Parents must lead fight against bullies
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn will launch an action plan this week to combat bullying in schools. Among its key features will be an obligation on schools to keep a formal record of incidents and inform boards of management.
This is a timely move, and one with great potential. In recent years the bullying problem – some would say crisis – has come increasingly to public and official attention. Many promising efforts have been made to alleviate it. But the task of parents and school authorities everywhere has grown harder, not easier, in the same period.
In Ireland, the Joint Managerial Body, covering 400 secondary schools, has issued updated guidelines. The Irish Vocational Education Association is finalising guidelines, and the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools has advised its members to strengthen their codes of behaviour.
Much of the activity is related to the emergence of cyber-bullying. This has been blamed for recent teenage suicides. It can affect physical and mental health and, like other forms of bullying, threaten a lifelong loss of self-esteem.
The perpetrators have an insidious ally in the fact that they can spread their poison anonymously. In the absence of early progress on this front, what can schools do?
In the first place, they can pay special attention to problems which hardly existed in their present form for earlier generations, such as homophobic bullying and racist abuse.
Perhaps the best way of combating them is to persuade teenagers that they are stupid and "uncool". However, they first have to be identified. Schools will be asked to identify trends and provide a baseline for adjusting policies and practices. The introduction of such a system in Sweden, it is claimed, reduced school bullying by 30pc.
But whatever measures are introduced, and no matter how well they work, there is a strict limit to the amount the schools can do. In the fight against bullying, especially cyber-bullying, the role of parents is crucial.
Nobody can deny one sad fact: many parents of teenagers pay little or no attention to their children's internet usage. They need to understand the immense value of supervision. Not only can it guard the youngsters from threats, it can nurture their self-esteem and support the fightback against bullying. The fightback will succeed if parents, teachers and role models old and young join this excellent cause.