How prevalent is bullying in the UK? The facts speak for themselves. Considering the sobering results of various surveys over the years providing insight from children, teens and their parents, bullying continues to be a serious issue in the United Kingdom. Here are a few bullying facts to support this claim:
- In 2015, the country reported an estimated 25,700 children’s counseling sessions concerning bullying
- Over 16,000 students skip school annually because of bullying
- More than half of LGBT youth have been victims of homophobic bullying in school
- Approximately 5.43 million children and teens in the country have had experience with online bullying; 1.26 million said they suffered cyber abuse on a daily basis.
- In 2015, Childline reported approximately 7,300 counseling sessions with youth concerning online safety and cyberbullying
According to reports from the Diana Award’s Anti-Bullying Campaign,
- 45% of U.K. youth experience some form of bullying before turning 18
- More children and tweens (11 and under) contact Childline for help with bullying than any other reason
- 36% of U.K. youth ages 8-22 are concerned about becoming victims of bullies in school; 38% feel their school isn’t taking bullying as seriously as it should
Bullying has been a major issue in the UK for years. UK schools continue to combat bullying situations at all levels of their educational system. Instances of primary bullying, middle school bullying, high school bullying and university bullying are reported annually, many of which come with tragic results. Some kids and teens are bullied only occasionally while others face verbal or physical abuse in school on a regular basis. Consistent bullying makes it very difficult for children and teens to focus on their academic studies much less enjoy their school years.
Young people who are subjected to long term bullying in school may eventually quit school, losing out on valuable education that can help them in the future. In more severe cases, bullied students may resort to suicide to escape the pain and suffering of their ordeal.
The definition of bullying may vary slightly from country to country, but the gist is the same. In the UK, bullying has been defined as behaviour that is “repeated, intended to hurt someone either physically or emotionally and often aimed at certain groups because of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.”
Britain is a country with an extremely diverse population. Its schools, colleges and universities are comprised of students from different ethnic backgrounds, nationalities, lifestyles and religious beliefs. With such a multi-cultural society, it’s no surprise that bullying occurs, not only at school, but at work, in social settings and in the home.
Like many countries in Europe, UK has a history of school bullying, workplace bullying, cyberbullying and sibling bullying within the home. Office bullying may consist of unfair treatment, the spread of malicious gossip or rumors, or the denial of training or opportunities for promotion. Internet bullying could come in the form of cruel posts, slander, stalking or online identity theft. Sibling bullying often entails verbal or physical abuse by unsupervised or jealous siblings in an unstable home environment.
Impact of Bullying in the UK
Left unchecked, bullying can impact every aspect of a person’s life. Verbal abuse can cause mental and emotional harm, robbing people of their confidence and self-esteem. Bullying in the form of name-calling, insults and mockery can cause students to feel inferior to their peers. Adolescence is an age where many young people are already on shaky ground due to the changes of puberty. Most young people want to be accepted in school and university, joining clubs, sports teams, fraternities and sororities in order to make friends and feel like they belong.
Bullying ostracizes children and teens, making it hard for them to integrate into social circles. Victims are made to feel they don’t belong and are not wanted in school at all. It’s no wonder many victims start skipping school or drop out. Most children and teens don’t know how to handle bullying. If they have no one to confide in, it’s quite easy for them to become isolated and withdrawn. One of the greatest mistakes victims make is trying to deal with bullying alone. The following bullying information shows some of the negative impact that bullying can have on victims when they don’t have help or support.
- 16,000+ children and teens don’t attend school due to bullying
- Of the 83% of youth who have been negatively impacted by bullying, 30% resorted to self-harm and 10% attempted suicide as a result
- Bullying victims may find it twice as hard to stay employed as compared to those who have never had a bullying problem.
- Bullying victims have six times the risk of developing a serious illness, psychiatric problem or developing a smoking habit than people who have never been bullied.
