Saturday, 25 April 2009

Bullies ignored

Tom Daley, the 14 year old diver due to compete in the 2012 Olympics, has been bullied so badly at school that he may have to move to another school.

He has been relentlessly taunted by the other pupils, who have called him names, thrown things at him, made him look stupid, and threatened to break his legs.

The Principal of the Plymouth school has tried to end the bullying, but it seems she hasn't tried very hard. She says some pupils have been "sanctioned" but still the bullying has continued.

Apart from wondering why the other pupils are so jealous of his success and so mean-spirited, I have to ask yet again why schools are so hopeless at dealing with bullying problems.

Time after time pupils are severely bullied but school staff are unable or unwilling to stop it. All too often they seem to take the attitude that the victims should simply "stand up for themselves". So why is the victim being blamed and not the bullies?

There are regular instances of bullied pupils killing themselves but still those in authority take only half-hearted action, or none at all.

I was bullied myself for four years at boarding school and it was never stopped. Many people must have known what was happening but they simply turned a blind eye to it or thought "Ah well, boys will be boys".

Bullying is still regarded by many as just a routine part of our culture and social life, something so deep-rooted and "inevitable" that you can't do anything about it. I think that's a shockingly fatalistic and defeatist stance.

If someone is persistently bullied over a long period, the psychological consequences can be severely damaging and, if not properly dealt with, can last a lifetime. When are schools going to take their pupils' emotional well-being more seriously?

PS: Tom has been offered a full scholarship by the privately-run Plymouth College (former pupils: Dawn French and Michael Foot). His parents are discussing the offer.

Photo: Tom Daley


Anonymous said...

Bullying is a serious issue in schools. Most people I know were bullied at some time.

Gayle's Joy In Life said...

Thanks for raising this issue, Nick.

I worked for years with an anti-bullying program in schools. One of the major problems with eradicating bulling is that teachers and administrators also bully children. Bullying is all about power and control. They don't often think of it as bullying but, everytime a child is made to feel inferior in front of their peers or is picked out of the crowd as the 'culprit' (whether they did the deed or not; usually to make an example of them), that's a form of bullying.

Children learn to bully from adults and watch us (parents, neighbors, abusive spouses, teachers, religious leaders, television, movie and music stars and characters) as we wield our power over others. Then they mimic our behavior.

Most adults are uncomfortable trying to stop bullying because they engage in it. I do my best to name it when I see it, in myself and in others. We need to acknowledge that most of us suffer from bullying, as victims AND perpetrators. Then maybe we can deal with this primitive part of ourselves with some success.

An 11-year old, less than 25 miles from me, hung himself this week. He was being bullied and his parents had been to the school numerous times. Adults called a local radio station crying about how their children were also being bullied. It was heartbreaking to hear parents so afraid for their children.

Violence (of which bullying is one form) is a part of the human condition. I remain hopeful that we can find positive ways to make it part of our history and not part our future.


Nick said...

Hulla - It's a very serious issue. The government keeps saying there are tough measures in place to deal with it, but thousands of bullied kids and their families know differently.

Gayle - Yes, if teachers and administrators are bullying as well, that makes it even harder to stop. And it's true that sometimes we don't recognise belittling behaviour as what it actually is, bullying.

It's outrageous that a boy is still desperate enough to hang himself even though his parents have complained to the school. Violence shouldn't be part of the human condition, but unfortunately as you say we learn it from others.

Grannymar said...

It is not confined to boys either!

Baino said...

I must have been incredibly lucky because I never saw it and neither of my kids have been bullied. It's a topic we often discussed during their school days. "His parents are discussing the offer" What on earth is there to discuss. Get the kid out of there so he can focus on his skills and not be victimised. It's a no brainer! Here, sport is king. Anyone who excels is revered not bullied. It's usually the weak, the small, the odd who are at the sticky end of the wicket. Dreadful stuff.

Nick said...

Grannymar - I know! In fact I often read that girls can be much worse....

Baino - Either you and yours were lucky or bullying is less common in Oz. Yes, it seems obvious he should get out of that school straightaway if they're unable to stop the bullying.

Philip said...

I worry about his two little brothers. No one is going to offer them scholarships, and they will be tagged as the siblings of the boy who ruined the school's reputation.

This sort of thing does go on in America, from what I've read from Americans commenting on this issue in various forums. They have "Tall Poppy Syndrome" too, it's just that sport(s) is the one type of activity in which excellence does not provoke resentment in the U.S. due to the prestige of school athletics competitions. And even in the UK, this would not be happening to Tom if he was excelling in a team sport, because half the cool kids would be his team mates.

So all in all, the UK/U.S. difference being mentioned quite often in discussions of this incident doesn't really amount to much. We both have cultures which have been poisoned by "anti-elitism", which is better described as "hatred of excellence". The concept of anti-elitism was actually invented by American liberal academics.

Nick said...

Philip - Thanks for all your thoughtful comments. I didn't know about his brothers, they could indeed have problems. Yes, sporting prowess doesn't have the status in the UK it has in other countries, and as you say with a team sport this hostility might not have occurred.

I think anti-elitism is very strong in the UK, though this is partly because the political and business elites are so incredibly arrogant and aloof, and so unheeding of the everyday struggles of ordinary people.

Liz said...

Did you hear an interview with him? He was remarkably unupset by it but said it had become more of a nuisance. Whether that was for show but he sounded very mature and fed-up more than damaged. Which is good for him. But veyr sad that success should have such a result. the typical brit way to knock the winner down.

Nick said...

Liz - That sounds remarkably cool and level-headed of him. But maybe he didn't want to show just how upset he was. Too true, how predictably British to have a go at someone who's talented and successful.

Suburbia said...

I hadn't heard about this Nick. I find it hard to understand, you'd think it would make him the coolest kid in the school. I must be old fashioned! I also find it hard to understand how the teachers can fail to sort it out.

Nick said...

Suburbia - Exactly, why isn't he the coolest kid on the block? And I also can't understand why the staff are so lackadaisical about sorting it out. A sense of safety and security should be an absolute basic for every pupil.

Thriftcriminal said...

Possibly his success presents a threat to the incumbent "coolest" with the result that they retaliated with a campaign of bullying to maintain their position.

Nick said...

Thrifty - An ingenious explanation, I like it. If only bullying itself could become uncool, that would solve the problem at a stroke.