Every Monday morning school counsellors throughout New Zealand arrive at work, turn on their computers, and start dealing with screenshots of bullying text messages.
Last week was Bully-Free NZ Week and Taupō-nui-a-Tia College ran events every day to send a strong message against bullying at school. The aim is to promote an anti-bullying culture by celebrating diversity and promoting kindness and inclusiveness.
The week's events were organised by guidance counsellor Hilary MacRae and a student-led wellbeing committee, with a highlight of the week being Pink Shirt Friday.
Committee member and Year 13 student Joseph Craggs says ending bullying will take an ongoing effort.
"Bullying doesn't end when Pink Shirt Day is over. The kaupapa and messages can be embedded all year round."
The wellness committee surveyed students to ask them what changes could be made to promote an anti-bullying culture.
"We know we can do better," Joseph says.
On Tuesday, lunchtime students took part in a "warm fuzzies" activity, writing complimentary notes to one another, "the opposite of bullying".
Pink Shirt Day statistics for secondary schools show 87 per cent feel safe at school all or most of the time. Of the 87 per cent, Hilary says some are unaware of the bullying going on around them and some never experience it.
Hilary and Joseph say bullying is always going to happen and say they hope to educate bystanders.
"We want more confidence from bystanders, to recognise they have an important role to play as an upstander," Joseph says.
Hilary explains an upstander is a person who sees/hears/knows about some bullying and then chooses to do one of four things: support the person being bullied, interrupt the bullying in some way, let the bully know what they are doing is not okay, or take action to support the victim.
"The first thing a bully says is 'I was only kidding' but their actions are always deliberate and there is an intention to harm another person," Hilary says.
In 2020, Children's Commissioner Andrew Becroft said Unicef's most recent report into bullying ranked New Zealand among the worst in the world. Statistics from the anti-bullying campaign Pink Shirt Day show school bullying in New Zealand is the third worst out of 36 OECD countries.
Hilary says research shows bullying is integrated into the Kiwi culture, and is a community problem, not just a school problem.
She makes a distinction between poking fun at someone and verbal bullying.
"This is not where people are having a laugh, this is where there is a power imbalance and the other person feels threatened or harassed."
Hilary says school bullies are often victims of bullying at home. She says parents may be a victim of bullying at work, and may not even realise it.
Students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual transsexual, queer or questioning, or intersex (LGBTQ+) are more likely to be bullied than students who identify as straight.
"As a community, those who identify as LGBTQ+ are overrepresented in mental health statistics."
Hilary says students need to be educated about what it means to identify as LGBTQ+, and from education follows an attitude of acceptance and inclusivity.
"Developmentally, the younger students [at high school] are at an age where they can be so judgy."
There are special zones around the school for LGBTQ+ students, with some teachers flying the Straight Ally flag in their classroom, indicating it's a safe place for LGBTQ+ students to go to.
Young people who are targeted by bullies are more likely to have mental health issues such as anxiety or depression, and Hilary says bullying victims tend to blame themselves.
If the victim doesn't deal with the mental health issues, it can escalate to them not wanting to attend school.
"Bullying through social media can follow someone home. In the days before mobile phones at least kids got to go home and get away from the bullies," Joseph says.
Social media bullying happens out of school hours, but Hilary says "if it's stopping a young person coming to school then it becomes a school issue".
Hilary says the work being done at Taupō-nui-a-Tia College is part of a year-long focus to make the school environment as safe as possible for learners.