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Schools crisis as 400 parents tell of bullying torment

Bullies are pushing dozens of children to the verge of suicide, it was claimed today.

The problem of schoolyard intimidation has become so bad that more than 400 parents complained directly to the Department of Education last year, even though there is no procedure for them to do so.

One group that counsels troubled teens told the Herald that schools don't want "to touch" the problem.

And a Dublin principal said: "Children as young as eight or nine years are sending abusive text messages and posting hurtful comments on other young people's (internet) profiles."

Prosecution

Last month, the Herald reported how 15-year-old Irish girl Phoebe Prince took her own life after being relentlessly bullied over a number of months.

The outgoing student had emigrated from Ireland to the US last summer but fell foul of a group of girls. South Hadley High School says it has disciplined the students involved, but a police investigation is ongoing with officers saying a prosecution could follow.

Now there are concerns that a similar situation could develop here, with experts saying problems are bubbling under the surface. Education Minister says he is "anxious to support schools in tackling bullying".

Judith McLoughlin of Teen-Line said: "We find that the biggest thing is that the bullying actually happens outside the school. The school won't touch it once it's outside the grounds."

In 2009 Teen-Line received 566 calls over bullying, which they say is "quite high due to the fact that Teen-line is only open 22 hours per week".

Ms McLoughlin said that while she can't say there is a definite link between bullying and suicide, many children, especially boys, tell their counsellors that they see "no way out".

"If they do say something they are told 'stand up to them'. They [boys] feel trapped. Girls can't understand why it is happening and they tend to be a bit younger," she said.

The helpline co-ordinator added: "There is definitely a link with self-harm. We get a big amount of people telling us about self-harm."

Toughest

Councillor and primary school principal Mary Mitchell O'Connor says that cyberbullying is now one of the toughest challenges facing teachers and parents.

Phoebe Prince was bullied on her way home from school in the evenings as well as through social networking websites.

"This can be a very hurtful and humiliating experience for young people and can have devastating effects on self confidence and self esteem," noted Ms Mitchell O'Connor.

She added: "Schools have an important role in combating bullying, as does society, but parents must be aware of what exactly their children are doing on computers."

According to Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe, there is no requirement from local school authorities to report incidents or allegations of bullying to his Department.

"Responsibility for tackling bullying falls to the level of the individual school, as it is at local level that an effective anti-bullying climate must be established and at that level that actions should be taken to address allegations of bullying," he said.

However, while there is no direct format for complaints or queries to be lodged, the Minister admitted that a large number of parents do feel the need to contact his officials.

"In 2009 a total of 438 telephone or written complaints/ queries were received from parents regarding bullying in schools," he said.

Fine Gael's Bernard Durkan said that Mr O'Keeffe is "dissolving responsibility".

He said: "Some kids suffer in silence. It can have a huge psychological impact on the victim. The person who is doing it may not even know that damage they are doing."

Mr Durkan wants a system put in place whereby schools are required to notify the Department of all allegations of serious bullying.

kdoyle@herald.ie


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