Bullying in schools

This is a very old and a painful issue for many people. I was bullied in my primary school and I bet most people reading this have either witnessed or experienced bullying in schools.

The issue of what to do with persistent bullies sounds simple: kick them out! But it’s not as simple as it sounds. We need more places for children with behavioural issues in centres where skilled people can help them and their families without victims of bullying remaining at risk. Something that has improved since my days at school is that we now have peer mediation and anti-bullying awareness programmes, but clearly these programmes are not enough to stop really serious violence in schools.

Is it getting worse? Thirty years ago violence and abuse was normalised as “boys will be boys” and pack fighting and individual torment took place in many schools. It’s hard to assess the impact of adult violence, violence in mass media and increased social inequality on levels of bullying. In the old days we had more fear of teachers and fear of authority and abusive behaviour was covered up in some schools. Now issues get named but naming is not always resolving.

I admire the young people from SAVE (Students against Violence Everywhere) for the great work they are doing. It’s hard to blame schools for not fixing social problems and its wrong to keep exposing victims to perpetrators. In the end we cannot expel young people in trouble from our families or communities even if they are removed from schools. They are mirroring a profound problem they see in their world.

When I visited the schools and alternatives schools carrying out my “What is A Real Education?” project, bullying was a big concern for students. It is time to hold up the mirror to adults and ask “What are we doing to actively reduce the normalising of violent behaviour?”

That’s why I have complained to the Department of Internal Affairs and the Office of Film and Literature Classification about a freely available magazine called Vice which shows young women tied up with ropes looking fragile and vulnerable.

It’s not going to stop violence but, nor is it silent collusion. What else can we do to help young people value non-violence? And where are the help and resources for damaged young people so they cannot damage other children? A letter from the Minister of Education to the Boards of Trustees isn’t enough.

36 thoughts on “Bullying in schools

  1. I agree with “toad” about bullying being a result of some learned behavior and life experiences. Bullies seem to pick on those who are obviously weaker. This behavior may be limited and stopped at younger ages, but as the bully gets older, I don’t think you can really prevent it.

    I also think many school principals are either oblivious to what is going on, or are afraid to confront the bullies head-on.

  2. & I can understand BJ’s position on this – we are in fact a righteously violent culture (ie; they deserved it).

    It is an unworthy notion leftover from the days of pre-civilization.(thousands of years).

    People will fight for their ‘right’ to commit assault – then call it something else – abuse is ingrained in all NZ’s institutions as is lying after the event.

  3. The word ‘Bullying’ is used in place of ‘Assault’, when that assault is sanctioned by our (and I use the word hesitantly) society.

  4. the bullying is a serious problem that has always existed, but each time is increased only in Mexico last year almost thirty young men committed suicide because he could not bear the terrible harassment, and that young offenders no longer seem to have no respect for anyone, but measures taken is something that is outside the scope of the authorities concerned, but then I continued the fight to have no more victims and should support their children to say what happens to them at school, also to commend the young who are striving to be good examples and be different.

  5. I will not get into another S59 argument
    I will not get into another S59 argument
    I will not get into another S59 argument

    …because if the rest of you cannot see how divisive this is, I DO.

  6. By that way of thinking Toad, we should ban everything based on potential.

    Ban alcohol – potential drunk drivers solved
    Ban violent video games – potential murderers solved
    Ban guns – potential gun rampage solved
    Ban fatty foods – potential obesity solved
    Ban porn – potential rapists solved
    Ban money – solve bank robbery

    Before we know it we end up living in a world where everything is banned and or controlled out of fear of a small minority of people abusing it becuase they dont have the mental capacity to know between right and wrong.

    Gaurantee though you do this and you still have rapists, murderers, drunk drivers, and robbers. Banning “things” doesnt solve what essentially is people with brains not wired up right.

  7. Our nation LIKES bullys.

    Thats what all that “strong leader” type crap is about.

    Being a cannabis user I see bullying against myself and others coming from parliament, the courts and the police.

    Hitting/smacking your children to get your own way ( disipline ) is a form of bullying.

    Rugby, racing and beer used to be maintained by the bullying of those who were different.

    Poof bashing was bullying.

    The present attack on solo mothers or those on welfare ( apart from pensioners) is bullying.

    Ann Tolly and the national party are bullys and sychophants at the same time.

    ……….. and people wonder why we have bullying in schools.

    Its everywhere and it gets worse under national as they increase levels of anger in society.

  8. Funny, but it seems to me bullying is much more a bid deal in predominantly white, privileged schools.

    Hence my head in the sand comment – those schools that are likely to have less bullying are those who actually address the problems, and unfortunately, those schools that actually address the problems are probably going to be those who don’t care about reputation.

  9. Why is violence on the rugby field tolerated? Throwing a punch seems to get you red-carded at best. Why don’t the police lay charges?

