This week is anti-bullying week. Like many other issues, it isn’t enough to just be ‘anti-bullying’ anymore. It isn’t enough to have a ‘zero tolerance’ policy that nobody has ever seen, let alone follows. It’s not enough to shake off name-calling as a bit casual teasing; banter, something everyone experiences and therefore isn’t different but insignificant and unimportant. It isn’t enough to just wear odd socks, as lovely as that is. Instead we need to be educating, we need to be proactive, intentional, having real conversations about what isn’t acceptable behaviour, calling that out, and doing something about it.
Last year it was reported that a fifth of young people in the UK had been the victims of bullying in the last twelve months. Three out of four people who were bullied said it affected their mental health and nearly half became depressed as a result.
I think that there’s an idea that children and young people will put up with whatever is thrown at them and take it as if it’s banter. But actually, what I think happens, is children and young people will take the bullying as if it’s banter, but they’ll wrap the words and actions around themselves like a blanket and it’ll change how they see themselves, perhaps leading to depression, anxiety, and risky behaviour. Bullying isn't just about the immediate, it's about what it can go on to cause.
There’s also an idea that bullying is just something that children experience, yet YouGov found that 15% workers have experienced bullying in the past three years, more than half of them did not report it to the firm. Alternatively, you only have to scroll through Twitter during 'I’m A Celebrity' to see countless nasty comments.
This week, of all weeks, I returned to a school where I experienced many years of being bullied. I came full circle, returning as an adult to co-lead a lunch-club. I felt a sense of power and inner-strength, that I managed to return, wearing a ‘visitor’ lanyard around my neck, being treated like a teacher.
As a student, I had names thrown at me, and I began to believe them myself. I had a knife pointed at me when I was fourteen years old, told “you’re lucky the teacher is coming back otherwise there would be a bloodbath”. I would be completely ignored as if I didn’t exist, paper and class equipment not passed to me; behaviour that just looks like silly teasing, and because it was treated that way, I saw it all that way too. It took session after session of counselling for me to realise that wasn’t okay, and that it was traumatic.
So this anti-bullying week, lets educate ourselves and check our own behaviours. Let’s be proactive, not taking it as a bit of banter, but as bullying.
Are you in a position where you can write a behavioural policy for your context, share it with those you work with, and follow through with it?
Are you in a position where you can stand up for someone who may be experiencing bullying, remind them of their true worth?
Let’s have real conversations about what isn’t acceptable behaviour. Let’s call out words and actions that aren’t okay, in our youth groups, in the classroom, at home, and online.
If you’re being bullied, report it, and don’t stop reporting it until something changes. You are so much more than the words being thrown at you, and the actions being done to you.
In-blog links and further reading: