As we prepare to launch our new video next week, I find myself , reflecting on how bullying is an emotive and at times a complex issue. It can bring about extreme reactions in people, from genuine anger and aggression to a dismissive ‘never did me any harm, it’s all part of growing up’ attitude.
I still encounter both attitudes and believe that how some people choose to frame bullying is not at all helpful. Bullying does not build character. Trust, love and good role models build character. This helps us deal with things like bullying, it helps build resilience. I find the attitude that bullying is ‘normal’ and builds ‘character’ in practice leads to very poor responses form adults when dealing with bullying.
Young people have always been consistent in what they tell us about bullying. For the most part they want it to stop with the minimum of fuss and when they are being bullied, they feel like they have lost something, lost the ability to feel in control and in-charge of themselves. Bullying is about relationships, relationships that are not working in the way they should. It’s about relationships that are not being managed or role modelled effectively.
We are taught about’ being friends’ at a very early age, I have witnessed this sometimes with children as young as three year olds being told they’ need to be friends’. This just isn’t the case; where else in life are we told we all have to be friends? We should really be telling children that when they are together they need to be nice to each other, respect each other but that they need to be friends? It is unrealistic and gives children the first currency to barter with at school or nursery.
Learning to navigate relationships in the community, at home or in school is a journey we all go on. We learn to manage or even avoid conflict, that friends can fall out and it doesn’t mean things will never be fixed. It was this thought process that gave the service its name. It was while explaining the that it was okay to say ‘listen, you don’t have to like me but you do have to respect me’ and that respecting me does not have to mean you try to connect with me and learn about me – it can just mean ‘leave me alone’. There are ways to behave when you do not like someone or agree with someone that is respectful. Our response to this does not need to be to bully or intimidate, to exclude and cause fear and anxiety.
As part of this year’s anti-bullying week activities (November 19 – 23), our campaign will use a video to deliver this message; a message spoken by young people to their peers and to the adults in their life.
That message is this ‘You don’t have to like me, you don’t have to agree with me or like doing the same things I do but you do have to respect me. So leave me be, don’t just try to bully me, talk to me even and hey, you do your thing and I’ll do mine’.
This very straightforward message is one we want people to share across their social networks; it is how we want adults to talk to children about how they get on with their peers, how they approach anti-bullying work and how children should learn to set the parameters for relationships in their lives.
This message translates into anti-bullying training and policies that promote respectful relationships that value diversity, equality, and children’s rights. If you don’t agree with someone or think they are out-of-step from how you think or feel – you do not need to respond in a way that makes them feel hurt, frightened or left out. You can learn about what makes us different, or, you can learn to leave the people you might not like or agree with alone.
That action alone would make a great deal of children and young people much happier and feel much safer than they currently do.