Monday, 16 November 2009

cyber bullies

No, not the latest episode of Dr Who but an increasing problem for young people. The National Centre for Social Research has just published a summary of a major study into the bullying of secondary school pupils between the age of 14-16. The full report will be available in January 2010 but the headline findings are:

  • Bullying decreased with age: The prevalence of reported bullying decreased over the three years of the study. 47% of young people reported being bullied at age 14, but this had reduced to 29% by age 16.
  • Name calling/cyberbullying was most common: The most common type of bullying was name calling/cyberbullying, followed by being threatened with violence, being socially excluded and being subjected to actual violence. The least common type of bullying was being forced to hand over money or possessions, which was much less common than all the other types of bullying.
  • Vulnerable pupils and girls were more likely to be bullied: The main risk factors for being bullied at ages 14-16 were having a special educational need, having a caring responsibility, having a disability or having spent a period of time in social services care. Girls were also more likely to be bullied at ages 14 and 15, but not at age 16.
  • Parental awareness of bullying helped to reduce it: Young people whose parents had also reported that they were bullied at the age of 14 were almost twice as likely to stop being bullied by age 16 compared to those whose parents did not know they were being bullied. The same was also true for young people whose parents were aware they were being bullied at age 15.
  • Victims of bullying had worse educational outcomes: Young people who had been bullied at the ages of 14 or 15 had an average GCSE score two grades lower than those who had not been bullied. They were also more likely to be Not in Employment, Education or Training (NEET) than those who had not been bullied, and less likely to still be in full-time education.

Why should we be surprised at the amount and nature of bullying amongst the young when bullying has become so prevalent in wider society? We have bullying as entertainment in reality T.V. programmes like Xfactor, where contestants are ritually humiliated, most notably during the early audition stages, for the enjoyment of the wider public. Even on Strictly Come Dancing there is a spitefulness to some of the judges’ comments that goes beyond the critical to what seems intended to wound. Sir Alan Sugar made his reputation on The Apprentice for what at times could only be described as the denigration of his potential employees and he often rewarded the most Machiavellian contestants while dismissing others as weak. I should of course refer to him as Lord Alan Sugar as he was recently ennobled and made the government’s Enterprise Tsar, presumably because of the charm he exhibits in telling people ‘you’re fired’.

Bullying seems to have become a significant feature of our political discourse; when Ed Balls recently appointed the new Children’s Commissioner Maggie Atkinson despite significant opposition, Barry Sheerman who chairs the Children’s Select Committee commented: ‘Most of us know that Ed Balls is a bit of a bully and he likes his own way’. A great epithet for the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, though it should be noted that Sheerman has his own agenda. The Sun’s recent hounding of Gordon Brown over his letter of condolence to Jacqui Janes is seen by many to be little more than the petty bullying of a man suffering from poor eyesight. The pathetic school ground baiting and name calling across the House of Commons’ chamber during Prime Minister’s Questions suggests a deeper culture of bullying.

Unfortunately the church’s record on bullying has also left a lot to be desired. I have close friends who were driven out of the church where they worshipped by a new incumbent who bullied anyone who refused to go along with his agenda. However, I also know there are clergy colleagues who feel their ministries were made untenable because of the bullying antics of key figures in the congregation and community. Anne Lee writing in the Church Times in 2007 identified some of the damage caused to the ministry and mission of the church by bullying: ‘An organisation that allows bullying behaviour to continue unchecked is compromised in proclaiming good news. Whenever a church or church organisation refuses to answer questions, punishes those who express concerns, abuses confidentiality, covers up, coerces, threatens, or deceives, it is directly undermining gospel values.’

Unless we name bullying for what it is and refuse to tolerate it in the name of effective business practice, the rough and tumble of political culture, entertainment or, in the case of the church, ministerial leadership styles then we cannot expect to address bullying amongst young people effectively. Why should our children take bullying seriously if we will not?

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