When it comes to the LGBT community, 55% reported experiencing homophobic bullying in school with an alarming 96% hearing derogatory homophobic remarks often, making them feel uncomfortable and unwelcomed in the school environment. Three in every five LGBT students say bullying has hindered them from focusing on their academic studies. Some straight-A students considered stopping their education altogether due to being targeted by bullies. Of those being bullied, two out of every five gay students have attempted or considered attempting suicide as a way out of their suffering.
What Causes Bullying?
There are numerous reasons behind why people bully or why certain countries are having greater difficulty with bullying than others. Some countries inadvertently promote bullying through violent movies, TV series, video games, etc. Young people who spend hours watching violence on TV or DVD are bound to copy some of the negative behavior they see. In many cultures today, aggressive behavior is associated with “manliness.” Boys, therefore, grow up believing it’s good to be aggressive and forceful. This behavior can easily be manifested by bullying in school.
Some cultures are intolerant of lifestyles or behavior that’s “different” from their norm, which encourages bullies to target students that fit this portfolio. In many countries, for example, the LGBT community is simply not accepted as a “proper” way of life. Bullies therefore target LGBT students in these countries, letting them know their lifestyle won’t be tolerated in school. In fact, students that look different, act different, talk different or think different than “the norm” are at greater risk of being bullying targets.
Racist Bullying a Problem in British Schools
Racism is yet another reason that people bully. In recent years, various news stories have exposed a number of racist bullying cases in British schools.
Earlier in 2016, a 16 year old Polish girl named Dagmara Przybysz was found deceased inside her secondary school in Cornwall. It was believed she had suffered from racist bullying. Two years earlier, Dagmara had confessed to being bullied on the Ask.fm social media site. This is but one of many tragic cases concerning racist bullying in UK schools. School bullying in general has become so prevalent that Prince William emphasized the need for change in his campaign for National Stand Up to Bullying Day. He said:
“Bullying is an issue which can affect any one of us, regardless of age, background, gender, sexuality, race, disability or religion. It can happen for many reasons, it is often stupid and cruel, and can take many forms. And the reach of technology means it can feel unrelenting, leaving the victim feeling attacked, powerless and isolated. For young people in particular, bullying can have a profoundly damaging and long-lasting effect.”
Anastasia de Waal, chairperson of Bullying UK heartily agreed. “Even though we have made tremendous progress,” she said, “bullying is still a major issue in schools and there’s still a lot around race. A lot of people might think it’s just about the skin colour but if a kid has an accent, the bullying might centre on that. It’s not always tangible – like being a different colour or having different hair.” (According to De Waal, children and teens have even been bullied for the type of clothes they wear, the foods they eat and their habits.) “We know if children use racist terms that schools react swiftly, but if they’re being teased for the food they bring to school – which we know in the past is a fairly common issue – then it’s much harder,” she continued. “Parents and schools need to work together to make sure it’s nipped in the bud.”
According to a study by Ditch the Label, a major anti-bullying UK charity, approximately 1.5 million children and teens have suffered from bullying in the country within the last year alone. Those from an ethnic minority background stood a greater chance of being targeted by bullies than young Caucasians. Such was the case with Billie Gianfrancesco.
Ten years earlier, Ms Gianfrancesco, a 26 year old PR manager in Britain, suffered from racist bullying in her rural Norfolk school. At the age of 13, Ms Gianfrancesco, of half Caribbean descent, was targeted for racist bullying by a senior classmate in her private school. The classmate locked her in a changing room during a PE class and called her a ‘Paki bitch.’ She reported the incident to her teachers only to have them brush it off.
At the age of 16, she was again targeted for racist bullying, this time for rejecting the advances of a young teen boy in her school. According to Ms Gianfrancesco, “my social media accounts were hacked and all my photos changed to pictures of monkeys, and there were messages talking about my mother as ‘having aids because she was a black monkey.’” Although the police were called, nothing came of their investigation.
Eventually, Ms Gianfrancesco decided to take matters into her own hands. With the help and support of her mother, she circulated a petition and sought signatures of student witnesses who could confirm her bullying incidents or who were bullied themselves. After collecting a substantial amount of signatures, the school took action in expelling the boy bully.
