FERMANAGH’S schools are being urged to do much more to tackle the ongoing, and seemingly worsening, issue of teenage bullying.
Last week the Herald was contacted by a distressed parent who was very concerned about their child’s safety at school. Feeling they had no one else to turn to, and being quite critical of his school’s response to their son’s alleged bullying, the family have resorted to reporting the matter to the police.
“Any time they put hands on my son and assault him, I’ve had to go the police because the school never really deal with it,” said the father of the 13-year-old, who he said has been getting bullied for the past two years.
The father, whose name and the name of the school we are withholding to protect the identity of the boy, said he and his wife had been very unhappy with how the staff at their son’s school had handled his situation.
“I’m finding the school themselves, they know who the bullies are, they’re just not doing anything about it,” he said.
Referring to the most recent alleged incident, he continued: “The worst part about this is, the reason my son was distressed more, the bullies were laughing when he was leaving the classroom, and the teacher was standing there and she said she didn’t see anything until the last minute.”
Adding he felt the school were “closing ranks” on the matter, the father said: “It’s going on far too long. Just a few weeks ago he was attacked by two older boys, but the school never informed me.
“They have a duty of care to my son, and this is neglect,” he claimed.
‘Harm will be done unless schools take decisive action’
This isn’t the first time this paper has been contacted by distressed parents of bullied children. Last year, after running a story about a mother of a boy at another local school, the Herald received many messages of support for the mother from parents in similar situations.
Local well-being counsellor, and former school principal, Shauna Cathcart, pictured below, has warned the impact of bullying on young people can be very far reaching and, at times, even tragic.
“Recent research into bullying in schools reveals some worrying findings indicating that pupils who are subjected to various forms of verbal, physical or emotional abuse are very susceptible to mental health problems,” said Ms Cathcart, referring to the 2015/16 Childline Bullying Report.
Stating children who are bullied are prone to high levels of anxiety and depression, or can suffer sleeping or eating problems or see a decline in their school work, Ms Cathcart said in severe cases pupils were known to engage in self-harm and had even, in recent high-profile cases of cyberbullying, taken their own lives “to escape the unbearable psychological distress associated with being the target of prolonged and unwelcome abuse.”
“These facts certainly turn the conventional wisdom of ‘sticks and stones’ on its head,” she continued. “It is now proven beyond doubt that emotional harm lasts much longer than the physical.”
Adding the issue of cyberbullying was particularly hard for schools and parents to monitor, Ms Cathcart concluded: “It is imperative then that government bodies, schools and parents take action as a matter of priority to address this growing issue. All allegations of bullying must be taken seriously.
“Parents and schools need to take firm, immediate, decisive and consistent action so that young people can move past any incidences of bullying and quickly heal the emotional scars left behind rather than suffering prolonged and unnecessary blows to their sense of self which can remain into early adulthood and beyond.”
If you know a child being bullied at school there area number of online resources offering advice and guidelines, from signs and symptoms, to support, to how to approach your school. These include the Department of Education website, www.education-ni.gov.uk; the official government website, nidirect.gov.uk; and the national organisation Kidscape, www.kidscape.org.uk.