It's the parents that need a good slap

16th May 2003 at 01:00
THE mother of the 13-year-old bully dismissed concerns regarding her daughter's intimidatory behaviour with a syrupy, almost proud, soundbite:

"She does so like to be the Queen Bee." The six-year-old bully's mother excused his behaviour with: "Yes, he does get so excited when he's playing."

Maybe it's just as well that I don't know what the parents of the 10-year-old bully said when they were told that their daughter had tried to strangle another child - well, both hands round the victim's throat and squeezing tight counts as an attempt to strangle by any definition.

Ah yes, the bully is alive and active in all Scottish schools and, during the past week I have heard about the three frightening stories to which I allude above. What horrifies me is that these three victims are all personally known to me. Is this just a coincidental blip or are bullies statistically rather like rats in that you're never more than six feet from one?

Anecdote number 1. The bullying is mainly taking place outside school territory on the walk to and from school. The malicious whispering campaign alternated by the cold silent treatment. Vicious attempts to disrupt other friendships, to destroy self-esteem. All orchestrated by one obnoxious little madam whose evil antics are condoned by her parents. Queen bee? Queen bitch more like.

The victim is totally distraught. The school is trying hard but there is no respite. The bully has no visible finer feelings, apparently no capacity to empathise. Nothing to appeal to on a human level. The community police officer has offered to have a word but even he concedes that what this particular bully needs is a good kick in the backside. Oh and I must report, tabloid style, that she lives in a leafy suburb of affluent Edinburgh. When did we become this helpless as a society and, disturbingly, this complacent?

Anecdote number 2. A six-year-old boy comes out of school with his face bloody and crushed. A classmate had knocked him to the ground and kicked him in the face. To add to the complications, the mothers of both boys are friends. The young attacker is seen as a thug by all and sundry but his mother crows about his youthful over-exuberance. The other children have stopped inviting him to their birthday parties but the message is still not getting through. Another leafy suburb but this time, Glasgow.

Anecdote number 3. An eight-year-old gasping for breath and choking as her attacker squeezes her throat. This incident happened in a pre-school nursery and was not actually the responsibility of the adjoining school.

However, the victim was traumatised in school and, to her credit, the headteacher sorted it out. The bully was rooted out of class and had the boots shot off her. From all accounts she'll be keeping her hands to herself from now on. Still Glasgow, but not quite so leafy.

What strikes me with this crawling can of worms is how - yet again - parents are failing to take responsibility for their offspring. Children are not taught that hurting others is just plain wrong. I am not talking here about the socially deprived, short attention-spanned, poor specimens of humanity who hit out at others to get revenge for their own pitiful existence. No, in at least two of these cases the culprits come from the materially rich want-for-nothing section of society.

They want for nothing - apart from a moral code, the most precious commodity which draws a line over which children do not cross. Schools can be as innovative as they like with regard to anti-bullying policies. Zero tolerance, no-blame approaches, whatever - ultimately, bullying cannot be wiped out until parents take more responsibility and accept that their innocent little darlings might just be wolves in sheep's clothing.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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