  10. Funny, but it seems to me bullying is much more a bid deal in predominantly white, privileged schools. I sometimes wonder why bullying gets so much attention as an issue when there are kids who don’t even have enough to eat.

  11. Shunda says “That has certainly been my experience, and without fail, the parents that refuse to smack their kids end up having kids that bully other children.”

    I also know some kids who are pretty out of control, because their parents seldom discipline them.

    However the famous Otago Multi Disciplinary Study showed that of four groups of children
    – those disciplined with a maximum of a smack
    – those with no physical discipline
    – those who were hit, sometimes with objects
    – those who were beaten

    The first group came out best in all areas – criminality, carreer, drug abuse, education, mental health etc.

    The second group who had no physical discipline were very close behind.

    Even the third group performed pretty well later in life, though not as good as the first two on average.

    The last group had a significantly higher level of problems in all areas.

    If think there are some more studies coming out soon that will show children with good self discipline have a significant advantage when it comes to being successful in many aspects of life.

    Makes sense really – if you can study a bit harder, save a bit more, work a bit harder, drink a bit less etc – you’re more likely to succeed than average.

  12. The major problem is that recent accounts of criminal assault of school age teens have resulted in warnings or suspensions from school. The evidence we have seen is sufficient for conviction for assault (at a minimum). If these acts of violence do not result in criminal charges then society is tolerating this behaviour.

    I cannot imagine an adult who engaged in a sustained beating of another adult (with the evidence on video) would escape a criminal charge. Nor would an adult who raped another adult, or an adult who raped a teen – do we tolerate beatings of teens by other teens, what next we tolerate rape of teens by other teens? This is madness and why have police shown tolerance for criminal activity by teens against other teens by not laying charges?

    Do they think such violent beatings are simply a matter of bullying to be dealt with by schools? What if an adult said, no worries we’re work colleagues let the boss handle our problem and leave us alone to sort it out.

  13. That has certainly been my experience, and without fail, the parents that refuse to smack their kids end up having kids that bully other children.

    Should parents use implements, like Larry Baldock promotes?

  14. Shunda have any empirical evidence that those children who bully other children are the ones not smacked by their parents? Or is that what you want to believe and present as fact?

  15. I will pick up on Jon-ston’s point and ask what the schools are going to do about it!

    I went to school in Queensland in the sixties, and being a ‘pommey bastard’ I was used as a punching bag!!!

    Some of the bullies I think were from the outback, their fathers faught in WWII (probably in New Guinea)and were hard men who would like to have a few at the end of the day and they wouldn’t want their sons growing up as ["poofs"].

    I believe that violence is taught from generation to generation in much the same way as racism and sexism, hence the son is the victim of the father and so the son bullies another victim who in turn, turns their anger to others, and on and on.

    Schools need to get on top of this right from an early age and tell children that if they are picked on or bullied to tell the teacher.

    Bullying can only survive in a culture where it is the accepted norm that: “You don’t ever tell tales, you have got to tough it out” that kind of culture needs to be firmly squashed.

    Children need to inform the teacher, then it is the job of that professional to decide what is petty or what is serious.

  16. So bullying hits the news again and people wonder why kids do this, where is the role model?
    Have you looked in the rear mirror of your car?

  17. I would disagree, Shunda, If as a child you are taught by your parents through corporal punishment that hitting people is how you get your own way. that mindset is likely to transcend into teenage years and adulthood.

    Hitting people to get your own way is quite a different concept to disciplining your children Toad. Children are actually people, they have a fully functioning intellect and are completely capable in determining the context of actions taken towards them. Those actions are only harmful if there is an intent to harm.
    Bullies intend to harm, most parents do not, most people can tell the difference (hand wringers aside).
    The studies clearly show that there is no harm done to children that are lightly smacked, and there is evidence to show it is actually beneficial.
    That has certainly been my experience, and without fail, the parents that refuse to smack their kids end up having kids that bully other children.

  18. The question has to be – what are schools doing about bullying? You had that kid in Australia who was bullied for several years and had to take it upon himself to deal with the problem – unfortunately, I suspect that many principals have their heads in the sand because they are afraid of ruining the reputation of the school by admitting that there might be a bullying problem.

  19. @Shunda barunda 8:00 PM

    Well the Greens did their bit to contribute to this problem by eroding parental authority with the section 59 nonsense, unruly kids? oh really!!.

    I would disagree, Shunda, If as a child you are taught by your parents through corporal punishment that hitting people is how you get your own way. that mindset is likely to transcend into teenage years and adulthood.

  20. What a disgusting comment, Shunda. Authority has nothing to do with the threat or use of physical force. It has to do with respect.

  21. Well the Greens did their bit to contribute to this problem by eroding parental authority with the section 59 nonsense, unruly kids? oh really!!.

    Most bullying is not physical, get that out of your heads right now.

