Editorial: A zero tolerance policy

By Scott Inglis

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When I went to school, bullying was rife.

This was in the 1980s and I vividly remember one particular bully.

He used to love striking fear into others, psychologically and physically.

Among his favourite targets, besides students he perceived as weaker than himself, were immigrants. I remember one such student who came from overseas to start a new life in a new country - only to be given a hard time as a welcome mat.

The bully used to run up behind this new kid while he was running around the field during PE, and try to trip him up. If the bully was successful, the victim would land on his face.

Either way, the bully squealed with perverse delight. Everyone else was reluctant to get involved for fear of becoming a victim themselves.

There were plenty of other examples, including children being assaulted.

Looking back, the school did a disgraceful job of addressing bullying and the issue was left to fester in classrooms, corridors and out on the grass fields.

Bullying is never far from the headlines and is back in the spotlight this week after the release of the Disability Convention annual report, which highlights major issues facing New Zealanders living with disabilities.

The report identifies bullying, violence and harassment of disabled students in schools.

One mother, Angela Griffiths, bravely spoke out about how her special needs daughter, who has a heart condition, has been verbally bullied, slapped in the face, and kicked at school.

What a disgraceful situation. How can such violence happen? What child would hurt another child like this in any circumstances, let alone when the victim has a medical condition?

Bullying is a cancer, particularly in schools where the problem can be magnified.

Young people lack the maturity to deal with the issue - either as perpetrators or victims.

It is easy to lash out because they lack self control and understanding of how their actions can hurt others.

And it can be difficult for some children to know how to react when bullied. Do they strike back? Do they tell a teacher or their parents? Will this help, or make the problem worse?

Back when I was in primary school, I can remember a mate's father telling him that if someone hit him at school, he should hit back.

As a youngster, this sounded fair and logical.

Bay of Plenty Times Weekend columnist Garth George also promoted this method of dealing with bullies just a few weeks ago.

George, a veteran journalist who speaks his mind and tells it like it is, says victims need to strike back fast and hard if they are to stop the bully.

Presumably there are people who would agree and examples where this approach might work.

But does this make it right?

I fully defend a person's right to defend themselves if they feel they are in imminent physical danger but there are many other ways of dealing with bullies at school.

Children need to be empowered and educated.

Teachers need to swiftly deal with children identified as bullies.

A zero tolerance policy, a term which is easy to wave about but more difficult to make happen, must translate into practice.

Teachers have to stand up to bullies and use tactics to fix the problem.

As the Education Ministry said this week, anti-bullying programmes are available.

The involvement of parents is also an important aspect.

As a parent, I'd be horrified if my child was guilty of bullying another.

I'd certainly treat the issue with the utmost importance, and I'd like to think I would be able to make a significant impact in stopping it.

But I'd be even more horrified if my daughter was a victim.

I would expect something to be done and promptly. I'd expect some sort of justice, depending on the severity.

It is essential bullying is talked about openly and victims speak up.

Pretending it doesn't happen and failing to adequately deal with incidents will only make it worse.

As a community, we must strive to stop bullies and protect victims - especially the most vulnerable, such as those with special needs.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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