In the current political and social climate, which is riven with mudslinging and division, it is hardly surprising that Anti-Bullying Week is still an essential date on every school calendar.
Naturally, when children and teenagers see adults, particularly in positions of power, acting as though they were back in the schoolyard, copycat behaviour is likely to ensue. As June Donnan, Head Teacher at King’s College School La Moraleja, says, “We will always be role models for the children in everything we do.”
Of course, there are still many inspiring high-profile figures who promote unity and solidarity and continue to give us hope that nurturing these principles will ensure that good triumphs over evil and, in the real schoolyard, all students will be able to embrace their differences and get on with their lives in peace.
But the battle against intimidation is far from over. “Bullying is an on-going issue we need to tackle,” points out Sylvain Warton, Head of Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) at King’s College Madrid.
In the UK, the NGO Ditch the Label finds that 50% of young people between the ages of 12 and 20 have suffered at the hands of bullies with three out of four stating that it had an impact on their mental health.
The NGO’s annual survey also found that 59% of those bullied in 2019 believed it was due to their appearance. This is unlikely to have improved in 2020 when zoom conferences and other online forms of communication have increased image consciousness around the globe, triggering a so-called “zoom-boom” – a meteoric rise of 57% in inquires for plastic surgery, according to the organisation Save Face.
According to the NGO, Internacional Bullying Sin Fronteras, seven out of 10 school children in Mexico between 2019 and 2020 were targeted by bullies. This amounts to 28 million youngsters and puts the country at the top of the NGO’s list of worst offenders with second place going to the US where 60% have found themselves in the firing line.
Featuring seventh on this list is Spain where, according to data from the Iñaki Piñuel Institute, around 39% of school children in the country are affected while the majority of those making their lives hell do so to have fun and get a laugh.
On account of this, bullying is often confused with a bit of harmless fun, but while it might seem that way to bystanders, for the victim, the laughter merely seems cruel.
Some victims may feel able to take on their aggressor, which will, as Sinews Psychologist and School Counsellor at King’s College Alicante, Irene Magallón González, effectively turn the situation around.
“If we can find a way to stand up to the bully, our role changes and so does our thinking,” she says. “It takes the power out of their actions. It’s not that these actions lose importance, it is just that we are no longer a passive victim. And as we feel more empowered, the idea we have of ourselves changes and we break the control they have over us.”
The problem for victims often lies in the fact that a bully will prey on an aspect of their appearance, ability or personality that they may feel ashamed of or at least prefer to play down.
For the victim to feel confident enough to speak out and draw attention to this aspect of themselves can feel daunting. Bullies will only target those they assume to be at a disadvantage in some way, either because they are already isolated, are newcomers or are different. The onus, then, is often on those around them to speak up against the aggression – one that in the UK sees 33% of victims entertaining suicidal thoughts.
This year’s Anti-Bullying Week’s theme is United Against Bullying which goes to the heart of the issue. If a bully expects a laugh from picking on another student perceived to be “weaker”, but fails to get one, their power game is thwarted.
If we are strong enough to include those being marginalised for whatever reason and call out hurtful and intimidating behaviour dealt out to those around us, we not only disempower the bully, we empower ourselves by making a fundamental difference to someone else’s life.
Besides addressing these issues throughout the year, King’s undertakes to drive home this message by signing up to Anti-Bullying Alliance’s Anti-Bullying Week, which kicks off with all the students coming to school in odd socks to celebrate diversity.
“Wearing blue, I’ll stand by you” day also flags up the need for courage and solidarity in the face of mean behaviour as does Friendship Friday when students are encouraged to be inclusive.
The important thing to remember, as philosopher Edmund Burke’s said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”