According to Liam Hackett, CEO of Ditch the Label, racist bullying isn’t an anomaly. “Young people are now being bullied in their safe spaces, like at home or at the dining table, because of online technology. It makes it more traumatic for young people because it’s overwhelming and they can’t escape it. It’s often verbal but physical bullying is quite common as well. Guys are a lot more physical but girls are more verbal and indirect. It can be direct racist comments or taunts. It can be humiliating someone in a classroom or rejecting someone from social activities. One of the biggest issues is cultural differences.”
How to Combat Racist Bullying in the UK
In order to stop racist bullying, young people need the support of both their school and their parents or guardians. Teachers and parents can’t expect young people to stop bullies on their own. Students need to know teachers will believe them when they report bullying incidents and take action to stop bullying behavior before someone gets seriously hurt.
Liam Hackett, CEO of Ditch the Label, goes even further by advocating that teachers “be pro-active” in their fight against bullying and not simply wait around until something happens. He believes teachers and parents should “Look out for behavioural changes, such as the child isolating themselves, losing their appetite or becoming aggressive,” as these could very well be bullying signs. “It’s important the young person understands they’re not being bullied because of the colour of their skin – it’s because the bullies have their own issues.”
Ultimately, Hackett believes that education is the solution to how to prevent bullying in British schools. De Waal concurs: “The main thing is continuing to make sure we’re educating young people about bullying being a problem and that they understand racism,” she says. “Young people need to recognise the impact it has and that attacking someone’s identity is harmful to them.”
What’s the Current State of Bullying in British Schools?
The results of Ditch the Label’s Annual Bullying Survey for 2016 gives people greater insight into where bullying currently stands in the UK. Approximately 8,850 young people between the ages of 12 and 20 participated in the survey from schools and colleges all over the country. The following bullying statistics were gleaned from this 2016 report:
• approximately 1.5 million children and teens (50%) were bullied in 2015; 19% said they were bullied daily
• boy bullies outnumbered girl bullies by almost 50% (66% males vs 31% females)
• 57% of bully victims were female; 44% were male and 59% identified themselves as “trans”
• 24% of bully victims admit to bullying others later on
• 14% of survey participants say they’ve bullied others; 12% admit to bullying on a daily basis
• 20% of survey participants admit to physically attacking someone
• Of bullying victims, 44% say they have experienced depression; 41% say they have experienced social anxiety and 33% say they have had suicidal thoughts
In most cases, bullying is not a one-time offense. Many students are bullied daily, sometimes for years on end. Young people who don’t report bullying or who are not taken seriously by adults after reporting bullying offenses suffer a great loss. Whether victims experience verbal abuse or physical assaults, the negative effects of bullying can completely alter a young person’s life.
Numerous students admitted that bullying had an adverse effect on their studies, causing them to fail major exams or fall behind. Some students lose the vision for going to school altogether. Ian Rivers, a professor at Brunel University and bullying expert, noted: “Very able pupils are disadvantaged by their constant experience of bullying … schools that fail to tackle bullying will also face questions from Ofsted (Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) on their grades decline.”
From survey results, it’s not unusual for bullying victims to convert into bullies themselves, further complicating the problem. The vicious cycle continues with a new generation of bullies walking in the footsteps of their predecessors. By doing their part to curtail bullying in schools, teachers and administrative staff can protect future generations from this plague.
The greatest danger of bullying, however, is losing young people to suicide due to being abused. Smart, talented young people who could have made a major contribution to society are committing suicide to escape bullies’ grasp. Recent studies reveal that one out of ten teens who are bullied in school attempt suicide. Thirty percent resort to self-harm.
According to Liam Hackett, CEO of Ditch the Label, the 2016 survey revealed “the profound effect bullying (was) having on children’s self-esteem and the future prospects of millions of young people across the UK.”
