We all know bullying is not what it used to be, that the army of keyboard warriors only seems to be getting stronger. Traditional bullies still pop up but the screen between people is providing a shield for bullies and prison walls for victims. A survey by the Education Review Office on Monday found that 39 per cent of all NZ school students have been bullied at their current schools. With mental health at the forefront of nationwide conversations, Rotorua school counsellors talk about this new mode of torture and the devastating impact on our young people.

Self-harm, eating disorders and truancy are some of the effects of bullying Rotorua school counsellors are seeing.

And the face of bullying is ever-changing with anonymous platforms growing in popularity which means hiding behind a screen has taken on a new meaning.

An evaluation released by the Education Review Office on Monday found that 39 per cent of all NZ school students have been bullied at their current schools - 46 per cent of primary school students and 31 per cent of secondary students.

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Bullying in New Zealand.
Bullying in New Zealand.

Bullyfree NZ defined bullying as:

• deliberate
• a misuse and imbalance of power
• repeated
• harmful, either physically, mentally or emotionally

The Rotorua Daily Post approached guidance counsellors in the district who talked of bullying as an issue all schools faced and found cyberbullying was a means of tormenting victims in private.

Not only was it easily accessible and difficult to track but many students did not come forward out of fear of it getting worse.

John Paul College counsellor Nancy Macmillan joined other counsellors in saying these issues online were on the rise.

John Paul College counsellor Nancy Macmillan.

Macmillan said an anonymous platform, Tellonym, had grown in popularity and was freely available online and in app stores.

An account could be created and shared and anyone could send in anonymous messages. It was described on Tellonym's site as allowing someone to "receive anonymous and honest feedback from everyone who is important to you".

John Paul College counsellor Nancy Macmillan. Photo / Ben Fraser
John Paul College counsellor Nancy Macmillan. Photo / Ben Fraser

But Macmillan said it was being used to provide anonymity for individuals to shame or abuse others.

"The developing teen brain is often impulsive and anonymity further encourages this."

She said more often than not bullying occurred within friend groups and many did not come forward because they feared they would be left friendless and socially isolated.

What is bullying? Source: BullyFree NZ
What is bullying? Source: BullyFree NZ

Rotorua team coach Erin Wynn said online abuse, body shaming, leaking "sexts" and name calling were some of the ways students were attacked online.

REAL provides primary mental support for young people between 12 and 19 and had seen the destructive effects of "keyboard warriors".

"Instead of one person bullying another a massive group of people can be involved," she said.

Western Heights High School counsellor of 10 years Guy Ngatai said the rise in cyberbullying was his biggest concern.

"It's instant access and instant result, and of course it's traumatising for a lot of kids being bullied.

Western Heights High School guidance counsellor Guy Ngatai. Photo / Stephen Parker
Western Heights High School guidance counsellor Guy Ngatai. Photo / Stephen Parker

"Teasing the way they look, the way they sound, who they're hanging out with ... it's all a sense of giving [the bully] overriding power over the victim," Ngatai said.

"They're doing it undercover and in disguise." And this made it difficult when schools tried to resolve the bullying, he said.

Although there were systems in place in the school to combat bullying it took a lot of courage for victims to come forward and schools were often the last to know it was happening, he said.

Eating disorders, self-harm and withdrawal were what Ngatai called the "byproduct" of bullying he had seen.

He said the mental struggle had a negative effect on a person's ability and performance and this showed in attendance and grades.

Data released by the Ministry of Education earlier this year showed Rotorua school attendance had dropped more than 5 per cent from five years ago. The combined schools' regular attendance in Term 2, 2018 was down to 59.4 per cent from 64.9 per cent in the same period in 2011.

Rotorua Intermediate School guidance counsellor Ben Teinakore-Curtis said the nature of cyberbullying meant bullying had become significantly more aggressive.

With no government funding, the school board of trustees contracted three counsellors because they believed it was a social issue that needed addressing.

He said one thing could lead to another: mocking and rude comments could quickly spiral into a serious issue.

Ben Teinakore-Curtis is one of three counsellors at Rotorua Intermediate School contracted by the board of trustees. Photo / Ben Fraser
Ben Teinakore-Curtis is one of three counsellors at Rotorua Intermediate School contracted by the board of trustees. Photo / Ben Fraser

"You're not born to be a bully. It could be violence at home ... a chemical imbalance, maybe they haven't been fed in the last two days."

The school had a preventative and restorative approach to bullying and worked with bullies and victims to resolve and minimise issues which Teinakore-Curtis said was successful.

Other primary and intermediate schools spoken to by the Rotorua Daily Post said their school did not have counsellors because it was not funded by the government.

Dealing with bullying fell on teachers, deputy principals and principals.

Ministry of Education enablement and support deputy secretary sector Katrina Casey said schools below Year 9 did not receive a guidance entitlement.

"However, we are working collaboratively with the education and health sectors and the wider community to ensure children and young people have the support they need to succeed, including access to quality pastoral care."

Casey said the ministry provided funding for guidance staffing to all schools with Year 9 to 13 students which was a component of a school's overall staffing entitlement.

Resources for parents, young people, and educators about cyberbullying can be found at netsafe.org.nz .