An interview with Kidscape
The research behind Too Close To Home; an interview with Kidscape
As many of you may already know, Susan’s new book Too Close to Home deals with the difficult, even toxic issue of bullying. Its main focus is Paige Moore who, aged 15, moves to a new school in Wales where her life is turned into a living hell.
When writing this book Susan wanted to present very real scenarios experienced by children who are bullied. Being such a sensitive issue, she had to be sure the research was thorough and was therefore extremely grateful to be put in touch with Claude Knights from Kidscape.
Kidscape is an antibullying charity that supports children from ages 6- 19 and after reading this, we hope you too will think more closely about this subject and to those who may be in need. This worthy and dedicated charity needs your support to continue providing such an important service to children and their families. It is their 30th anniversary this year; you can visit the site here.
In Susan’s book, 15 year old Paige Moore falls victim to some ferocious bullying, both face-to-face at school, and around the clock online. Have you noticed a significant increase in bullying since the advent of social media?
Social media has certainly added another dimension to the bullying landscape. The 24/7 aspect of online bullying as well as the sheer number of platforms add to the opportunities to dish out abuse. The disinhibition experienced by the bullies because they do not have to face the pain of their targets makes for very raw, thoughtless and relentless cruelty. At Kidscape we have found that young people who are vulnerable offline are often targeted online. Too many incidents of bullying remain unreported, but as there are an increasing number of channels for disclosing occurrences statistics would seem to point to an increase.
One recent study indicates that 69% of young people aged between 13 and 22 had experienced cyber bullying and that 20% of those reported it as extreme. A robust finding across much recent research into the prevalence of bullying per se is that 46% of all children report that they have experienced some form of bullying during their time at school.
What are the signs that you advise parents to look out for?
The ability to identify the signs and symptoms of bullying is crucial as it can lead to prevention and early intervention. Much of Kidscape’s work includes helping parents, teachers and other professionals who work with young people to identify possible signs. A child who is being bullied may exhibit some of the following signs and symptoms: they may be frightened of walking to or from school; refuse to attend school; feel ill in the mornings or on certain days discernible by a pattern; truant; show a marked deterioration in their school work; become anxious after using their mobile phone or computer; they may become distressed or withdrawn; start stealing money (to pay the bully);refuse to admit that anything is wrong; have unexplained bruises or cuts; may become aggressive and unreasonable and give improbable excuses for any of the above.
Do you feel schools are vigilant enough?
Schools vary hugely in terms of how they acknowledge, respond to and deal with bullying behaviour. The support given to targets of bullying and their families has improved over the past decade, but there are still too many establishments that value exam results and reputation above the creation of an environment that does not tolerate bullying in any form and which investigates incident that take place beyond the school gate. Schools have a duty of care to all their pupils which entails providing them with an environment which guarantees their safety and in which they can pursue their studies free of anxiety. Anti-bullying policies are mandatory but to be meaningful in an active sense they need to be understood and enforced by the whole school community. Pupils need to understand that bullying in all its forms is wrong and that there will be consequences if any anyone engages in this destructive behaviour. At Kidscape we still have to deal with too many examples of bullying situations, which have slipped beneath the radar, and which have not come to light until a crisis point has been reached. There remains a real need to provide additional training in preventative strategies for teachers as well as the resources to sustain peer support initiatives and workshops for parents.
What sort of advice do you give young people who contact you for help?
We urge young people who are being bullied not to suffer in silence. If their school ignores the bullying we tell them not to be resigned to becoming a target. We also suggest a wide range of strategies which include: telling a friend; (A supportive friend can keep bullies away.) saying ‘No’ assertively; not giving a reaction to taunts, giving the impression that you don’t care; thinking up creative responses in advance; trying to avoid being alone in places where you know the bully is likely to pick on you; practising ‘walking tall’ and looking confident so that the bully finds it harder to identify you as a target – even if you feel small inside; keeping a written record of all incidents. Advice specific to online bullying is also given and this includes never sharing passwords: activating privacy settings; never sending out provocative or cruel messages yourself; reporting abuse to the service provider and retaining evidence. Additional information can be found on the Kidscape website – www.kidscape.org.uk
In the book, Paige’s mother, Jenna, is distracted by problems in her marriage. Do you find that children will try to protect their parents by keeping their own pain to themselves?
We can quote a number of cases where children and young people have channelled much effort into protecting their parents by hiding the agonies caused by bullies for months and even years. In such cases the parent finds out what is going on once a crisis point has been reached e.g. an escalation into self-harm, attempted suicide, risky behaviours etc. One memorable case study is one where the mother was suffering from breast cancer and her 10 year old daughter, who was enduring extreme face-to-face bullying, was determined not to disclose her pain as she felt that there was already too much anxiety in the home. The mother found out the extent of her child’s agony when she happened to see her in the bathroom (the door was normally locked),and she caught sight of bruises, cuts and cigarette burns on her back and legs. This revelation resulted in an anguished call to Kidscape. Some children tell us that they are ashamed to tell their parents, and that they feel that they are somehow to blame for the abuse.
If a parent contacts you wanting to know how to help their child, what advice do you give?
The advice would depend on the nature of the bullying, but information essential to all bullying situations would include the need for parents to encourage their child to disclose what they are going through by ensuring full support and a real sense that they are believed. The parent needs to find out the details of what has been happening, which entails talking to teachers, probably the head of school. Parents can help to ‘bully-proof’ their child by emphasising a positive outlook, including assertive body language and firm eye contact. Well-developed social skills, including the ability to listen to others, to ask questions, to smile when appropriate can be modelled and encouraged by parents. These are all protective behaviours, which help to prevent being assessed as a potential target of bullying.
Do you ever counsel the bullies themselves? If not, are there organisations that do?
Some of the young people who attend Kidscape therapeutic sessions are both target, and bully in different settings. Our literature addresses issues that underlie bullying and aims to stimulate reflection and provide strategies and motivation for changing that behaviour . One of our major projects works specifically with young people who tend towards aggressive and anti-social behaviour. The content includes modules on anger management, conflict resolution and the development of self-awareness. It is a sad fact that in comparison to targets of bullying very few bullies come forward to ask for help. Kidscape’s aim is early intervention. If we are to challenge bullying we need to work with both bullies and victims. There is certainly a need for more interventions that address the underlying issues that lead young people to satisfy specific needs through bullying.
Do you feel bullies should face more serious consequences than they seem to now? If so, what sort of consequences do you think would be the most effective.
Anti-bullying policies should lay out clearly the consequences that will follow from engaging in bullying behaviour. Not all schools provide this information in a form which is clear to pupils, teachers and parents. The consequences depend on the nature of the incident and how seriously the school deals with bullying problems. Actions range from the obtaining of an apology from the bully/bullies, imposing sanctions against the perpetrators, which include temporary and permanent exclusion. A number of schools have developed modules tailored to help the bullies to address their behaviour. In cases involving assault or theft the bullying should be classed as criminal behaviour and reported to the police. This step leads to more serious and long-term consequences for the bully, who may be sent to an alternative provision such as a pupil referral unit. It is important however not to criminalise young people and to ensure that all is done to place him or her on a more positive path.