Bullying in schools has become a hot issue in Australia recently. This is partly due to a massive pay-out made to a young man whose life has been destroyed by the way he was bullied at school when he was only five years old.
Benjamin Cox, now aged 18, has had his life destroyed by what he endured at the hands of an older student – who choked, bashed and harassed him. His childhood and youth has been profoundly affected, with the young man suffering severe emotional and psychological trauma down the years. Still today he suffers badly with depression and anxiety, is unable to work or build relationships and is virtually housebound.
When his mother complained to the school she was ignored – and was told by a representative of the Education Department that it was good for her son to be bullied and that it would build his character. The judge who awarded him the record one million dollar payout, stated that the Education Department had grossly failed to exercise its duty of care for the boy.
In the wake of this case, the Prime Minister, John Howard, has promised to increase the power of principals and teachers to deal with bullying in government schools. Many people have been cynical about his speech though, claiming there was nothing new in it and that it was just electioneering.
Even more recently, the issue has been in the local news in our city since a teenage girl was bashed at her high school and the assault videotaped and uploaded to YouTube. Understandably people have been appalled by this atrocious example of what kids are being subjected to in our schools.
Bullying has, of course, been around in schools to some degree for many decades at least, but it certainly wasn’t the major issue that it is today. For some baffling reason, bullies are invariably in with the popular group. Obviously they are cunning enough to know who to be nice to.
These days girls can be just as bad as boys and the bullying has become much more extreme among both genders. It’s increasingly common for kids to suffer very serious physical assault. No doubt this is a reflection of the increased rage and violence within the homes of many kids and in society generally. They do say many bullies are the victims of violent behavior at home.
A lot of emphasis is given these days to bully-proofing your kids by teaching them inter-personal skills, building their confidence, making them aware that kids will sometimes say and do mean things and discussing how to handle such incidents. However, some bullies are way beyond the defenses of a small child – and some children have gentle or nervous temperaments that make them easy fodder for these young thugs.
Thankfully many schools have been taking this issue very seriously. The Alannah and Madeline Foundation, which works toward keeping children safe from violence in general, initiated an anti-bullying program in Australian schools in 2000 – called “Better Buddies”.
Experts in the field of childhood bullying have established the program in 600 schools throughout Victoria, New South Wales and the ACT, and more schools are becoming involved all the time. When our own Princess Mary, who married the Crown Prince of Denmark, came home for a visit not long ago, she was so impressed by the program that she has introduced it to Danish schools and kindergartens as well.
In schools that participate in the program, the children receive anti-bullying teaching and each child has their own special “buddy” who’s assigned to protect them. The goal of the program is to encourage older kids to look after the little ones, to see it as cool to be a good mate and uncool to be a bully. This is a great initiative, which has been having a great deal of success in combating the problem. The program is being refined continually too as research is done into new ways of tackling the issue.
Unfortunately, not all schools are dealing positively with the bullying pandemic though – and it’s outrageous the way some children and parents are treated when they become victims of bullies. I heard recently of one child who was given detention when he sought help because he was being bullied. When parents complain they are frequently ignored.
It’s high time that the bullies themselves were made responsible for their violent behaviour. The girls who assaulted the teenager at a suburban school should face court and do some time in detention – or at least do a few hundred hours of community service. Let them have reason to contemplate seriously the consequences of their deplorable behavior.
Schools who do not take the matter seriously and protect their students should also be disciplined and teachers and principals found to have failed in their duty of care to individual students should be sacked. They are not fit to be the guardians of vulnerable children.
Furthermore, it’s time more parents had the bullies charged with assault and, in extreme cases, sue the perpetrators of these violent crimes. Because that’s what bullying is – a despicable crime. Maybe if the government has to pay out a few more million dollars in compensation to kids whose lives have been destroyed by bullies, they might get more serious about protecting the children entrusted to their care in government schools. Children are sent to school to be given the very best future possible for them – not to have that future devastated by bullies. School days should be some of the happiest days of their lives.