Mates don’t bully mates. Or do they?
A staggering one in five (19%) children surveyed by the Anti-Bullying Alliance ahead of Anti-Bullying Week said they have steered clear of spending time with friends to avoid being bullied, suggesting that friends are more often than not the perpetrators. Sad isn’t it?
Add to that, nearly a quarter of children surveyed said they are bullied once a week or more, with one in ten (11%) admitting to missing school because of bullying and even greater numbers have changed their route to school (14%) in a desperate bid to escape their bullies.
These are shocking statistics, but they demonstrate that bullying is as rife in the playground now as it ever was and whether our own tweens and teens have been affected or we know those of friends who have, the majority of us have a story to tell. Here’s just one
A Story of Bullying
Picture the scene. It’s your birthday. You are 16. A young woman celebrating a milestone moment. It’s a day to be treasured and one you have really been looking forward to. The one you are hoping will be another stepping stone or even the turning point, on the way to a happier you.
The reality is, it’s just a date like any other. It won’t really change anything. Whatever your age you are still you underneath it all, a bit reserved maybe, slightly unsure of yourself and still navigating your path.
You are a twin. Not of the identical kind. Your sister and you are close, you look out for each other, you share everything. You are different though and not just in looks, she is more confident, more gregarious and outgoing. She doesn’t seek other’s approval. They seek hers. She is sure of herself and knows her way forward.
The morning of your birthday, you go to school. On the bus your twin gets lots of shout outs of the social media kind, the ones that every teenager looks forward to on their birthday. You wait hopefully for yours. There are ones from your cousins, your primary school mates but it’s your new secondary school friends you want to hear from. Surely your mates won’t let you down today of all days?
They do. No-one says “Happy Birthday” and the bestie you felt you could rely on, acts like it’s just any other Wednesday. There’s no Happy Birthday, no card, no present.
None of the material stuff really matters of course. All you want is to feel special and loved for just one day, surely that’s not too much to ask and that’s what friends do right? Real friends want what’s best for you, they want to see you happy and make you feel good about yourself. Why is she behaving like this?
She can’t have forgotten, after all your sister is getting loads of birthday attention and everyone knows you are twins, so it’s impossible to forget.
You made your bestie’s birthday special. Surely she will reciprocate. Your mind starts trying to excuse her behaviour. Maybe she has a surprise planned and it’s all an act. It’s all just too weird. You feel sick. You can’t concentrate in lessons thinking about it.
Unhappiness is a lonely place. You want the day to end. To get on the bus and listen to your music, to get home to your mum with her celebratory cake and glass of Prosecco, because it’s a special occasion after all.
It’s worse when you get home though, not better. Your sister is revelling in her day, sharing her stories. She doesn’t mean to be insensitive, after all it is her birthday too and she has every right to be excited. She doesn’t know you spent your day feeling abandoned and ignored.
You know she cares and wants you to be happy like her. On the outside you nod, smile and laugh. Inside you feel sick. Your guts are in turmoil. You don’t want for much. You don’t need lots of friends just good ones. What are you doing so wrong? What can you do differently?
Your mental turmoil as you go to sleep is “Why didn’t she say “Happy Birthday” Is she really your friend? That takes effort to think let alone say out loud. Your sister says she is not. You are so sad. Real mates don’t bully mates. But the reality is yours is. That needs to change. How can you make it change? Do you stand up to her and tell her how you feel? She needs to know. It’s time to make yourself heard. What have you got to lose? After all Mates don’t bully Mates.
Change Starts With Us
As parents sometimes we can feel helpless when it comes to confronting any incidents of bullying. I know personally that so often our tweens and teens don’t want us to step in but would rather deal with it themselves. This I can understand, as so often it is all about saving face, particularly in the secondary years, but it is important, however, that as parents we don’t step too far back. We need to be involved always, supporting, guiding, monitoring and when necessary feeding back, particularly at school.
Responsibility is a key focus of this year’s Anti-Bullying Week campaign supported by O2, urging everyone to remember that ‘Change Starts with Us’. The goal is to share the message that it takes a collective effort to stop bullying and parents are not exempt from that. We are more often than not the first port of call as the guardians of our young people. It is our job to notice behavioural changes and to take action. Outside of that inner circle is that occupied by the wider community, friends, carers, teachers, the media, influencers – the list is endless. We all have a role to play in thinking about and looking out for our young people. There is always a job to be done.
Working with young people, the Anti-Bullying Alliance and O2 have published a report setting out young people’s recommendations about what we can all do to address bullying. If you do one thing this week – read it and take note.
Do you have a story of childhood bullying to share?
Editor’s Note: A Story of Bullying is based on a true story, shared with me by a dear friend about her daughter.
As parents, we have a role to play, let’s spread the word Mates don’t bully Mates #AntiBullyingWeek #ChangeStartsWithUs