Alarming Facts about Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is yet another aspect of bullying that’s escalating in the UK. The following Internet bullying facts give a clearer picture of how this behavior is affecting British youth:
- Approximately 43% of UK children report involvement with bullying online; one in four have had multiple occurrences
- About 70% of UK students have witnessed Internet bullying offenses
- 90% who have witnessed bullying on social cites say they’ve simply ignored it
- Only 10% of bullying victims will report abuse to their parent or another trusted adult
- Twice as many girls as boys are likely to be bullies or bullied online
- 68% of UK young people consider online bullying a threat
- Cyber bullying victims have up to 9 times greater risk of considering suicide due to cyberattacks
Why is Cyberbullying so Widespread?
As British educators and parents consider how to stop cyberbullying, bullying experts are looking at how the phenomenon has become so widespread in the country. Experts agree that increased Internet use increases the risk of cyberbully activities. In the UK, 96% of children and teens aged 11-19 connect online either through their laptops, smartphones or tablets. As much as 80% of UK young people use mobile phones regularly, making them very susceptible to cyberattacks.
An estimated 72% of tweens and young teens (11-15 years old) partake of social media; this percentage increases to 92% among the 16-19 year old bracket. Furthermore, it’s estimated that young people 16-24 years of age spend around 1 ½ hours on social media daily. With so much online activity, it’s not surprising that cyberbullying is on the rise.
Young people’s unwise behavior online can also contribute to an increase in cyber offenses. Many tweens and teens aren’t knowledgeable enough about Internet safety, making them easy targets for bullies. Those new to social sites such as Facebook and Twitter often post personal contact information along with provocative photos that can lead to problems with stalking, Facebook bullying or identity theft. It’s reported that as many as 60% of young online users aged 13-18 were asked for “a sexual image or video of themselves.”
Some UK teens falsify information on Facebook or other social sites to make it appear that they’re older or more sophisticated than they really are. By falsifying information, young people can often attract more traffic to their site or get more “likes.” It’s also not uncommon for young people to “friend” strangers on Facebook to increase their popularity. Befriending strangers online can be foolish and dangerous, as teens don’t know what these people are really like. There are many stories of young teens getting hurt or even killed after deciding to meet these strangers in person later on.
Some young people are unaware of how to report cyberattacks or what to do when targeted by bullies. Teens who answer bullies “tit for tat” increase the risk of bullies escalating their attacks. Before allowing their tween or teen to partake of social media, parents should ensure their kids have reviewed online safety procedures and know how to deal with cyberbullying attacks.
Bullying and Mental Health
In recent news, health officials were investigating cases where students were medicated for mental problems caused by bullying. According to educator advisor Natasha Devon, some children suffer from pre-determined mental illnesses that require medications such as anti-depressants to help keep their condition under control. Other children, however, experience mental health issues due to negative experiences they’re going through such as bullying. Rather than resort to medicating bullying victims, schools need to focus on ways to prevent bullying and protect their students’ wellbeing.
“If a child is being bullied and they have symptoms of depression because they are being bullied, what they need is for the bullying to stop,” she said. “(Children) need to feel safe again. They don’t necessarily need anti-depressants or therapy.” According to Ms Devon, being a child today is harder than in the past due to the complexity of modern society. She says, “Children have more stuff – more possessions. They have more of what they don’t need (and) less of what they do need” – which is quality time spent with their parents. In a household where both parents work long and hard, “family time” may be non-existent or downgraded to watching TV.
The competitive nature of British schools has parents pushing their kids to excel in academics, causing a great deal of stress and anxiety among youth. British society puts even more pressure on young people by setting expectations that kids can’t meet. Both the media and Internet bombard kids with advertising that tells them how to talk, dress and act in order to be accepted by their peers. Those who concede to society’s trends wind up living “airbrushed lives” that don’t really portray who they are or what they want to be. Those who refuse to compromise wind up being bullied for “standing out.”
Anti-bullying Policies in School
By law, all schools in the UK must have some type of anti-bullying policy in place to combat bullying. Schools can select the policy they want to use. There is no shortage of companies in Britain offering anti-bullying material to include workbooks, training courses, etc. By exploring the various options, schools can get a better idea of what would work best for their particular situation. While some schools focus on behavior, others are looking at specific methods for curtailing their bullying problem. Such methods include:
No-blame/Support Group Method
In this method, victims, bullies, bystanders and teachers work together to resolve problems with bullying. Bullying victims are interviewed and asked to illustrate or put in writing the effects of bullying in their lives. Teachers then hold a meeting with all parties to discuss how bullying makes people feel and what can be done to resolve bullying problems. Rather than being blamed for their actions, bullies are encouraged to participate in remedying the situation. Bystanders also gain a better understanding of how their “do nothing” stance encourages bullies to continue.
