Children’s views on bullying are discussed in a new report, which sends a clear message that adults must be careful not to ignore or inadvertently encourage bullying

According to new research from the children’s rights director for England, Roger Morgan, bullying is on the increase and bullies are using a variety of methods, including the use of new technologies, to torment their victims.

The introduction to Children on Bullying describes it as a report on consultations with children and young people from a wide range of settings about their experiences of bullying. The report includes only children’s comments and makes useful reading to anyone setting up an anti-bullying policy in school. Three hundred and nineteen children and young people offered their thoughts, experiences and views, either through the use of discussion groups or by filling in question cards.

The first chapter looks at how the children defined bullying. Answers range from lists of behaviours that would be used to hurt or intimidate right through to quite sophisticated definitions that talk about the intention of the bully and or the effect on the victim.

The children made a differentiation between joking and name-calling that occurred once, (might not be bullying) to where this was repeated and so caused an emotional effect on the victim. Some children reported that being bullied by a group was more detrimental than where one person is picking on another and most children viewed being rejected by their peer group as always having a detrimental effect.

This section also reports that children felt that some behaviours were wrongly interpreted as bullying, for instance when friends fall out and stop talking to each other or when two people are just play fighting and someone reports it as one person bullying the other.

Cyberbullying had been experienced by some of the children (see box below).

Cyberbullying Children described cyberbullying as including:

  • sending threatening text messages
  • making threatening phone calls
  • posting unpleasant things about people on social networking sites
  • taking embarrassing photos of people and circulating them electronically.

In one discussion group of 12 children, six said they had experienced cyberbullying which included all of the above but also:

  • having their computer infected with viruses by the bully
  • the bully gaining access to their gaming accounts and destroying them
  • having their games ruined by the bully stealing ‘virtual items’ from their accounts, which was described as bad as having real life possessions stolen
  • bullies stealing their identities to access their computer accounts and sending nasty messages or images to others.

One child is quoted as saying, ‘You can be burgled by computer’.

A theme that runs strongly through the children’s comments is that whether a particular behaviour can be described as bullying depends on the effect that behaviour has on the person who is subject to it. Children were able to identify a number of key triggers to bullying incidents including:

  • arguing with a bully
  • being or looking different from the group
  • doing something, even a small thing, that angers the bully.

Ninety-five children were asked where bullying was most likely to take place, 55% said at school. Other places included on the way to school and in the street. Children identified areas out of adult supervision such as corridors, school toilets and alleyways. A few children found it difficult to say where and one child was quoted as saying, ‘Well all around, its like I turn the corner and they’re waiting for me.’

Children were asked when bullying was likely to happen and school times featured highly in their responses: school break times and dinnertimes, times when there was less adult supervision.

How to avoid being bullied
Two thirds of the children asked said that bullying was on the increase and that the method of bullying was getting worse.

Children reported that ‘fitting in’ with the group is vital if bullying is to be avoided. They also claimed that children are much better judges of who is likely to be bullied than adults. Their advice about how not to be bullied included:

  • standing up for yourself
  • building up friendships
  • avoiding trouble
  • trying to blend in; avoiding standing out from the group in any way.

Some 56% of the children who were asked said that a bully might have experienced bullying themselves and 27% agreed that the bully might have personal problems.

The response to bullying
The report included questions about how adults responded to bullying, many children said that the main problem with telling adults is that different adults behaved in different ways and that the child could not be sure how they would react or what action they would take. The strong message here is that school bullying policies need to very clear in terms of what support a child will be offered if they report bullying and should explain what action will be taken. Children need to know that adults will act consistently in response to their disclosures of bullying. The children reported that adults respond better where the victim is younger.

A number of children said that adults needed to be more prepared to believe children reporting bullying and should offer support to the victim, build up their self-confidence and help them make friends.

One group of children suggested that all schools should have an ‘anti bullying visitor’ or counsellor and another group suggested an email link to specific staff. Peer mentoring was a popular response to the question of how schools respond, children reporting that they felt older pupils would be easier to talk to than adults. Some children raised the issue of support for the bully showing an understanding that the bully probably has problems too. Anger management training for the bully and self defence for the victim was also suggested. Some children suggested that children who don’t bully should be rewarded. Most of the children called for more training for staff on how to handle bullying situations. Most children wanted more adult supervision of the places in school that they identified as the bully’s territories.

Stopping bullying When asked what would stop a bully carrying on being a bully, 44% of the children said knowing how it feels to be bullied. However, many other possibilities were suggested:

  • Punishment, which was suggested by slightly more boys than girls.
  • Talking to the bully’s parents, although some parents may not believe their child would bully others.
  • The bully’s friends could help them to stop by disapproving of the behaviour and not joining in.
  • The bully being given a position of responsibility to help them understand that positions of trust carry responsibilities.

Some children and young people felt it was impossible to stop a bully and suggested that they should be expelled. However, this was balanced by the view that this would probably only transfer the problem elsewhere. The section of the report on stopping bullying demonstrates that while children and young people understand how, when and where bullying occurs and whom it is likely to happen to, they often feel helpless in terms of being able to prevent it.

This report is a wonderful demonstration of how thoughtful children and young people are when discussing an issue that affects them. Those carrying out the consultation made no attempt to question the children’s points of view or to correct them. Bullying is a serious issue affecting most schools and this very full report would prove a useful discussion starter with children and young people and in the staff group.

Download the full report