Fighting the bullies

29th November 1996 at 00:00
Being a teenager is hard. Victoria Neumark looks at a clutch of new videos that can help teachers to ease the pain.

BULLYING BBC Education Special Pounds 16.95 inc pp. Distributed by HopeLine Videos, PO Box 515 London SW15. 50 minutes. Age range: 11-plus

WEDNESDAY'S CHILD Hull High School, Tranby Croft, Anlaby, North Humberside, HU10 7EH. 12 minutes. Age range: 11-plus

BULLYING: THE CHILDREN SPEAK 33 minutes University of Leeds Media Services, Leeds LS2 9JT. Pounds 30.88 inc VAT and pp. Age range: 9-plus.

The BBC's investigation into a ground-breaking anti-bullying scheme at a school in north London is now available on video.

The 50-minute documentary follows six 14 and 15-year-olds in years 9 and 10 at Acland Burghley school as they train to be anti-bullying counsellors for 12 and 13-year-olds in years 7 and 8. The would-be counsellors are supervised by Maggie Bentley, deputy head in charge of pastoral education, who is particularly proud because they are not the sort of pupils who usually get involved in extra-curricular activities.

The older pupils have varying degrees of success, which are unflinchingly exposed at meetings of the counselling review group. There are strict ground rules, such as confidentiality. Life-threatening information is not subject to confidentiality, but bullying doesn't have to be life-threatening to be life-crippling.

It is this aspect of the routine unpleasantness of bullying which the Acland Burghley counsellors are well placed to understand. One 14-year-old, who herself had a disrupted childhood and has both bullied and been bullied, was startlingly successful in sorting out an 11-year-old bully. Over the course of a few sessions, Chantel reveals that her "bitchiness" is not unconnected with a mother who urges her always to hit first, and a hearing impairment which means she does not always catch what's going on in class. It's a magic unfolding and one which those who are quick to condemn would do well to study.

Wednesday's Child, produced by students, is a polished drama about the misery of a timid teenager, Claire, who tries to be "good" and is accused of being teacher's pet. As she does not fight back, the bullying escalates until she contemplates suicide. But Claire beats the bullying and goes on to become a teacher who confronts bullying in her own class.

One of the sad, confused children whose unadorned testimony features on Bullying: The Children Speak points to an unpalatable and little-mentioned aspect of bullying: namely, that some people are just swine. "I said, 'Why can't you leave me alone and pick on someone your own size?' and they just said, 'No, we like picking on you', and walked away." This is bullying told like it is from the victim's point of view, and therefore pretty bleak.

The well-intentioned booklet which comes with the gut-wrenching video offers tips for teachers (such as involving parents in actions with children, or advising those same parents about the "appropriateness of tit-for-tat"), but in a way there are no "tips". Listening seriously, which most of the teachers and parents cited in Bullying: The Children Speak seem to have failed to do, is the most important form of help for both bully and victim.

Ultimately, bullying is a kind of communication, and one of its most damaging effects is to blank out communication for the victim.

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