The support group is responsible for brainstorming and initiating practical solutions to bullying behavior. Students and teachers then reconvene after a specified time to evaluate the progress that has been made. Although this method has great potential for success, many parents disapprove of this strategy as there’s no official action from the schools and no punishment for bullies.
This method involves a counseling and mediation session with the bully and victim to discuss bullying issues and seek a solution to bullying acts. This method may be more effective when used for students who were formerly friends but had a falling out. The success of this method relies on having a skilled mediator and school staff who can handle the counseling sessions and resultant follow-up to ensure progress is made.
Circle time is a good anti-bullying method for primary school children. Children start by sitting in a circle and playing games with their teacher. After a few games, the teacher encourages the kids to have talk time together, eventually leading to the topic of bullying. Students are encouraged to talk and listen to classmates without laughing or making cutting remarks. As some kids may feel hesitant to share their feelings, teachers will need to monitor talk times carefully to ensure everyone feels comfortable discussing such sensitive issues. By encouraging everyone to participate, teachers can help expose bullying for what it is and receive valuable input from students on how to remedy the problem.
Many UK schools from the primary level through secondary are adopting “telling” as a means of preventing bullying. Telling schools are ones in which all students are encouraged to tell school officials when bullying behavior happens. If victims are too intimidated to talk, bystanders are encouraged to report bullying acts. This policy of open reporting can be a great deterrent to bullying behavior as bullies know they can’t escape getting caught.
Peer Support Programs
The peer support program entails selecting peer counselors from a school’s student body to monitor bullying activity and support victims of bullying acts. Students being bullied know they can approach a peer counselor and get help. Counselors are preferably older students who are respected in their school. They receive training in handling bullying and learn how to care for victims under attack. By working closely with their teachers, peer counselors can help make their school environment a safer place for younger students. In addition to using peer counselors, schools can also place bully boxes around the school so students can report bullying behavior anonymously.
Restorative justice involves having bullies and victims meet within a supervised setting to discuss the impact of bullying behavior on the victim’s life. This method empowers victims by giving them the opportunity to confront bullies in person and share how bullying is affecting their lives. By listening to victims, bullies gain a greater understanding of the consequences of their actions. Restorative justice can be combined with mediation/counseling or circle time for more effective results.
Despite the devastating effects of bullying, most bullying incidents aren’t considered criminal offenses. As such, they don’t usually fall under the jurisdiction of local police. In most cases, teachers, counselors, school officials and parents are the best resources for dealing with bullying on school grounds. However, bullying behavior that is illegal should be reported to the police. Such behavior includes:
- Violent acts or physical assault
- Long term harassment or intimidation to include name calling and threats
- Abusive telephone calls
- Abusive emails and texts
- Hate crimes
Many London schools have a Safer Schools Officer in place to help teachers handle bullying acts. Students can report bullying activity to this officer and get help. Other than this, local police generally don’t get involved in school bullying unless it results in one of the crimes mentioned above. Schools have a responsibility to report serious bullying behavior to the police. In fact, any teacher, parent or student can file a complaint concerning bullying to local police if they feel the behavior warrants police action.
In addition to having a mandatory anti-bullying policy in place, British schools are required to following UK’s anti-discrimination laws. School officials and staff have a responsibility to report cases of discrimination, victimization or harassment. This policy applies across the board to educational institutions in England and Wales and the majority of schools in Scotland.
