STORIES of incidents of bullying and the serious impact it has on young people in particular are becoming more and more common in the media.
However, this is only a tiny representation of how bad it is and how many children it is affecting. Bullying is defined as repeated physical, verbal or psychological aggression directed by an individual or group against others.
Bullying can occur at any age, in any environment, and can be long- or short-term. We have heard devastating stories about people self-harming and taking their own lives to get away from the physical but more times psychological pain. Clinical psychologist David Coleman presented a very informative and honest television programme recently on RTÉ called 'Bullyproof '. Some of the children featured had major struggles with their confidence, self-esteem and selfworth. The great thing about the series was the development of the individuals and to see their confidence build up again and liking who they were as persons.
Awareness is key here and as parents, teachers, coaches and so on we need to recognise the signs and be open to children so they are able to approach us if they are experiencing bullying. We need to highlight more about the effects of and solutions to what is now becoming an epidemic in our schools and clubs and through social media. This is not a taboo subject, this is real life, and it is happening every day to too many young people. A colleague of mine was coaching a boy who was only eight years of age on how to deal with bullying as it was having a terrible effect on his childhood. If we are not aware of what is going on, and a young person has to deal with this on his or her own, it is difficult to imagine the psychological rollercoaster experienced by an emotionally immature child. Research has shown that if a child does not learn to deal with bullying at a young age, the trend may very well continue throughout life – at work, socially, or in relationships.
Do we want this for our children? I know I don't. Many victims are afraid to speak out as they fear the repercussions if the bully is approached by a third party. Reports have shown that as the victims mature, they are less likely to tell someone. They become more and more isolated, experience depression and, in extreme cases, can harm themselves or attempt suicide.
Our role as guardians is to create a safe and trusting environment for younger people to be able to approach us if this ever occurs. Be calm in your reaction and allow the person to speak. Ask the child how he or she is feeling and bring the emotions to the surface. Get all the facts before you bring this up with the school or club. If your child needs outside assistance, let him or her speak to the right people and turn this into a learning experience. Stopping bullying is great but we also need to prevent it happening again. We need to stamp out bullying and teach victims how to deal with it and avoid it in the future.
We need to educate our young generation with tools to learn confidence and assertiveness. Teach them the communication skills to say no with conviction, look the bully in the eye and stand firm, even if scared. Too many young lives have been damaged and lost. It is always the bullies' low selfesteem and ignorance that causes them to act this way – it is never the victim's fault. Stand together and stand tall to eradicate this from our society.