It’s Anti-Bullying Week here in the UK. I don’t know how much attention this hugely important issue receives in schools across the country; my own daughters didn’t know anything about it and were surprised to hear that such a thing as an anti-bullying week even existed.
Fortunately, bullying doesn’t seem to be a big problem in their small, sheltered school, but whether or not bullying is an issue, I believe all schools have a responsibility to talk to their pupils about bullying, explaining what constitutes bullying behaviour and why it’s not cool.
Parents, too, have a responsibility to teach their children that bullying isn’t acceptable and to encourage them to follow the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Having been a victim of bullying as a child, I make a point of teaching my children the value of acceptance of difference, kindness and respect towards their peers.
Years of observation, first as a child and later as a parent, tells me that bullying behaviour is often learnt behaviour that originates in the family. An older sibling torments his/her younger sibling who then goes to school and re-enacts the older sibling’s behaviour.
Whilst my big brother was of the relatively benevolent variety (except for the one time he and his friend threw me into a rubbish bin in a German car park), I was bullied at school, often by older children, and I am ashamed to say that I too ended up bullying someone.
I was a thirteen-year-old geek in corduroy trousers and polo shirts and I feared social ostracism above all else. One day, a new girl started in our class and it wasn’t long before she attached herself to my limited circle of friends, sitting at our table in the lunchroom and hanging out with us in the playground.
To my horror, my best friend kindly accommodated this new, alien, presence in our group. Gradually, she even began to develop a friendship with the new girl.
The closer they grew, the nastier I became. At first, I tried to exclude the new girl covertly, as if by accident, but over time, my resentment towards her became difficult to hide. I started talking behind her back, calling her stupid and ugly. When the bell rang at the end of class, I’d grab my friends and run, hoping to lose her on the way.
Why did I bully this girl when I knew firsthand the pain of being a victim of bullies? Perhaps because I was terrified she’d steal my best friend from me, leaving me alone and, once again, open to bullying. So I bullied in order not to be bullied.
I don’t know what happened to this girl after we left school, I’ve no idea where she is today and what impact my behaviour had on her. But I would like her to know that I am infinitely sorry for the way I treated her.