Bullying behavior is also against the law in UK workplaces. In fact, the topic of harassment is covered under Britain’s 2010 Equality Act. Some common examples of workplace bullying and harassment include:
- Unfair treatment by colleagues or supervisors
- Spreading hateful rumors or lies
- Undermining competent employees
- Consistently irritating employees unnecessarily
- Denying employees valuable training or opportunities for advancement
Much of workplace bullying takes place face to face; however, it may also occur through emails, letters and phone calls. Harassment becomes a criminal act when it’s levied against employees due to their age, gender, disability, marriage/partnership, race, religious beliefs, pregnancy/maternity or sexual orientation.
Employees suffering from bullying or harassment should contact their immediate supervisor, when possible, to try to sort the situation out. Their company’s HR department or trade union rep may also be of assistance. Other recourses include filing an official complaint via their company’s grievance policy or taking legal action via court of law. Employers bear responsibility for protecting their employees from workplace bullying and harassment. As such, they are liable for criminal bullying acts.
Life Lessons from Bullying – A Personal Tale
Sometimes children learn more about bullying from simple life lessons than a comprehensive course or anti-bullying event. Such was the case with children taking relaxation classes from Rosie Dutton of Tamworth, Birmingham. Rosie posted her experience on Facebook and received over 150,000 shares within 48 hours. Viewers were greatly touched by her simple yet life changing approach to exposing the dangers of bullying in a child’s life.
In an effort to illustrate to children how bullying affects others, Ms Dutton conducted a simple experiment using two apples which she had brought to class. Unknown to the children, one apple had been purposely bruised beforehand by tapping it gently against the floor, although it still looked nice from the outside. Showing the “bruised” apple to the children in her class, Ms Dutton began to belittle the piece of fruit, telling the kids how much she disliked it and calling it names. She told the kids they also should dislike the bruised fruit and encouraged them to insult it as well. The apple was passed around the group and insulted, with kids calling it smelly and wormy and not worth existing.
Afterwards, Ms Dutton showed her kids the good apple and encouraged them to praise it. The kids told the apple how lovely, beautiful and colorful it was. Holding up both apples, Ms Dutton began to talk of their likenesses and differences, although they both looked the same. She then cut open both apples to reveal what was inside. The apple the children had been nice to looked fresh, juicy and clear. The apple the kids had been mean to appeared mushy and bruised.
According to Ms Dutton, the lesson triggered what could only be described as a ‘lightbulb moment’ with her students. “They really got it” she said, “what we saw inside that apple, the bruises, the mush and the broken bits is what is happening inside every one of us when someone mistreats us with their words or actions. When people are bullied, especially children, they feel horrible inside and sometimes don’t show or tell others how they are feeling. If we hadn’t have cut that apple open, we would never have known how much pain we had caused it.”
Readers responded with approval and commendation. One reader commented: “Brilliant piece of teaching. Should be done in all first years as this is where a lot of (bullying) starts.” Another wrote: “This is an inspired and impactful exercise that should be rolled out nationally. It will clearly have a far reaching and long lasting effect on those children and many more exposed to it.”
There are various organizations in the UK parents and teens can contact for help with bullying issues. These organizations offer counseling and support for bullying victims and valuable advice on how to handle bullying issues that have gotten out of hand.
ChildLine – This confidential, free hotline (0800-1111) is open for kids to call day or night for help and support with bullying problems. Bullying victims can share their worries, fears and feelings with professional counselors who can help them get through their ordeal. Young people can also chat with Childline advisors online or contact them via email to get the help they need. Childline handles all types of bullying cases to include school, sibling, Internet and racist bullying.
Bullybusters- also runs a free helpline (0800-169-6928), website and message board to help kids with bullying problems.
Bullying UK – can be reached at 0808-800-2222 for practical advice on how to handle bullying. Its website shares more information specifically about bullying in school.
EACH – Kids experiencing homophobia bullying can contact this charity’s free helpline at 0808-1000-143, 9-5 on weekdays.
By promoting bullying awareness and educating parents and young people about bullying, these organizations do what they can to curtail bullying behavior and help victims overcome its devastating effects. As a country’s most valuable asset, children are worth protecting at all costs. Efforts made by teachers, parents, communities and government sources to stamp out school bullying will help future generations enjoy a safer, more productive learning environment.