Reach Out

This week is Anti-Bullying week. I wrote last year about my experiences of being bullied at secondary school. It has had a significant and lasting impact on me into adulthood, both upon my mental and physical health:

Part of the issue is feeling isolated from others – your parents, your friends – and that you must carry the weight of being bullied alone… Like it is your fault, somehow.

I let my bullying affect me for over a year before I summoned the courage to speak up. And it appears this is common. So much so that the theme of this year’s Anti-Bullying week is ‘Reach out.’

The number of young people who tell someone about bullying differs based on when and where research studies are done. One 1995 study published in the journal Education Canada found that among schoolchildren, about 35% of bully victims never told an adult.

According to a 2005 review of research by University of Toronto social workers, reasons for secrecy tend to fall into one of seven categories. The categories reported in the journal Children & Schools were:

  • The cloak of secrecy: Bullying often happens out of adults’ sight in hallways and school lunch rooms. Thus, bullying stays between the victim, the bully and peer bystanders. For me, it was the school bus. There was one adult (the driver) to 50+ teenage boys (spread over two decks).

  • Power: Bullying is marked by one participant (the bully) possessing more power than the other, whether that power is real or perceived. Children learn to gain power by aggression (and to accept when others wield aggressive power). So, a “weak” victim is not likely to ‘tell the teacher.
  • Self-blame: Victims may feel shame and blame themselves for their situation. One girl told the researchers she was at fault for her victimisation because she was “a little chubby.”

  • Retaliation: To some kids, the logic is simple: Tell an adult and make the bully madder. I’d seen my school dish out a minor slap on the wrist – only taking definitive action for the bad episodes. So, the threat of retaliation was very real.
  • Vulnerability: Bullied kids are often less accepted by their peers and may struggle with social skills. They may yearn for acceptance from the very people who torment them. Whilst I had friends, few lived in my village – so the school bus felt very lonely. I’d try and appease the bullies with tributes of sweets or money – which would gain me temporary favour. Little did I realise – that this would not solve the problem but only open me up to more exploitation.
  • Fear of losing a friendship: Sometimes, the relationship between bullies and victims isn’t so straightforward.

  • Fear adults will do nothing: Kids may be sceptical that adults can, or will, take steps to stop a bully. I’d also witnessed adults participating in the bullying. The bus driver, for example, would turn a blind eye to pretty awful things. I remember, one time, another boy who was the ‘worst-bullied-of-them-all’ was handcuffed to the outside of the bus when he got off, and the bus driver drove off, dragging him by his wrist down the road as he screamed. There is no way he didn’t see it.

I was at school during the 90s – I know the world has changed (much) since then. I now worry for my little boy. He will grow up in the world of Social Media domination and the impending Metaverse. Whilst bullying will take place in different settings, I have no doubt it will be there, like societal cancer. All I hope is that my boy feels safe to ‘reach out’ if he ever falls victim to bullies.

More insights

Get in Touch