‘Before you give advice about bullying, get some’, was the title of last November’s Anti-Bullying Week campaign. I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on the success of the campaign and re-visit the key messages that underpin it.
For us, this was one of our more controversial messages – the scenario we chose was deliberately challenging. A father telling his son the only way to deal with bullying was to hit the person doing it, hit them hard enough that they cannot hit back. Here it is - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hE6Cn8yqxI
We were not trying to make the Dad the villain of the piece. Hearing that your child is being bullied brings out an understandably emotional response. It’s difficult for parents and carers to hear. It’s difficult to hear and you therefore not always at your best when you respond.
Sometimes the advice we give children and young people at this time isn’t necessarily the best advice. Being told to hit someone back if you are being bullied is actually a common response; children and young people have told us this is something they do hear. They have also told us it is one of the least helpful things that they are told to do.
We know it exists as an option to use but we know, by and large, it’s not necessarily the best or safest option to take. It doesn’t take into account people that can’t or won’t hit back; people who do not have the capacity to hit, people who are, say, in a wheelchair or who are too scared, or people who don’t like the thought of violence. So there always has to be an alternative.
Most people don’t go through life answering challenges and relationship difficulties by resorting to violence, yet we tend to tell children if they are being bullied they can resolve this by using violence - whether they are being physically bullied or bullied online. We would not necessarily give this advice to a friend who felt they were being bullied at work.
I believe this is something of an adult fantasy - that our child will be able to assert themselves and no-one will bother them as a result. We do as a collective like the idea of retribution; we love films and books about it. It may appear like natural justice that someone who is bullying another gets their comeuppance, but the reality is that a violent response usually leads to more violence - children and young people do not always share this wish, they want bullying to stop with the minimum of fuss.
When I get asked, and I do get asked, if I think boxing or martial arts will help someone’s child (usually a boy) if they are being bullied I always ask the same question, ‘what are you hoping this does for your child?’ If it is to build their confidence, meet other people, stay active and enjoy a sport and they want to do it – then fine, who could object to that? If however it is so that they feel their child is capable of ‘sorting out’ anyone who tries to mess with them, then I suggest they reconsider their reasons. Not every child who is being bullied wants to learn Karate to feel safer – most of us go through life without needing this.
We discussed with people before making this video the notion of showing the ’right way’ and the ‘wrong way’. The thing is there is never one, single, answer when it comes to bullying, it’s about knowing how to think about it and how to approach it.
‘So what should I do?’ was the question we were asked. Sometimes you have to ask your child, ‘what do you want to happen?’ ‘Tell me what you have done so far?’ ‘What would you like me to do?’ ‘What do you think would happen if, say, I was to go up to the school and talk to them about it?’.
If they are worried that you would make it worse, you might have to try something else because most children want bullying to stop with the minimum of fuss. ‘What do you think would happen if I spoke to someone’s mum?’ or ‘Is there someone else you can talk to?’
It’s about exploring options; thinking about what you can do and sometimes having to say, as a parent, ‘look if I’m worried and I don’t think you’re safe, I’m going to step in’, and explain why you are doing it.
The temptation to run off and solve it is an understandable one, but we should always take a moment, pause and think, ‘how do I give my child back a sense of being in control?’, because it’s that sense of being in control that has been taken from them, and that has to focus your response.
We know that bullying takes something away from people; that is one of the things that makes it different from other behaviours. It takes away people’s ability to feel in control of themselves and to take effective action. We call this our agency.
It’s important to remember this when we respond to bullying behaviour. If we can accept that it takes something away from someone, our focus has to be on helping them to get it back; helping them get back that feeling of being in control and being themselves again. That’s why we have to involve young people in what they want to happen, what they would like to happen, and what they are worried about happening. And sometimes we need to take a lead from them as to what pace we go at. If we can do that, we can help restore that feeling of being in control.
One of the most common responses we have had to the video is that ‘It really makes you think’ - some colleagues told me that they went home and had a very difficult conversation with their partner about what advice they would give their son or daughter and would it be any different.
We were lucky enough to work with great partners and great actors to make this video and to get it on the television 6 times over the week – as a result we now know the advert was seen by just over 1.4 million people during anti-bullying week – it was viewed in full on You Tube, over 35,000 times in one week and that around 70% of the people who viewed it were male.
Our website activity increased by around 70% during anti-bullying week so we can reflect on a very positive campaign and along with our national conference attracting over 230 people and our first ever national awards, we have raised the bar somewhat for 2014’s anti-bullying week – which for those who like to plan in advance is November 17 – 21 2014.