Remind children not to react physically. Anger can be handled in another way, such as exercising, writing down their worries or creative activities.
- Parents and schools can work together to report bullying incidents and collaborate to ensure children are aware of how to handle signs of bullying.
- Encourage parents/carers to take a proactive stance in educating themselves and their children in the apps and websites their children are using and how to use these safely and responsibly.
- Remind children and young people who are experiencing bullying that it’s not their fault, they are not alone, and you are there to help.
- Children and young people need to be able to identify their feelings so they can communicate what’s going on; therefore, parents should talk about their own feelings.
- Education professionals should work directly with children and young people where possible to promote digital literacy, so that young people are able to build their confidence and resilience in managing and addressing the risks they may encounter online.
- If you have any concerns for the safety of a child or young person and believe them to be at risk of cyberbullying, it is important to discuss these concerns with parents, schools, and outside agencies to ensure that any support needs are addressed and the risks reduced.
Services and Resources:
- SHS Membershipprovides free professional support to staff in schools across the country. Members receive Free access to the SHS Forum, where members discuss issues with expert practitioners and peers, and regular email bulletins with expert safeguarding advice on a range of issues including bullying.
- The Anti-Bullying Alliance
- GOV.uk (Preventing and Tackling Bullying)
- National Bullying Helpline – Contact number: 0300 323 0169
- NSPCC Bullying – Childline number: 0800 1111
- YoungMinds Textline – Textline: 85258
- The Fearless Movement
- For more information on School-Home Support and how we work with schools and families, please visit www.schoolhomesupport.org.uk