With Anti-Bullying week 2020 upon us, I asked Lorraine where bullying stands post Covid-19 and what we can do to raise awareness of bullying to those in our care. respectme’s current campaign, ‘What made it better?’ talks to adults and older young people who have been affected by bullying and what made it better for them to cope and thrive. (https://whatmadeitbetter.com/)
respectme are Scotland’s Anti-Bullying Service. They are managed by SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health) and LGBT Youth Scotland, and wholly funded by Scottish Government. Their main aim is to see an inclusive Scotland where children and young people are free from bullying and able to reach their full potential.
You have worked with respectme for 12years. What did you do before you joined and what particularly attracted you to respectme?
I had a great career in economic development spanning some three decades before joining respectme. So what’s that got to do with anti-bullying? Well, although not an immediately obvious link, young people who are bullied often become unwell and their planned trajectory to college, university and employment can be interrupted by months/years whilst they recover, having an ultimate impact on their economic future and wellbeing. That aside, I brought many transferable skills to respectme, including policy writing and the ability to translate the strategic intent of government into relatable, operational reality for local authorities and other organisations. In my previous role I was responsible for national and international marketing of Scotland as an investment location and a career highlight was leading a Scottish delegation to a global exhibition staged in Cannes! My travels have continued with respectme and I am delighted to say that I have worked with every local authority in Scotland over the last decade.
I was attracted to respectme as it is a values-led service, completely aligned with my own lifelong drive for fairness, equality, inclusion and dignity for all. Bullying is a blight on young lives and the impacts can endure for decades – we need to change that.
What form of bullying do you see most of?
respectme works with adults who have a role to play in the lives of children and young people, which means we don’t see bullying play out directly before us, so we actively seek out information from children, parents and school staff. Hurtful remarks, spreading rumours and leaving people out are common forms of bullying and transfer readily from the ‘real’ world to online platforms and recent research from the NSPCC reports an increase in reports from children about online abuse.
Have you seen an increase in bullying or different forms of it emerging since Covid-19 struck?
Research suggests an overall decline in bullying, correlating to the fact that schools were closed so the physical environment where much bullying takes place wasn’t available, hence the migration to online spaces. We have also been made aware of an increase in prejudice-based bullying unjustly targeted at children and families of South-East Asian origin. We are presently working to develop a specific training session to address bullying related to race.
Online bullying and harassment has become a huge problem area for young people especially in recent years and of course so much of the online bullying is not seen by parents or carers. What can adults do to educate young people on how best to deal with it?
Adults need to be vigilant and keep the lines of communication open with their young people to understand what they’re doing online, where they’re ‘going’, who they’re engaging with and what they need to do to stay safe online. There are fantastic resources available from Police Scotland, Internet Matters, Think you know? and ourselves and others to support parents and carers. Adults would be unlikely to allow their child to visit an unknown town centre and wander around alone for hours talking to strangers, so it can help when they realise the similarity with this when they allow young people open and unsupervised access to the World Wide Web.
Trust is an important element around children opening up and being honest to an adult. What advice do you have for parents/carers to ensure children can see that trust within them?
Cliched as it can sound, it’s all about relationships. Most children inherently trust the adults who look after them, but as they start to grow up peer influence increases and sometimes distance can creep in. Parenting is a tough job for which there’s no training programme! In Scotland we have many amazing organisations who offer support to parents to help them navigate the difficult times. Our advice is always to ‘keep talking’ to your young people, let them know you’ve got their back and whatever problems they face then together you can work them through. On a personal level, my now adult children told me recently that when they were teenagers the safety net I gave them was in saying ‘Just tell me what’s going on and so long as nobody is dead, we can fix this!’
Transition to high school can be an exciting but daunting time for children. What are your top tips to give young people that extra bit of confidence?
It’s a really exciting time and sometimes that excitement can be mistaken for anxiety, so try to soak in all the new experiences and just be yourself. There can be a lot of pressure to try to ‘fit in’ and change who you are but that’s not sustainable, authentic or healthy.
Also, try not to worry about making friends – you’ve made friends before! Friends from P7 will still be around, so you won’t be alone. Look out for other children who are seeming to find it harder – invite them into your group, talk to them about what things they like to do, share sweets – anything that helps them will probably also help you too!
As a teacher or parent, what are the signs to look out for in a child who is being bullied?
Changes in usual behaviour can be indicators that something is wrong. Parents know their children best and teachers who see them daily can often also detect a shift in mood. If the bullying is physical then there may be obvious signs of harm or torn clothing/schoolbags – they may also choose different routes to school, or not want to go there at all. If the bullying is online, children might spend more, or less, time than usual on devices. Any or all of these could be bullying signs, or could be due to something entirely different. The best way to know for sure is to ask gently what’s been happening lately with friendships and how they’re feeling about them.
What support resources are available for adults, but also what support is available to children should they not wish to share with a parent/carer?
We encourage children to speak to a trusted adult who may be a parent/carer but could also be a grandparent, cousin, uncle, sport’s coach, youth leader, etc – whoever they trust and believe that can help them. Children in need of support can call or text the Childline helpline on 0800 1111.
Children learn from adults. Parents, grandparents, older siblings, these are the first and most important role models our children will ever know. How we act matters. The lessons we teach our children matter and will shape their views of the world and how they should treat others.
By showing our children through our own actions, attitudes and behaviours that respect, acceptance and kindness are signs of strength, not weakness, we can help make the world that little bit better for everyone.