Almost half of teenagers bullied, report says

Anti-bullying week 2016 begins on November 14th. Surveys suggest bullying is a huge cultural problem facing children and young people. What is bullying, and how broadly should we define it?

Receiving hateful comments, texts or social media messages. Being pointedly excluded from social cliques. Facing the spread of vicious rumours or humiliating pictures or videos. Being the butt of unpleasant nicknames. Dealing with harassment or physical attacks.

These are daily realities for many young people in the UK. Twenty-six thousand children used the NSPCC’s ChildLine for counselling over bullying last year. According to an anti-bullying survey taken last year, 43% of teenagers have been bullied and 32% of youngsters witness it several times each week.

British teenagers are most commonly bullied over their appearance. Other sources of concern include attitudes towards body shape and weight; interests and hobbies; high grades; and differences in identity — including race, sex, gender identity and sexuality.

Bullying can have a profound impact on its victims, affecting emotional and physical wellbeing. Its consequences can be catastrophic: in some cases, it has even been linked to self-harm and suicide. A campaign launched by the government last week will analyse, among other things, how far it is linked to an alarming decline in teenagers’ mental health.

Technological advances now mean many young people face the constant risk of intimidation, humiliation or coercion. In recent years, mobile phones with cameras, instant messaging and social media have created new opportunities to bully which can reach deep into a child’s personal space.

Children can be bullied outside the classroom or playground, and adults also experience the problem with alarming regularity. A survey last month said six out of ten British employees had either suffered or witnessed bullying in the workplace. Vulnerable people remain at particular risk into adulthood: there were 574 prosecutions for disability hate crimes in 2014, and some vulnerable people have even complained of bullying in care homes.

If you tolerate this

Bullying is an epidemic, some say, which is making society miserable. We should be ashamed of ourselves — this can only happen because ordinary people take a casual attitude towards everyday hurtful behaviour. If it looks like bullying, it probably is — and we should have zero tolerance of it.

Be careful, respond others. Nobody should condone genuine bullying — unreasonably hurting someone physically or emotionally, or requiring them to do something they are uncomfortable with. But not everything that may look unpleasant to an outside observer is necessarily bullying: sometimes real life brings acceptable criticism, disagreement and banter. We should be wary that our efforts to tackle bullying do not lead us to censor behaviour which is not unreasonable.

You Decide

  1. Do you know the difference between bullying and friendly interaction?
  2. Is there an epidemic of bullying among the people you know?

Activities

  1. Write a list of questions which you have about bullying. Then discuss them — first with a partner, and then as a class.
  2. Write and act out a short sketch in which someone is bullied — showing why someone might be vulnerable, how bullying happens and what can be done about it.

Some People Say...

“Aggression is not the same as bullying.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Who is most at risk?
Anyone can be bullied, but some people suffer more than others. Girls are particularly likely to be affected by bullying related to appearance or to sex. People from minority groups are more likely to be bullied for their race, cultural or religious background, accent, language or ethnic origin. And the NSPCC says over half of LGBT people have suffered bullying at school.
Is someone I know being bullied?
It may be very difficult to tell, and they may hide the truth, for example because of embarrassment, or the fear that the bullying will get worse. But look out for warning signs, including someone becoming withdrawn, behaving unusually, showing physical injuries or dramatically losing confidence in themselves. Remember that bullies rely on bystanders doing nothing.

Word Watch

Anti-bullying survey
These figures are from the 2015 survey from charity Ditch the Label.
Appearance
51% of those who had been bullied in Ditch the Label’s survey said that appearance was part of the reason why it had happened. The charity says that 47% of young people want to change their appearance, adding that children as young as 13 now want cosmetic surgery, such as liposuction and breast implants.
Decline in teenagers’ mental health
One study in June this year found that more than a third of older teenagers had suffered sleeplessness in recent months as a result of anxious thoughts and stress, while another found that eating disorder admissions among under-19s had almost tripled in ten years. Meanwhile, hospital casualty departments saw a shocking increase of 70% between 2012 and 2014 in the number of children aged 10-14 admitted after self-harming.
Care homes
This was illustrated by an example earlier this month, when a care worker from Bolton was jailed for abusing dementia patients, including some in the last days of their lives.

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