Fight against bullying has not yet been won

23rd November 2012 at 00:00
Respectme points to progress, but wrong action is sometimes taken

Schools have made progress in tackling bullying - but staff at phone helplines still encounter unenlightened attitudes among teachers.

That message emerged from the annual conference of Scotland's anti-bullying service, respectme, where speakers were keen to dismiss any suggestion that Scotland had beaten its bullying problem.

Some schools kept bullied children in at breaktime or let them leave 10 minutes early to avoid their tormentors, said Jill Cook, helpline manager at Parent Line Scotland, who spoke about issues parents raised.

This was not resolving problems but merely making bullied children feel even more isolated, she said.

She stressed, too, that sometimes parents' attitudes did not help: they were often determined to see perpetrators punished, whereas their children simply wanted the bullying to stop.

"We encourage the parents to give the school time," she said, adding that close collaboration between the school and parents was crucial in dealing effectively with bullying.

ChildLine area manager Elaine Chalmers said her charity's work took place in a very different setting now from when it was founded in 1986 by Esther Rantzen.

Some children "don't feel the (ChildLine) website or phoneline is for them". The charity hopes to exploit the "extraordinary reach" of Facebook by teaming up with the social-networking website on a campaign called Step Up: Stop Bullying.

"On Facebook we hope we will be able to educate young people in an engaging way," she said, explaining that a Facebook anti-bullying campaign in the US last year had had "great success".

There were still people who insisted that "bullying never did me any harm", or that it "builds character", said respectme director Brian Donnelly. In fact, "trust, love, good relationships and good role modelling" built character.

Another mistake was to see anti-bullying work as a "forensic journey", an attempt to establish exactly what happened in cases of bullying and how frequently they occurred.

The big idea Mr Donnelly wanted delegates to take away was that children did not all have to like each other. That message should "underpin everything that you do", he said.

A significant difference could be made to bullying in schools by simply telling young people that if they did not like a person they should leave him or her alone - and that there was no need to be friends.

"Don't tell children that they have to be friends - tell them they have to be nice and respect each other," he said. "Where else in life are you told you have to be friends with everybody?"

Mr Donnelly added that there was increasing international interest in Scotland's anti-bullying work, and that he had been told there was nothing else like it in Europe.

A new respectme campaign has been launched on YouTube: bit.lyQp6bfH.

henry.hepburn@tess.co.uk.

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