When I was at secondary school (right here in Thanet), I was bullied. I tell you this not to ask for sympathy, but because it’s important we talk about bullying when it happens.
I can remember vividly being 11 and treated horribly by a small group of older lads; I didn’t have the confidence to stand up to them, but eventually found the confidence to tell a teacher – and the response was brilliant. It was dealt with immediately, and I never experienced another incident like it during the rest of my time at school.
Bullying – the stats
But that doesn’t always happen. 1.5 million young people (half of young people in the country) have been bullied within the last year and nearly 20% of these have been bullied every day.
Three more stats for you; 44% of young people bullied have experience depression, 41% experience social anxiety, and – most distressingly at all – 33% had suicidal thoughts.
Something really struck me last year when I was at another school, talking to a group of school children who were interested in becoming writers and reading activists – a brilliant group of maybe 25 people aged between 11 and 14. In a Q&A session, one student asked me: “What advice would you give to someone who is being bullied?”
That floored me, because it angered me to think about young people still being bullied – and it also floored me to realise that I felt so strongly about it. I knew immediately what I wanted to say, and this is what I told them:
“It’s not your fault. Don’t be embarrassed to admit that you’re being bullied. It is not your fault; it’s theirs, the bully’s fault, for doing it to you in the first place.”
“So, when it happens, tell someone it’s happened. Don’t keep it to yourself; if the bully has said they’ll do something to you or someone you care about if you tell, they won’t. You’re in the right, they’re not; you don’t deserve the mental or physical pain (or both) that they’re inflicting on you.
Trust a teacher and tell them what’s happening. Tell your mum or dad. Make sure you stand your ground. Bullying is wrong, and you don’t deserve it. No-one deserves to be bullied. You’re in the right; if someone doesn’t act on the information straight away, you have every right to tell someone else and demand that you are protected and safe. It’s not your fault. You have every right to feel safe and protected, and it’s our job as adults to help you with that.”
These words tumbled out of me before I knew what was happening; it brought back memories, of course it did, but I’m passionate about bullying being prevented.
It’s a stain on our national character whenever we fail to tackle it; we must allow young people the space to feel that they can report it and feel like they’re being listened to.
We ask them to trust us, so we need to earn that trust in situations like these by delivering on our promises of safety and protection.