    The most severe bullying in NZ also appears to be between young females, I have been a recent witness to this, nasty, nasty stuff.

  22. Thanks, ASA. The other frustration is the lack of recognition that when money is spent on dealing with underlying issues there is a saving elsewhere. If Bullying children and their parents get the right support you are stopping a chain of potential events that could destroy the bully’s chance to function successfully in society and cause damage to others who would have been able to. Addressing our pervasive bullying culture would actually have a positive effect on our economy and I guess that this argument is the only one that could gain traction for the NACT government.

  23. Sprout, I’ve read your blog posting and I must say you’ve hit the nail on the head. A ‘bullying’ child is a sign that something is seriously amiss in his/her life. Quote marks used because ‘bully’ is an emotive label for an obviously dysfunctional person whose shows serious behaviour issues. Asking BOTs to make/implement policies to curb bullying is a joke. How about looking at the societal issues that create bullies in the first place, and then resourcing the education system and social services so that comprehensive support can be provided, both to the bully, their families, and to the schools who do their best to keep all children involved in education. Oh, I forgot, Bill English says we can’t afford the ‘nice to have things’ which I expect includes investment in human capital and well being. So much for the concept of ‘public good.”

  24. toad says “The irony is that Tolley has spent her tenure as Minister so far bullying teachers, principals, and Boards of Trustees over National Standards, under threat of drastic action like replacing BoTs with Ministerial appointed Commissioners, rather than negotiating a way through the issue.”

    And in any other industry if you refused point blank to carry our the work you boss required, you’d be sacked immediately.

    It’s a shame the education sector has a disconnect to the real world.

    Good on Catherine for taking a stand with vice magazine. If it was an adult magazine, then that’s another issue.

    But if it’s available to anyone including children, then there needs to be standards.

    The media is doing everything it can to normallise sex and violence to young children.

    They’ve done it in Italy to the point where exploitation is so normalised, that the majority of the population see nothing wrong with their geriatric leader having sex with underage teenage girls.

  25. @nzmr2guy 5:22 PM

    Some men pay good money to be tied up and beaten by women. Also is it sexually exploiting if they (the women in the magazine) are willing parcipants and getting paid good money ?.

    It is not sexually exploiting for the women who are paid to pose for mags like this. And there is nothing wrong with bondage between consenting adults (personally, as far as “kinky stuff” goes, I prefer water sports).

    But there is a difference between what consenting adults agree between themselves to do, and the portrayal through magazines of sexual activities that are prima facie from their depiction violent and non-consenting as being “normal”.

    The latter encourages potential rapists to believe non-consensual sexual activities are okay too: ["I'm sure she will eventually enjoy it if I persist against her protests."]

  26. I just checking out that ‘SAVE’ website – which sounds like a fantastic initiative, but as far as I can tell their have been no updates anywhere on their site since OCTOBER 2010 – for our techno-savey youth I think a site has to be current to be seen to be accessible.

    Leaves me wondering why their website is so un-current? Because they are no longer active, just haven’t remembered, or don’t have the resources (MONEY) to do so.
    Not putting forward any criticism, I too experienced bullying and am not sure what the answer is, but I know with other ‘problems’ I’ve encountered in life that don’t have easy answers that openess, awareness, and education have at least help people affected – and maybe will filter through to offender’s realising that It’s Not Ok To Bully Someone.

  27. Well said, Catherine. Bullying is a complex issue, and Anne Tolley seems to think, in her typical authoritarian and ignorant way, that a dictate to Boards of Trustees is somehow going to solve the problem.

    The irony is that Tolley has spent her tenure as Minister so far bullying teachers, principals, and Boards of Trustees over National Standards, under threat of drastic action like replacing BoTs with Ministerial appointed Commissioners, rather than negotiating a way through the issue.

    I was bullied myself, as a “clever” student by a couple of much larger boys at the age of 11 or 12. Much to my shame now, my reaction was that a couple of years later I bullied the only gay guy (or the only one I knew was gay) in my class.

    In retrospect, I think that was just learned behaviour from my own experience – pick on someone you perceive to be in a weaker position than yourself, rather than support them to overcome the things that suppress them as individuals and oppress those like them collectively. It was likely also about my own insecurity re sexuality at the time.

    That is what we have to get past. And it requires resources to counsel, support, and mentor students, not Ministerial bullying of Boards of Trustees, to achieve it.

  28. Some men pay good money to be tied up and beaten by women. Also is it sexually exploiting if they (the women in the magazine) are willing parcipants and getting paid good money ?.

    Personally im not into anything like bondage, but I highly doubt the readers of all these magazines are rapists and wife beaters, and can we say for certain the magazine is the catalyst for this violence ?

    In regards to school bullying (unrealted to your magazine) perhaps some kids brains are just not wired to show empathy its no ones fault they are just violent little shits possibly with drop kick parents.

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