Children and young people have a right to be safe and to grow up without the fear of being bullied and have a right to participate and influence decisions that shape their lives. (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child)
What is bullying?
According to the Anti Bullying Alliance (ABA) bullying is a subjective experience that can take many forms. Bullying can be defined as any behaviour that is:
- harmful, carried out by an individual or a group
- repetitive, wilful or persistent
- an imbalance of power, leaving the person being bullied feeling defenceless.
Bullying generally fits into one of two categories: emotionally or physically harmful behaviour. It can include any of the following: name calling, taunting, threats, mocking, making offensive comments, kicking, hitting, pushing, taking and damaging belongings, gossiping, excluding people from groups, and spreading hurtful and untruthful rumours. These actions can take place face-to-face, via third parties, or via other means such as text messages and emails. Bullying can take place anywhere, in school, in the community and in the home. Children who are badly bullied in school are more likely than others to be bullied outside of it too.
How big an issue?
In 2003 over 20,000 children and young people called ChildLine about bullying, making it the most common complaint. In 2004 this number had risen to 31,000. In one study of over 7,000 young people, more than half said that they had been bullied, with a quarter saying that bullying was the main cause of stress in their lives (Bullying in Britain, Katz and others 2001). An NSPCC study found that school bullying is one of the most common forms of harmful aggression experienced by children and young people in the UK (Cawson and others 2003).
The impact of bullying can be huge. It has a destructive and harmful effect on children and young people's lives, not only in relation to the person who is being bullied, but also to those who bully and those who stand by. It can lead to self-doubt, lack of confidence, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, self-harm and sometimes even suicide.
According to the ABA there are two components to effective anti-bullying practice:
1. prevention through creating safe environments and
2. dealing with incidents of bullying.
It is likely that effective interventions will include elements of peer support, staff training, dedicated time to confront bullying related issues, conflict resolution, regular monitoring and evaluation and advice and support for young people who bully as well as those who are bullied. The ABA importantly emphasises the role that everyone plays in combating bullying; children and young people, staff in schools and other organisations working with young people, parents and carers, Local Authorities and Children Trusts, the wider community and central government.