Bullying is a complex issue that without doubt has spanned generations and plagued school playgrounds, organisations and teams all around the world. Bullying can be defined as ‘any intentional and repeated behaviour which causes emotional or social harm to a person who has, or is perceived to have, less power than the person who bullies’ (Australian Education Authorities 2019; Kids Helpline 2019; Australian Human Rights Commission 2012). Bullying can have substantial impact and can certainly cause lasting mental scars for victims. With more and more information available and many well-intentioned schools, teams and organisations adopting a ‘no tolerance’ attitude, you would expect the situation to improve, however the facts and figures are still very alarming. So what does the data say?
Research collated by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found the following:
- 160,000 children aged 12–13 experienced at least 1 bullying-like behaviour within a year
- 60% of children experienced 2 or more bullying behaviours
- Younger students are bullied more than older students
- 1 in 5 children experienced online bullying-like behaviours in the last month
- Children with a disability are bullied more often
- Children from socioeconomically disadvantaged schools were bullied more often
- Many children who bully have also been the victim of bullying themselves
Supporting victims of bullying and providing HELPFUL tools that can be REALISTICALLY used within the playground, classrooms and sporting teams is an issue that we are very passionate about. I emphasise the words helpful and realistic here as we as adults, psychologists, teachers and supporters need to go beyond the advice that so often is regurgitated to the victims of bullying; “tell your teacher” or “just ignore the bully and it will stop”. Whilst this advice no doubt is well-intentioned, young people are certainly fed up with feeling that these are their only two options, something I have had expressed to me many times.
As with any issue, we need to understand the complexity of it, sweating every single detail of what is happening to a young person being bullied so that we can actively put into place a realistic and workable plan. It must be stated that when we are working 1-1 with clients, each plan of action is individualised based on their needs and thus the below list of strategies is a broad overview that will hopefully shed some light on this complex issue and identify workable actions that could be applied to help stop bullying!
· When a young person confides in you about their issues with bullying, listen to them in complete detail. They are the experts of the playground as we like to say, and it is so important to understand who/when/where/how and WHY this particular young person is being bullied. Use active listening and refrain from problem solving in this stage. It is imperative that as much information on what is happening be collected.
· Assist the young person in understanding their bully. This is the first step towards the victim regaining a sense of control of their situation by exploring who their bully is and what type of bullying is happening. Categorise the bullying. Is it physical bullying, mental bullying, social bullying or cyber bullying. Often times it will be a combination of a few types.
How is the bullying taking place. I have developed names for how bullies tend to confront their victims such as:
a. On-sight bullying. This is where the victim is bullied each and every time they run into their bully.
b. Hot bullying: This is where the bully becomes angry or emotional and targets their victim and it can be either a one-off incident or a string of inconsistent incidents.
c. Mean Girls/Boys: This is where teasing can go on for weeks or months, it is very intense at the start, but then fades and stops completely and everyone is friends again, for now….
d. Strategic bullying: This is where a bully has made a very strategic decision to take away supportive people from the victim, so they are made to feel like they have no one on their side.
e.Concrete bullying: This type of bullying is where the victim is targeted on a daily basis. It is often long term and it appears that there is no end in sight.
In my experience in working alongside young people having issues with bullying there are six secrets that I have found can help to beat bullying:
1. Body language. Bullies want a reaction from their victims. Without a reaction, it is not entertaining and it would not make sense for the bully to continue to target the victim. Sometimes these changes in body language can be subtle, sometimes very obvious. Practice positive body language – importantly, you do not need to feel positive to show this in your body.
2. Don’t argue, just agree. Bullies often want to get into an argument and actively seek this out, however it takes two people for an argument to ensue. Regain power by not allowing this to take place. Practice agreeing with what your bully says and keep in mind “you only have to agree with your words, not your heart”.
3. Do not react the way your bully wants you to react. Bullies are trying to get a reaction out of the victim, whether this be emotionally, verbally or body language. By practicing not reacting the way a bully intends, the power balance starts to shift and you can regain a sense of control.
4. Be strategic and assertive (not mean**). Understand and predict what it is your bully is trying to do and bring the behaviour out into the open. This can help to remove the mystery and entertainment out of the bully’s trick (e.g., “I know you are going to say I’m not good at soccer, but I am still going to play”).
5. Be a good person. You don’t beat a bully by getting revenge, you beat a bully by getting it to stop.
6. Keep a diary and talk to your parents, teachers and support network. Bullying can be an incredibly emotional issue for a lot of victims, it can feel isolating and a sense of dread and helplessness often is present. Reach out to your parents, friends, family and support networks. There is help available. Document exactly what is happening to you in great detail so those around you can help you to make it stop.
Below is a list of website and resources for further information and support and please reach out to our team if we can be of any help on this issue.
Dobson, Mark. (2003). Back off bully. Sydney., NSW : Doubleday