School Bullies: An Ever-Present and Pressing Issue

We’ve all heard that the time you spend as a student, as the best years of your life. I personally would like to track down whoever came up with that notion and give them a stern talking to. Who thought that the years you spend at school are the best of your life? How is that even likely? You have no clue who you really are for the most part, you’re studying a range of subjects (most of which you will dislike) and you’re pitted against your classmates regularly in a test of who can quote a textbook better. I can’t imagine there was anyone who actually enjoyed assemblies, and I know I’ll never look back fondly on my old school lunches. And this is before we’ve even broached the subject of schoolyard bullies.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely hating on the idea of schools, the impact of education on our lives or how precious the years we spend there are. I loved learning, there are teachers who completely shaped me as an individual and those years were a time of no responsibility and vast freedom. Pretty idyllic when you look back as an adult. That being said, school can also be an absolute minefield for children working to develop their self-esteem and I don’t think we recognise this enough. Research shows that bullying is still an incredibly large part of school and childhood for communities across the UK, and most of us will be able to identify at least 1 instance involving bullies from our past.

I think we all understand the core concept of bullying – one person acts in a negative way verbally or physically to another. Whether that’s calling a girl in your class mean names, beating up the nerdy kid at break or taunting a kid with psychological games. Bullies have a vast range of tools at their disposal, and as there’s no “legal” description, someone can feel victimised due to a variety of actions and it’s still “bullying”.

Whether they target someone because of their race, religion, intelligence, financial background, physical appearance or any other reason; bullies can mistreat someone through any of the following forms:

  • physical assault
  • teasing
  • making threats
  • name calling
  • cyber bullying

Victims of bullying can be made to feel very isolated and unhappy, which given the current state of mental health in children and young people, should make bullying more of a concern than it is.

Seeing as bullies can act in so many different ways, it can sometimes be tough to determine whether a child is a victim. There are some key signs to look out for though:

  • people calling someone names
  • making things up to get someone into trouble
  • hitting, pinching, biting, pushing and shoving
  • taking things away from someone
  • damaging someone else’s belongings
  • stealing someone’s money
  • taking a person’s friends away from them
  • posting insulting messages or rumours, in person on the internet or by IM (cyberbullying)
  • threats and intimidation
  • making silent or abusive phone calls
  • sending someone offensive phone texts
  • bullies can also frighten a child so that they don’t want to go to school, so they pretend to be ill to avoid the bully

Social workers know all too well the trauma and complications that children can face during defining parts of their lives. These difficult situations can make them act out, because of a lack of guidance or support when they try to process their feelings. If a vulnerable child does not have the correct mechanisms in place to deal with their emotions and understand the value of a healthy outlet, then there is a risk they will turn to bullying another child. By transferring a level of distress or pain to someone else, it can seem like a temporary relief or solution to the emotional isolation they feel. Therefore, we need to make sure that when we work to tackle the bullying issue across the UK, bullies are not constantly villainised. After all, we never know what’s going on with someone until we start a conversation with them. Bullies may be experiencing just as much pain as they are causing, but are trapped in a cycle of bad actions. Practitioners should have the ability to educate schools and parents more about why bullies may act the way they do, and work together to find healthy solutions for all. Sometimes, just giving a bully detention or expelling them will just worsen the situation and put a child down an even worse path. So, let’s start getting a bit more creative with how we work to help the victims of bullies, and ensure that every child across the country has a safe childhood. When we all look back on school life, we should only be ‘traumatised’ by terrible school lunches or maths homework that seemed impossible. School years don’t have to be the best of your life, in fact, they rarely will be. But this should never be because of a bully breaking down your mental health at such a vulnerable age.

"If teachers speak to children respectfully and consider their views, pupils are likely to do the same with peers."

By Elena Jones, One Stop Social Team.

While you're here...

One Stop Social has a range of resources on our website to help vulnerable children and young people, who may be experiencing bullying or targeting fellow students as a coping mechanism. Therefore, if you’re working with a service user who is experiencing feelings like this, why not turn to our Resources Page for some helpful tools and guides to support your practice. 

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