A NUMBER OF tragic incidents in Ireland over the past number of months has pushed the subject of bullying into the headlines. This week (4 – 10 March) the ISPCC is running Anti-Bullying Awareness Week to highlight the issue of bullying and discuss solutions to the problem from the point of view of children, parents, teachers and bystanders.
In light of all these discussions about bullying, we asked you to tell us your experiences and we were inundated with responses. This is an issue that stirs everyone’s emotions. Even if it hasn’t affected you personally, you most likely know of someone who has been bullied, whether in school or even at work. While bullying is a huge issue for children and teenagers, it seems it does not just stop when we become adults, as many of you told us of your experiences of workplace bullying.
Not only that, from the people that replied, many said their experience of bullying, which may have occurred years previously, still has a hold on their lives today. Many say that it has shaped the people they are, stating that their self esteem and confidence has never really recovered. From the dozens of responses we received, we decided the issue was too big to be shoe-horned into one area. We decided to run a series called Bullied. The three main issues highlighted were bullying at school, bullying in the workplace and how bullying experiences still bother you today. We asked organisations, who deal with these issues, what people should do if they find themselves in a bullying situation, past or present.
The reason we should care about how bullying is dealt with is because it can have a serious psychological affect on some people. Paul Kelly, Founder and CEO of Console said:
The lasting effects of bullying may be difficult to measure, but what we at Console know only too well is that they can be devastating. Compassion, kindness and hope must always prevail and that is why we at Console ask everyone, to be mindful of and sensitive to the feelings of others in every way possible.
What happens to, and around, us as children can shape us in adult life and negative, stressful or emotional events such as bullying can cause anxiety, reduced self-esteem and poor self-confidence years later.
Anne Fay, President Irish National Teachers’ Organisation said that while bullying is a problem in schools, it is really a problem for the wider society. “About a third of all pupils at primary and second level report they have been victims of bullying. Figures from the on-going study, Growing up in Ireland, show most primary school children who report they have been bullied reported being verbally bullied (74 per cent), followed by exclusion (63 per cent) ,and physical bullying (54 per cent). Bullying via written messages (14 per cent) and electronic means (5 per cent) was less prominent,” she said.
While this is of huge concern to parents and to teachers, in order to solve this situation there has to be full co-operation between schools and parents. She said:
Dealing with bullying is a major challenge for schools. Teachers are observant, vigilant and take their duty of care to children seriously. It is part of their training and many schools update teachers skills regularly. Bullying and dealing with it features on many staff meetings. All schools have bullying policies or behaviour policies that incorporates bullying. Schools are continually revising and improving these as things change including new forms of bullying, lessons learned from dealing with cases. These polices must be fair, transparent and effective.
She said that every school year thousands of teacher hours are spent investigating allegations, monitoring particular situations, following up on cases and meeting with parents and pupils. “Bullying can be a difficult and complex situation which arises in all schools,” she said, adding that there is sometimes “little recognition of the fact that teachers in schools work within limited resources or that the success of an anti-bullying policy is largely dependent on the co-operation of all parents in the school”. She added that Irish classes are the second largest in the EU which can make it very difficult to spot bullying, which can secretive by nature.
“On occasions, a parent of a victim may want the bully punished, sometimes severely and summarily and often before the facts of the case can be established. Some mistake a single incident as bullying. Others will try and blame the school for not seeing it happening, forgetting that for the most part, bullying is done in secret. In some cases the parents of a bully or alleged bully will not accept that their child could be involved in bullying behaviour. Teachers, although caught between these conflicting demands, have to treat all children and parents fairly.”
She said schools go to great lengths to implement anti-bullying policies, but encouraged parents to continue to raise concerns in the full confidence that no-one in schools condones bullying and that schools will act appropriately and deal with problems effectively.
The classroom is not the only place where bullying is taking place. Many of your replies told us that adults were experiencing bullying in their jobs. Mary Connaughton, Head of HR Development at IBEC said that this is a very serious issue. She said bullying at work is defined as “repeated inappropriate behaviour, direct or indirect, whether verbal, physical or otherwise, conducted by one or more persons against another or others, at the place of work and/or in the course of employment, which could reasonably be regarded as undermining the individual’s right to dignity at work”. If an incident happens in isolation, the behaviour in this definition may be an affront to dignity, but as a once-off incident is not considered to be bullying, she said.
Bullying is legally distinct from harassment as bullying behaviour is not predicated on membership of any distinct group. Every employee has the right to a work environment free from harassment and bullying. “In fact, every employer in Ireland is legally required to protect its employees from bullying by having policies and procedures in place that are communicated to all employees and set out how the business plans to prevent bullying and deal with it if it arises,” said Mary Connaughton.
Crucially, it is imperative that employers ensure the policies and procedures are supported by line managers, who have a linchpin role to play in setting a culture of acceptance and openness and making sure allegations are dealt with. Without proper training and support from HR, line managers may feel daunted or under-equipped, which can result in the issue escalating unnecessarily.
Her advice to someone who experiences bullying is, in the first instance, for the employee to approach their co-worker and ask them to stop their inappropriate behaviour. If it does not stop and an employee feels they have been bullied then they need to find out how their company deals with such issues and raise their concern. “In most companies, the first step is to have an informal discussion with a HR representative or the line manager, with the process becoming more formalised as it continues.”
If the complaint is dealt with positively and constructively, through mediation or an investigation, the result can be employees who feel trust in the company and believe that they were respected and heard, regardless of whether they were the person who experienced bullying behaviour or the person alleged to have bullied another.
If you have been effected by any of the issues mentioned and would like to talk to someone please call Console on the service’s 24-hour helpline at freephone 1800 201 890. People can also access the charity’s services by texting ‘HELP’ to 51444, or at its website: www.console.ie. The charity has full-time centres in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Wexford, and also offers services in other counties. If you are under 18, you can contact Childline Ireland by calling 1800 66 66 66 or texting 50101. They also have a live chat available on their website from 2pm-10pm every day. Its services are open to people of any age. Teenline can be contacted by calling 1800 833 634, seven days a week from 7pm-10pm.