Casey won the day, but kids are natural bullies

15th April 2011 at 01:00

The first part of the video has happened in every school playground: an overweight kid being picked on by a bully. The second part only happens in the victim's dreams: the burly child, having soaked up punishment upends his tormentor and bounces him, head first, like a basketball.

The sequence, captured on the phone of some bratty little voyeur, went viral, making an online superstar of 16-year-old Casey Heynes, an awkward, nice enough boy who will saunter through his adolesence with the enviable nickname Casey the Punisher.

We are, of course, supposed to condemn violence, particularly in children. But the global consensus sided pretty much unanimously with Casey. Sympathy for his younger and smaller antagonist, 12-year-old Richard Gale, was scant.

Bullying is the subject of endless government campaigns and charity drives. Yet it remains pernicious and is evolving into a nastier beast with the help of new technologies.

Part of the problem is definition. "Bullying" is used to describe everything from the good-humoured insults kids trade, to systematic campaigns of hatred.

I teach one boy who is fond of scoffing pies, and likes to joke about it. He is as robust as a tank, physically and psychologically. When he rocks up to class late, his mates call out, "He's been eating, Miss" and this cracks him up. It's possible that back at home he's crying himself to sleep over the fat jokes, but it seems unlikely. He recently raised a small fortune for Comic Relief in a pie-eating contest.

Nevertheless, his treatment by students could be described as bullying. So could the treatment of a girl a friend of mine taught, who was the target of such vicious bullying that she decided to make herself disappear. She died weighing just four stone.

Matters become muddied further by a squeamishness in discussing the reasons people become bullies. Working in a school reveals the discomfiting fact that kids get a kick out of bullying. The only thing they don't discriminate about is what they will discriminate against: too fat, too skinny, too gay, too Asian, too white, too pretty, too clever, too virginal, too poor - they all fall under the teenage hammer of judgement.

The reasons are numerous, but boil down to the truth that picking on the perceived weaknesses of others makes some students feel better about themselves.

The best deterrent I have seen was in a school with a strong system of self-governing among the pupils where the older, stronger students looked out for those who were not. It was an honoured institution in the school. The teachers gave the students the positions of responsibility when they earnt it, and the students took that responsibility seriously.

Bullying thrives on fear of others and an audience. If we can help our students to understand and believe that bullies are pathetic cowards, then maybe in time it will be the bully, not the victim who is isolated.

Chloe Combi teaches at a comprehensive in London.

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