Bullying: 'We must listen to those who are bullied'

Anti-Bullying Week 2019: Many young people say that adults' advice on bullying falls short, says Katie Ferguson

Anti-Bullying Week 2019: 'We must listen to those who are bullied,' says Katie Ferguson

Up to 30 per cent of young people claim to have experienced bullying, and now is the time to listen to them. They see and experience bullying behaviour, they understand it and its impact, and, therefore, they should be the people we listen to when developing new strategies to address it.

Their voices can make policy-making and practice stronger, more appropriate and, ultimately, better able to meet young people’s needs. As Anti-Bullying Week 2019 begins, now is the time to listen to the young people of Scotland as we embark on a new approach nationally that encourages youth-led initiatives to address bullying

There are few who would argue with the power of youth-led approaches. However, in reality, the time and skills required to roll out quality youth participation continue to be an obstacle.  That’s why we are making this a priority for our service in the year ahead and must create a platform to encourage and support all those working on the ground to nurture this.


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Where could we, as adults, have done better? The issue of online bullying continues to dominate discussion around bullying. However, much of the advice and guidance provided on this topic hasn’t come from discussions and consultations with the young people it’s affecting.

Anti-Bullying Week 2019

If it had, we would be more aware that there are important nuances in how young people and adults regard online bullying.  Unlike most adults, young people say they don’t distinguish between their online and offline lives and relationships.

Many young people say that they struggle with advice from adults on online bullying, which typically focuses on blocking people or leaving online chat groups as the best courses of action. They say that sometimes this advice doesn’t take into account the potential backlash of doing this, social etiquette and the complexities of navigating relationships with people you see both online and face to face. A more supportive and helpful approach might be to explore options with young people, helping them to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each.

As educators, youth leaders and decision-makers, we must remember that under Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have a right to be listened to and to be taken seriously. Additionally, the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 made clear that young people should be consulted about decisions that affect them. 

Many organisations in Scotland are already putting these principles and rights into practice. At a recent respectme anti-bullying event, a number of schools and youth organisations showcased the success they have achieved by taking youth-led approaches to their anti-bullying work, which positively contributed to a culture of respect and kindness from the student body upwards.

Our 2019-20 anti-bullying campaign, Change Starts With Us, is about building on this success and galvanising young people across Scotland to take charge, shape policy and help to create a culture of accountability and change.

Their genuine involvement and leadership can be the key to bringing about real and lasting culture change – not only in policy-making but by having a real impact on young peoples’ everyday lives.

Katie Ferguson is service director of respectme, Scotland’s anti-bullying service

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