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Is it rocket science?

November 24, 2013

It seems that at least once a month now we open the pages of the national newspapers to be confronted with yet another teenager who has killed themselves and that the word bullying is lurking somewhere behind that action.

In the Daily Telegraph article today Sunday 24 November 2013 the issues are raised starkly, and parents and others are given a lot of sound advice about the signs that warn them that bullying is happening and what to do about it.

But what are the adults doing about it? Have we failed or is the problem too difficult?

That may sound harsh and it is meant to.  What is going on? We can save premature babies at 26 weeks, we can fly to the moon and Mars, we can transplant organs and in some cases graft hands, fingers and faces from one person to another living person.  So we can solve difficult problems.

Bullying is not rocket science and dealing with it is not astrophysics.  We say prevention is better than cure so why are we not preventing it?

Perhaps the will is not there?

As CE of Red Balloon, the charity which recovers severely bullied children, I still meet headteachers who say they have not had a child in their school who has left because of bullying, that bullying is dealt with well at their school, and they have an anti-bullying policy.  Hmm!

I have met government ministers who say they cannot/will not ‘make’ local authorities, academies and schools provide off-site fulltime appropriate education for children (severely bullied children) who are having a hard time at school.  They tell me this is a local issue and not one in which the government can get involved.  Why not?

And I meet parents who say they did not realise that their child was depressed and unwilling to go to school; or if they did realise and they complain to the school they were met with silence or smoke screens by the teachers who said: “We didn’t realise your child was being bullied, he always looked happy at school”. 

And if the parents know that their child doesn’t want to go to school, has stopped singing around the house, doesn’t want to go out at weekends, has bruises on their arms, doesn’t seem to have a social life then they need to make a fuss – a huge fuss – and keep on making that fuss until something positive happens!

Come on teachers, ministers and parents, wake up!

What are the signs of a severely bullied child? Their misery is painted all over their faces; their body language screams out pain, humiliation and rejection. Their actions are as clear as day.  So why can’t you see it? 

If schools were more welcoming to parents and there was genuine concern and collaboration between child/parent/teacher the school could ring up the parent and vice versa and discuss the problem openly without blame. Situation resolved.  We are the adults here.

If the child’s school had an effective personal and social education programme that was more than just one lesson a week taught by someone who was not sure of the subject area – and the children felt happier and more confident to raise the issue situation resolved. The children can deal with it.

If respect and dignity were taught, encouraged and expected, children would say to their bullying peers – “Please don’t treat Ben like that”. Situation prevented: problem doesn’t exist.

 If as a teacher one of your students, Ben, never turns up for your science lesson why not take the initiative and ask questions and then pursue the solution?  The first being: what is happening in my class that Ben doesn’t like? It is unlikely to be the subject matter (it is much more likely to be relationship problems – either with you or his peers), so have a circle time and sort it! Situation solved: problem sorted.

But if the issue is not resolved, ring the parents, talk to them, invite them in to problem solve; don’t call them in to threaten them with prosecution because of a truancy problem; invite them to work with you to find out why Ben finds Tuesdays difficult.

And if government ministers could see themselves clear to releasing money to support places such as Red Balloon, in cases where children’s experiences of bullying have proved to be as difficult to resolve as rocket science, a solution could be found. At a Red Balloon Centre the traumatised child (and parent) would find a committed, professional experienced team of staff who, in 95% of cases, would make sure that the child recovered, received a fulltime education, found their confidence and in due course returned to school.    

In these ways the incidence of teenage suicides could be reduced – as I said, it is not rocket science – but there does have to be the will.

So adults, communication, openness and a genuine willingness to problem solve are the key to keeping our bullied teenagers alive.  Let’s do it for them.


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