EDITORIAL:

Starting school marks a great milestone in a child's life - not to mention that of their parents or caregivers.

Done well, the experience should be enjoyable, exciting even, certainly enriching, engaging and empowering. Ideally, that should continue throughout the child's primary and secondary schooling.

The school years should be ones that teach children the vital social and academic skills they need to go into the world as confident young adults. They should be looked back on fondly as a time where a love of learning was fostered, a place where important values were taught, where lifelong friendships were forged and cemented.

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Bullying persists even in the 'best' schools, says Education Review Office

Sadly, for far too many children, the school years are a time of stress, anxiety, fear and torment, because they are beset by bullying - something Children's Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft says is "a blight on our society and a blight on our schools".

A report released this week by the Education Review Office, has found 39 per cent of all NZ school students (41 per cent of boys and 33 per cent of girls; 42 per cent of Māori, 40 per cent of Europeans, 36 per cent of Pasifika and 32 per cent of Asian students) have been bullied at their current schools - even those deemed the country's "best" institutions.

The numbers are confronting. What loving parent wants to think they are sending their beloved child into a potentially harmful environment? It goes against all protective and nurturing instincts.

The high numbers are worrying, too, given the implementation of the cross-agency Bullying-Free NZ Framework in schools - and the fact the vast majority of schools say they are working towards creating a bullying-free environment to "some extent" or a "great extent".

Education Review Office chief executive Nicholas Pole says there is "no silver bullet" when it comes to addressing the issue, and warns that "many of the most salient drivers of bullying may be beyond schools' direct control, related to parental attitudes and broader societal issues".

That has to be a wake-up call. The role of schools is, of course, to educate our children, to help mould young minds, but surely the ultimate responsibility for teaching values lies with parents and caregivers - the people children first look to for guidance, the elders our children so desperately want to emulate.

Writing on the wall? The role of schools is to educate children, but the ultimate responsibility for teaching values lies with parents and caregivers. Photo / Getty Images
Writing on the wall? The role of schools is to educate children, but the ultimate responsibility for teaching values lies with parents and caregivers. Photo / Getty Images

Granted, not all children live in supportive, stable or safe environments, and positive role-modelling may be hard to find inside some of our nation's homes. Certainly, a community approach is necessary.

But we should all look closer to home first; examine the ways in which we treat others, the attitudes we espouse, the messages we intentionally and unwittingly send our children. Because children learn directly from us, by watching our interactions, hearing our casual comments, taking on our prejudices and unconscious biases.

Regardless of your political persuasion, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's message to practise kindness first is a good place to start - in the home as well as in government.

And for anyone thinking they are immune, that their child is one of the lucky ones, consider the unpalatable options: Chances are your child is being bullied but is too scared or ashamed to speak about it. Or maybe your precious child is the one doing the bullying. Maybe the buck stops with you.