Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Breaking a cycle of schoolyard torment

Research shows those who are picked on are more likely to do the same to others. Photo / Thinkstock
Research shows those who are picked on are more likely to do the same to others. Photo / Thinkstock

A rumour about a girl turned usually polite Logan Thompson into a temporary bully.

It all started last term when someone in the kapa haka group at his school, Avondale Intermediate, started a rumour that he liked a girl in the group.

He felt powerless and angry at the rumour-mongers.

"Sometimes I almost walked out of school to calm down, and sometimes I wanted to beat them up till they were dead," he says.

"One time someone asked me a question, said she heard it from someone else. I went to this other person who was spreading bad rumours about me and punched him."

Then it spread to Facebook and people started "calling me names".

"When they were spreading rumours I felt really aggravated, I really beat them up. My friends stopped me."

Some bullying, like Jay's story on this page, can be traced to awful experiences in the bully's life. But sometimes, as in Logan's case, even a rumour can provoke retaliation.

And in most cases, there are by-standers who allow it to happen out of fear of getting caught in the crossfire.

At this school, which trains students like Logan as "peer mediators", most children know that bystanders can stop bullying, either directly or by fetching a teacher.

Tricia Hendry of the SkylightTrust, which helps children recover from trauma, says bullying is a learned behaviour.

"A lot of research shows that the people who bully have also been bullied. Monkey see, monkey do," she says.

The Youth 2007 study of 9100 secondary school students found that 48 per cent of students who were bullied, but only 34 per cent of those who were not bullied, physically hurt someone else in the past year.

Those who are bullied in non-physical ways are also more likely to do the same to others.

Glen-Paul Waru, a tutor at Quality Education Services in Mangere, says teenage girls in his class took $50 bets among themselves last year that they would not talk to one girl for a month.

"They think it's a fun game, but it really hurt that person," he says.

This year the victim of that bet did the same thing, betting with a friend that she would not talk to another girl.

"Now that she's in the circle, she's got the status and she's enjoying that status."

"A lot of it comes from bullying in broken homes. I see it all the time - parents telling them they're useless and even calling them names right outside the front door when they come to pick them up.

"They call to them, 'Get in the car, you stupid bitch!' The one I hate the most is that word 'useless'. Calling someone useless is just a huge drop in self-esteem."

Adolescent males may be especially prone to reacting against slights to their self-respect because many are still brought up to think that males should be in control.

Former school principal Jim Peters, who now counsels men about domestic violence, says many young men are "brought up to be bullies".

"A lot of that is about their identity as a man," he says.

But sexism is only one way people try to control one another. Edgewater College guidance counsellor Mike Williams says all bullying is about "power and dominance".

"Conflict is normal," he says. But children need to learn first that they are capable of being good people themselves, and then to resolve conflicts in ways that respect the goodness of others instead of by hurting or denigrating them.

Amanda Bradley, of the Mental Health Foundation, says good mental health depends on good relationships with others. Two out of five "ways to wellbeing" are "connections" with others and "giving" to others.

The other three ways are about your state of mind and body: "taking notice" and seeing the goodness in the world around you right now, being physically active and keeping an active mind through lifelong learning.

The foundation is sponsoring trials to analyse how some schools affect their students' mental wellbeing, and then find ways to improve it.

One school made giving part of its curriculum. Another adopted a 10-session Friends for Life programme which promotes self-esteem, problem-solving, self-expression, and building positive relationships with peers and adults.

But the foundation recognises schools can do only so much. Ultimately, helping children towards better mental wellbeing, and so reduced bullying, will require much wider social changes.

CLOSE TO HOME

* If your child is bullying someone:
* Listen to the full story, including why it happened.
* Don't minimise it - help your child realise the harm they're doing to the victim, themselves, their friends and your family.
* Ask if they've been bullied themselves.
* Tell them you love them and support them in sorting out this problem.
* Ask how they think you could help them.
* Explain that we need to learn to manage our feelings so we don't hurt others.
* Discuss better ways of managing feelings; role-play different responses.
* Discuss consequences if the bullying continues.
* Engage with school, wider family and others who can help.
Source: When the bully ... is your child, www.skylight.org.nz

- NZ Herald

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