More must be done to tackle bullying in primary schools

19th August 2011 at 01:00
Teaching children empathy early on will help them see the hurt that victims suffer

Nine-year-old George is not looking forward to the start of the new school year. It is not the return to lessons which concerns him. No, for George the start of a new school year is the beginning of the bullying season and, in his class at least, George is the number one target.

The prospect of returning to school appals George to the extent that he can't sleep properly. At the end of the last school session, the bullying went beyond name-calling to include threats and pushing. The lowest point for George was when three boys in his class called him names and pushed him over in front of Amy, his six-year-old sister.

The bullying has also expanded from the playground to cyberspace. One of the girls in George's class, an intelligent and outwardly-pleasant girl, posted hurtful comments about George on the internet. She viewed it as a bit of fun. For George, it meant additional upset and sleepless nights.

George is unable to deal with the hurtful words and taunts. Yes, he is a bit socially inept and yes, he should assert himself a bit more. But he doesn't and can't.

The bullies themselves, many observers would say, include well-adjusted kids who orchestrate the bullying without fully appreciating the hurt they are inflicting.

A recent survey indicated that one-third of nine to 13-year-olds had participated in bullying at some time during the past two years. Some schools don't do enough to counter the bullying problem. Secondaries, in particular, don't have enough people supervising corridors and playgrounds.

Anti-bullying lessons aren't always effective. There is a wide range of resources for schools to use but the quality of the learning materials, and their delivery, varies greatly. Cyberbullying is developing quickly and many teachers have yet to catch up with the nature of the problem, let alone ways of dealing with it.

Bullying, according to statistics, peaks in the upper primary and lower secondary years. More action needs to be taken during the early years of primary school.

One of the most effective anti-bullying strategies includes a storybook approach in which pupils are able to identify with the characters and the hurtful things which may be going on. Role-plays in which pupils are encouraged to view events from other people's perspectives also help to discourage bullying.

In the meantime, George anxiously counts the days until the new term starts. Andrea, George's mother, is afraid her son will harm himself. George has already talked about wishing he was dead and Andrea's life is blighted by her concerns for George's happiness and well-being.

Names have been changed.

John Greenlees teaches modern studies.

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