The silent epidemic of bullying and how it can affect your children

A Generic Photo of a sad boy at school. See PA Feature FAMILY Bullying. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FAMILY Bullying.
A Generic Photo of a sad boy at school. See PA Feature FAMILY Bullying. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FAMILY Bullying.
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How can you tell if your child is being bullied? And what should you do about it? Anti-Bullying Week aims to provide some answers. Grant Woodward reports.

ONE in three children revealed that they had been bullied in the last 12 months, and half of them didn’t tell anyone about it. Given that it’s an experience that can trigger anxiety and have a long-term impact on mental health, such statistics offer genuine cause for concern.

Lauren Seager-Smith certainly thinks so. As national coordinator of the Anti-Bullying Alliance she wants to empower children to report bullying whenever and wherever it occurs, as well as give parents the tools they need to deal with it.

“Children are often quite worried about telling their parents, because of how they’re going to respond,” she says.

“If we don’t support children to speak out, schools aren’t responding appropriately, and parents aren’t supported, then children don’t tell anyone about bullying and there can be a really serious impact.”

While more than 16,000 children are absent from school at any one time because of bullying, over half of six to 15-year-olds don’t know how to get help if they’re being bullied.

This is compounded by the fact that a survey conducted by the Anti-Bullying Alliance found that teachers and GPs feel ill-equipped to support children with mental health issues related to bullying.

Bullying is strongly linked to eating disorders, self-harm and suicide, and being a bullying victim increases the risk of being depressed later in life by more than half.

And it’s not just the victims who feel the weight of bullying, as the bullies themselves are 30 per cent more likely to become depressed as adults.

Seager-Smith says that, in the past, there has been a tendency to provide more services for victims of bullying than interventions with children who bully. But now restorative approaches, where bullies meet their victims in a controlled environment and see the devastating impact of their actions, are proving very effective.

“Restorative approaches work,” she says. “If a child bullies at school and is then excluded, they’re being punished but not learning about the impact of their behaviour, what needs to change and why.

“The benefit of a restorative approach is that the child understands the damage that’s been caused and what needs to change.”

If your child is being bullied, the advice is not to panic. Explain that the bullying isn’t their fault and together you’ll sort it out. Try and establish the facts. It can be helpful to keep a diary of events, and if the bullying is online, save or copy images and text.

Find out what your child wants to happen. Help to identify steps you can take and keep them informed about any actions you decide to take.

Although it’s tempting to tell your child to retaliate this can have unpredictable results. Your child might get into trouble or get even more hurt.

Instead, the advice is to role play non-violent ways they can respond to the bullies. Show them how to block or unfriend people if the bullying is online and help them identify other friends or adults that can support them.

Encouraging your child to get involved in activities that build their confidence and esteem, and help them to form friendships outside school, or wherever the bullying is taking place, can also help.

However, the biggest challenge is making children understand the need to speak out about bullying, whether it’s happening to them or to someone else.

“It’s about breaking the taboo about bullying – there’s still a sense that if you tell, you’re a grass.

“Bullying is so serious that you could be saving someone’s life. You shouldn’t stay quiet about it, but breaking the culture of not telling is a challenge.”

For more information about Anti-Bullying Week visit www.anti-bullyingalliance.org.uk.