Back to School

It was the week that we were to send our darlings back to school after the long summer break they’d spent in the sanctuary of our family. However my sense of impending relief swung back to stomach-churning anxiety after I saw the huge, capitalised headline in The West Australian newspaper: ‘Kids Don’t Feel Safe’.

The article published on 30 January 2018 reported that, according to a survey organised by the WA’s Children’s Commissioner Colin Pettit, about 50,000 children felt unsafe in WA schools because they were afraid of being hurt or bullied. 

That equated to one in five high school students, and one in 10 primary school students, who told researchers they were afraid of being bullied or being hurt in some way.

As well as jolting my mind back to my own experiences of being bullied, the article prompted me to talk again with my own children about the issue.
So with a mother’s concern and common sense backed up by experts’ advice I’d told them about my own experiences and made them promise to not feel ashamed to tell me if they were ever bullied.

What is – and isn’t bullying?

One of Australia's leading parenting educators Michael Grose said that amid all the discussion about bullying it was important to distinguish what it is – and is not, particularly with boys.

“With boys especially there is a difference between bullying and teasing, and it’s important to discuss what bullying isn’t. Boys do banter – or teasing – about each others’ sports teams for example,” Mr Grose told me.

He said bullying occurred when the teasing didn’t stop.

“Also, rejection is not bullying. Rejection happens a lot with boys but this is not bullying either. Boys must remember that not everyone is going to like you. Sometimes kids can be thoughtless, but this doesn’t mean their actions are bullying,” Mr Grose said.

“Sensitive boys can take everything personally. These are the boys who tend to be creative and empathetic, and these boys need guidance through teasing, rejection and of course bullying if it occurs.”

Grose cited Challenging Parenting Behaviour, an international study conducted by researchers from Macquarie University’s Centre for Emotional Health, along with partners from the University of Amsterdam and the University of Reading.

Among its conclusions are that people who have been exposed to teasing when young are more resilient.

But where exactly does “normal schoolyard” teasing stop and bullying begin?

An excellent resource for parents concerned about this question is a page on the Friendly Schools website: I Think My Child Is Being Bullied.
It outlines a range of issues including how to respond if you think your child is being bullied and how to help make your child more assertive.

The lead researcher for the program is Donna Cross, a Professor with the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences at the University of Western Australia and the Telethon Kids Institute.

Professor Cross’s areas of research expertise include child and adolescent mental health; bullying and cyberbullying prevention; health promotion and school-based interventions.

“In terms of bullying among boys, it's important to keep in mind that adolescent boys tend to be less likely than girls to report bullying victimisation to their parents or other adults.” - Donna Cross

“Encouraging regular and open communication - about all aspects of life - is really important. Doing activities together that the young person enjoys may also help to promote closeness and trust.”

Education consultant and workshop presenter on boys’ education Greg Mitchell said good observation as well as communication practices were crucial if parents had any concerns.

He said this involved “ostentatious” or active listening on a regular basis without any further victim-shaming, such as: “Why didn’t you tell us!”

“Bullied kids need to know that they are not alone and that there are others looking out for them,” he said.

Signs of bullying

Open and sympathetic discussions are essential when the following things are noticeable in a child:

  • A sudden unwillingness to participate in some activities.
  • A sudden lack of enthusiasm.
  • An avoidance of certain places and times.
  • Frequent complaints of stomach ache or headache or illness that gets your child out of a certain activity. 
  • Low motivation and drop in performance.
  • Struggles with self-management skills.
  • Difficulty following limits and expectations.
  • Insensitivity to the needs of peers and family members.
  • A low perceived self-worth. 
  • An increase in bossiness and wanting to be in control.
  • The using of inappropriate language.
  • A wilful disregarding authority.

Mitchell advised parents who find out a child is being bullied to “make haste slowly”. “There is more than a little chance that the bully is a victim, too,” he said. “And revenge does not teach kids resilience.”

He recommended parents first discuss the issue with a teacher or the school administration.

“Every school in Australia is required by law to have a Bullying Plan in place. if you are unhappy with the school’s response, ask to see its plan and help the school help your child,” he said.

How to encourage your children to help stop bullying

Mr Mitchell urged parents to encourage their children to step up to do the following to help make their relationships safe:

  • Distracting: Leading the person who is bullying away from the person who was bullied, offering play a game or to show what’s new in the library…
  • Balancing: Giving mean statements balance so that “I hate kids on the cricket team” gets balance by “Hey I have whole bunch of friends on the cricket team, don’t put them down.”
  • Supporting: By noticing kids who were bullied, talking to them and saying “Hey what he did to you was wrong, don’t take it personally, we still like you.”
  • Reasoning: By pointing out to the person bullying what the downstream results of their actions will be, “Hey if you hit him, everyone here will know, you are going to end up in big trouble. So don’t do it it’s not worth it.”
  • Getting Help: DOB this stands for “Don’t Overlook Bullshit”! Anything involving, sex, drugs, violence, weapons and serious threat needs to be told directly to an adult.

In conclusion

As parents, there is only so much we can do to protect our children from being bullied, however we hope this article has provided some insights, tips and advice for you and your sons.