I’ve been observing the media attention on the bullied boy who had enough, and stood up to an attacker. He’s become a bit of a hero, and I can see why. Many of us have been n situations when niggling between people crosses the fuzzy line and becomes abuse, and many of us would love to stand up to our ‘attackers’, but have felt unable due to personal, professional, social and other reasons.
However, are we really teaching ‘stand up or put up’ through our schools. The response of the boy being bullied is in direct conflict with my understanding policy and guidelines within the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) in Victoria and perhaps, elsewhere. For example, it is stated on the DEECD website “Give sensible advice – don’t encourage your child to fight back, this will most likely increase the bullying”.
I don’t like this whole webpage, the advice provided, and its underlying assumptions. Here are some of my reasons why:
Bullying is defined as: “”Bullying is when someone, or a group of people, who have more power at the time, deliberately upset or hurt another person on more than one occasion. Bullying includes physical bullying such as hitting; verbal bullying such as name calling;and indirect bullying such as spreading rumours”.
This definition doesn’t include notions of systematic and ongoing abuse. This means it is possible for children to use the system to engage in their own bullying if something happens more than once. Where is the space between kids learning socially how to negotiate difference and kids engaging in bullying behaviour?
Different personalities, experiences, and reactions are not considered. If great books like Andrew Fuller’s Tricky People: How To Deal With Horrible Types Before They Ruin Your Life exist to help us deal with different personality traits, surely we should accept diversity within children’s social interactions. Some bullies may stop if confronted, some will enlist others or increase their torment. Others will view silence, walking away etc. as forms of weakness, and may try harder to provoke a reaction.
There is no information about what children should do if they are being physically cornered, poking/prodding/punching or other physical contact is continuous or unceasing, chased or is in genuine fear of physical harm. Children should be able to physically defend themselves if required and not be penalised for doing so. Genuine self-defense is recognised by law, but not in schools e.g. the boy defending himself was also suspeded.
There is no discussion about the potential consequences if a child does not report being bullied, or if the matter isn’t addressed properly by the school. This could provide the space and confidence for the bully to continue, target other people, increase their activities, or become more stealthy in their activities.
There is also encouragement to avoid places where bullying may occur. While it is wise for children to be aware of their surroundings and the social interactions that should/can occur, this advice does not provide guidance in relation to other situations. If bullying occurs on a sports team, in the playground, in a science area, etc… the child may be turning away from activities and places they really enjoy. Rather than learn that they have a right to their interests and the spaces where these interests occur, children may learn it is more important to put their interests aside in order to avoid conflict. Sometimes strength comes from claiming rights to interests, places and spaces.
I am really left wondering why should children not stand up for themselves? Why does there always have to be adult mediation? What are the consequences for future social relations?
Walking away, being mature, being ‘nice’ and all of that, has it’s place, but issues of dignity, strength, and self-efficacy also need to be appropriately considered.