This year’s anti-bullying week competition – what have we learned?

It has been such an interesting experience to go through each of the entries into this year’s competition – as it is every year. This year we have around 2,000 entries. That’s 2,000 individual pieces of feedback on ‘What bullying means to me’.
The question posed is very deliberate – it’s not about finding out what children and young people think about bullying or what is a good message or poster for your peers is but what does it mean to you. Having been involved in every competition we have ran in the last 5 years, I have always paid attention to the emerging themes and issues from the thousands of submissions. A couple of years ago the theme of loss and helplessness emerged very clearly and helped us understand the impact bullying had on a person’s agency, their capacity for self-management.
It was very clear that bullying took something away from children and young people; we took this notion and discussed it further and how effective responses gave something back, so emerged our thinking on agency. (See initial blog)
When explaining agency to young people I have often used the analogy of a ‘typical day’. A day where you get up, have your breakfast, you know you are off to the bus-stop to meet friends, what classes you’ll enjoy, pay attention in or even avoid and have a good idea of what you’ll be doing after school. Children and young people recognise this scenario and that they will have experienced this.
When a person is being bullied, they say that is not their day. They are not in charge of how they get to feel, someone else is. It affects how they felt when they wake up, if they eat anything, the nerves heading for the bus perhaps or what someone will say to them if they walk in this door at school. Will they be asked to go out tonight or ignored again? Again, some of them recognise this day too.
There are so many of the entries this year, especially in the creative writing category that have reflected this very clearly. There are many stories where children and young people reflect a feeling of nervousness, fear and a lack of control over situations that sometimes starts the moment they get up. They describe in vivid detail days and experiences they have where others make them feel worried and scared, where people affect their ability to learn.They descibe physical responses too, legs shaking, hands trembling and feeling very cold.
This writing reaffirms what we believe about bullying and agency, they describe individuals who are not agents in their own lives; they are not in charge of how they feel and our responses must focus on restoring this loss.
When children and young people are asked to reflect on what bullying means to them, they describe feelings of hurt, fear, loneliness, worry and anger. They describe scenarios where friendships turn sour, where people are left out and where being new to a school or a group can intially be a very difficult experience. They also express a real desire for people to return to being friends. It is the most common solution put forward, one where relationships are repaired and people ‘get on’. They offer very little by way of wanting to see people ‘punished’.
 The art work submitted, ranging from posters to drawings and sculpture reflects many of the same issues. Images of feeling trapped, having your mouth zipped up, feeling caged, dark colours and feeling very small in large rooms or spaces. These all reflect a sense that they are prevented from being themselves and how they look, act and feel. What they are asking for is the chance to get back to that feeling.
It is a huge pleasure to get to do this and every year we receive incredible entries, I have never doubted and have always championed the creativity and the contribution children and young people make. These entries are a significant contribution to what we do because of the question we ask and the incredible way they respond.
We will be announcing the winners very soon as well!
Brian

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