Children as young as 9 and 10 years of age are being subjected to bullying in schools in Longford, a seminar on bullying held in Longford town last week heard. Nearly 200 people attended the event organised by the National Parents Council Primary and held in the Longford Arms. Two experts on bullying - psychologist and academic Dr Stephen James Minton and founder of the Anti-Bullying Coalition Monica Monaghan - spoke at the seminar but it was the human stories told on the night that struck a real chord with people.
Twenty-year old Vicky McEnery from Co Westmeath spoke eloquently about how bullying made her secondary school years a complete misery. Vicky told a story of consistent verbal harassment that sometimes veered into physical bullying.
She also outlined how the bullying had affected her personally and of how it continued even after she spoke out on national television.
A second year student at university, Vicky now travels the length and breadth of the country to speak about her experience in the hope of helping others.
From the floor on the night, two local parents outlined how bullying had a serious effect on their children. In both cases, they felt that their children’s schools had not done enough to tackle the issue. In both cases, the expert panel said these were the typical stories that they are hearing all over the country.
One of the most disturbing contributions on the night was from a local youth worker who told the meeting that girls from fifth and sixth class in local schools are posting pictures of themselves in their underwear online.
This comment drew gasps of shock from the floor as the youth worker went on to explain how he tries to warn young people about this behaviour and its implications, particularly in terms of attracting predators
In his presentation, Stephen James Minton spoke of the role of parents in addressing bullying by their children and/or bullying of their children.
He also told parents the signs of bullying they should look for such as: your child being anxious or distressed but refusing to say why; unexplained cuts and bruises; damage to clothes, school equipment; complaints of stomach aches or headaches; problems sleeping; reluctance to go to school and changes in mood or behaviour.
Parents who find out their children are being bullied automatically begin to fire questions at their children such as who is behind the bullying, how long is it going on but Dr Minton warned against this, urging a more “gentle, patient approach”.
“Reassure the child that it is the bully that has the problem,” he cautioned adding that “normal, happy people don’t bully”.
He urged parents to teach their child coping skills but not to encourage their children to fight back physically.
“Humour, silence or an assertive response such as standing up for oneself in a non-aggressive way may well prevent a further attack,” he said.
He underlined the importance of building up a child’s self-esteem.
“Particularly in terms of recovering from bullying, positive parenting becomes even more critical,” he said.
He encouraged parents to find a way to build up their child’s self-esteem such as encouraging them to find something they are really good at to improve their confidence. He also spoke of what to do if you discover your child is a bully.
“Most children deserve a second chance,” he said, telling parents that the should explain to their child why bullying is wrong and try to find out why they are doing it. He also encouraged parents to ask themselves: “Are you a good role model?”
Monica Monahan founded the Anti-Bullying Coalition as a response to her own experience at the hands of bullies as a young teacher. She outlined a new initiative underway called OK Kids, which will essentially see schools who take part in an anti-bullying programme receive a plaque and accreditation in the same way as the Green Schools programme works. This programme is being piloted in Roscommon with the support of Roscommon VEC at the moment and Ms Monaghan is looking for other schools to take part in this pilot.
“I am looking for schools in Longford to take part,” she stressed.
She spoke at length about the role in schools in dealing with bullying. She told the audience that she felt the current guidelines in place for schools were “unsafe” as they were 20 years old and she welcomed the fact that new guidelines are being introduced in schools for the coming school year.
“It is costing the country a fortune to mop up after this,” she said of the bullying problem, adding that there had been a “lack of joined-up thinking” on the issue.
n The National Anti-Bullying Coalition is on Facebook and can be contacted through its Facebook page. Dr Stephen James Minton can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org