Bullies fuel anxiety over looks

10th January 2003 at 00:00
Fear of being mocked over appearance is affecting work. Jon Slater reports from a British Psychological Society conference.

ONE in three secondary pupils believes their schoolwork has been affected by fears that bullies will mock the way they look, new research has found.

Three-quarters spend a lot of time worrying their appearance will be mocked, with one in five 15-year-olds saying that they skipped school because of their concerns.

While their concerns may seem comical - 13 per cent of boys worry about going bald - they can have a serious effect on education and self-esteem. Almost a third said they had avoided speaking in class because of fear of being mocked.

Dr Emily Lovegrove of the University of the West of England, warned that schools were failing to offer pupils the help they needed to stand up to bullies.

She said adolescents felt they had two options when faced by bullies: ignore the abuse or tell a teacher or other adult. But, said Dr Lovegrove, neither was helpful. Bullies who were ignored would often step up their campaign of victimisation until they achieved the "the desired effect of dominance", while telling a teacher took control from the victim and could enhance the "tough" image of the bully.

Another problem identfied by Dr Lovegrove was the lack of training for teachers. Indeed many complained that they themselves were bullied by other staff or pupils.

She told the annual conference of the British Psychological Society's Division of Education and Child Psychology in Harrogate, that she had not found a single teacher training college that offered a course in dealing with bullying.

Among the 1,000 11-16-year-olds questioned, girls were more likely than boys to offer support to bullied friends. A third of boys rebuffed friends seeking help.

Dr Lovegrove encouraged pupils to develop anti-bullying strategies, then tried out the programme on six classes of year 8 pupils. She found that after one school year of her scheme the number of bullying incidents fell by two-thirds.

KEY STUDIES OF YOUNG MINDS

* troubled boys can flourish in well-run classrooms, suggest Jeremy Swinson and Richard Melling, educational psychologists in Liverpool and Hillingdon. They found 12 boys with emotional and behaviouraldifficulties re-integrated into mainstream school behaved well in well-run classes.

But when others started messing around, so did they. And their behaviour was more likely to deteriorate at the end of the day than classmates'.

* GIRL bullies may bitch rather than beat up victims, but the damage can be longer-lasting. A study of girls' friendships and conflicts found their bullying was more complex, but is becoming more aggressive.

* PREMIERSHIP football clubs should introduce mentoring for teenage players, Dr Ian Cockerill of Birmingham University says. Older professionals could help youngsters avoid disciplinary and financial problems.

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