Most of us will encounter bullying at some stage of our lives, whether at school, in the workplace, at the hands of brothers and sisters or even by a partner.
As a result, most of us could identify with the shocking story of Phoebe Prince, which once again hit the headlines this month after nine teenagers were charged in connection to her suicide in January of last year.
The pretty 15 year old hung herself in her home after facing an ‘unrelenting’ bullying campaign from fellow pupils in her new school in the town of South Hadley, Massachusetts.
Phoebe was allegedly targeted by a group known as the ‘Mean Girls’ after she started dating a popular football player at her school.
The humiliation, fear, frustration, social isolation and loss of self esteem which Phoebe experienced resulted in terrible consequences.
Professor Mona O’ Moore, head of the Anti-Bullying Centre in Trinity College Dublin, says that unless more action is taken in Ireland to combat bullying – cases like Phoebe are only going to become more prevalent.
“Our statistics seem to show bullying has increased inIreland over the last few years,” says Mona.
“The problem we have is an implementation deficit. There is no leadership from the Department of Education.
“We are seeing a rise particularly in post primary level bullying and especially in the case of Cyber Bullying.”
“Phoebe Prince was a classic example of a school that couldn’t intervene and sadly, we have schools like there here,” she adds.
Mona goes on to explain how ignoring bullying can cause huge implications for society in general. Research shows youngsters who engage in unchallenged aggressive behaviour have a far greater chance of being involved in criminal behaviour and violence into young adulthood and onwards.
“Whenever I hear of a stabbing and shooting I think that those people might have been picked on in school, or been the bullies,” says Mona.
“If we had a better screening approach to children who have a propensity for aggression, it would be hugely cost effective in the long run. Rehabilitating these kids will prevent a lot of the white collar crime too which we are now paying heavy taxes for. Prevention is better then cure,” she adds.
So how can we deal with bullying if it is our own child falling victim to the problem?
“There are different ways to deal with different forms of bullying,” says Mona.
“With cyber bullying, which has become a particular problem at the moment, what we need is for children to feel free to talk about it because it can be so anonymous.
“We need to engage with the actual perpetrators. We’re all human and we all will prevent engaging in certain behaviours if we know there are certain consequences.”
“If a parent feels their child is being bullied, they should not try to get the child to ignore the bullying but instead tell someone they trust. They need to also get across to the child that the problem lies with the bully and that it is somebody who is trying to make themselves feel better because deep down they are unhappy about certain issues.”
“As most of us already know about bullies, they may be very ambitious but also insecure and they may feel very threatened. They could be jealous of somebody or go for someone who is weak.”
And in fact, Mona explains, being bullied can be like getting an indirect compliment.
“You get people like Phoebe Prince for example who get bullied because they’re very attractive. Some people might get bullied because they’re very intelligent and even sports people can be bullied because people would be jealous of their position on the team.
“In our DVD Silent Victim, we show that jealousy is a huge motivator and that a bully is essentially that bit unhappy.
“The parents should say: ‘don’t blame yourself’.”
And Mona has special advice for dealing with Cyber bullies.
“It’s all about ‘net-iquette’. If it’s cyber bullying don’t delete the offensive emails or texts because it can be used as evidence.
“Don’t respond to unwanted texts or emails. If you get an abusive call for instance you don’t need to hang up the phone, instead you can put the phone down and walk away, letting them pay for the cost of the call and then hang up after a few minutes.”
She also has advice for schools and teachers.
“Schools could set up a blog where children or parents could communicate the fact that bullying is occurring. We need a means of communicating where the child doesn’t need to come forward and say it, as it might be embarrassing for them. Schools could encourage anonymous reporting of bullying, to get a better idea of what is going on.”
You can buy Professor Mona O’ Moore’s book “Understanding School Bullying: A Guide for Parents and Teachers”. Or for more information please visit www.abc.tcd.ie