words | Polly Lavarello
The experience of growing up has dramatically changed from generation to generation. Cultural norms have shifted along with new family dynamics, technology and trends. Are these changes for the better or for the worse?
Some things remain the same. There is a type of behaviour among children that has morphed into new forms, but which can consistently be categorised as one thing – bullying. Whether it is peer pressure, disputes in the playground or trolling online – this damaging behaviour is rampant, and technology has only further facilitated it.
Bullying via social media recently made the UK headlines at the news of a 17 year old boy’s suicide. Felix Alexander lay in front of a train in April this year. His mother wrote an open letter describing how a “cruel and overwhelming” social media campaign by people he had never met had damaged her son beyond repair. In her letter, she mentions that bullies often try to dismiss their unkindness “as banter” but she urged for children to be “kind always and never leave bullying unreported.”
Felix’s mother also appealed to parents, “We don’t like to think our children could be responsible for being cruel, but I have been shocked by the ‘nice’ kids who were responsible in part for Felix’s anguish.”
While this is an extreme case, being tormented or “trolled” online is incredibly common. The manner in which others are bullied has evolved too, even the law has had to follow suit in response to an increase in incidents. Sharing intimate photos or videos (also referred to as “revenge porn”) is now a criminal offence in the UK. While this may be more common among adults than school children, it is not uncommon to hear of inappropriate photos circulating like wildfire around a school, often causing immense distress to the subject or subjects.
Of course, it doesn’t help that there are phone apps like “Snapchat” which indirectly encourages this sort of behaviour. Supposedly temporarily available images are easy to download, making all behaviour accountable. However, many don’t think of this or the recipient when they share a quick snap. What seems like harmless fun to the perpetrators can have incredibly damaging, or even fatal consequences for vulnerable victims.
It’s particularly alarming as a parent to know that our children could be bullied right under our very noses, and we could be oblivious to it. What’s more, the myriad of popular apps, games and websites going in and out of fashion makes monitoring your child’s wellbeing and safety an incredibly arduous, and sometimes seemingly impossible task.
This year, the theme for National Anti-bullying Week (14th – 18th November) is “Power for Good”. The aim of this theme is to remind not only children of the power that they have individually and collectively against bullying, but also for parents and teachers to work together to prevent bullying and create safe environments where children can thrive.
What is available to parents if you think your child is a victim to bullies? The first step would be to speak to the school, but where you feel you would like extra support, Childline Gibraltar is a fantastic voluntary organisation who are always ready to help. If you are concerned that your child is being bullied, or a bully themselves, Childline Gibraltar’s helpline is there to help both children and parents. There is also some useful information available on their website for kids, whether they find themselves being bullied or believe that they are being a bully themselves.
When I spoke to Childline Gibraltar about “Anti-bullying awareness month” they said it “is a great opportunity to reinforce the messages about how our community approaches bullying; including ensuring children know what to do if they are being bullied and how we should deal with anyone who bullies. Also, that everyone should take bullying seriously because of the long-term impact it can have on friendships, self-esteem as well as health and wellbeing.”
Childline Gibraltar will be holding a book competition, with the aim to increase awareness of Mental Health and Wellbeing amongst young people and in doing so, this can help promote better Mental Health within the community.
They are looking for a young person’s perspective of mental health. Entries can be in written format e.g. a poem, a short story, a drawn picture or a photograph. This competition is open to all young people aged, aged 11-16, with a presentation evening due to be held on Wednesday 8th February, to coincide with Children’s Mental Health Week 2017.
Also, over the month, the Education Team will be delivering awareness sessions, alongside young people, in schools, youth clubs and young people’s associations, such as the Ministry of Defence Youth Groups and the local college.
Childline Gibraltar want to deliver their message to our young people:
“It doesn’t matter what colour hair you have; what trainers you are wearing; how you speak; how you walk; how you talk – it is not your fault if you get bullied. We are all different in some way and that’s what makes us amazing. Whether you are a male or a female, old or young, big or small – bullying makes you feel hopeless and it’s okay to be upset about it. The important thing is that you tell someone about it. If you feel you can, talk to a teacher you trust or a family member. If you don’t want to do that, you can always call 8008 or visit www.childline.gi for more information.”
Where the Internet has opened up the potential for bullies to harass and stalk victims, it has also given victims facilities such as Childline live chat and other online support and resources. The Internet is not the enemy, but it needs to be used wisely. If you suspect your child is being bullied, it is vital that they are given access to support through whichever means they feel comfortable. In the words of bullying victim Felix’s mother, Lucy Alexander “Please be kind always, for you never know what is in someone’s heart or mind.”