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Open Features: Bullying - From Small Acorns Large Oak Trees Grow

...Picking up a newspaper or listening to the local news these days seems to consist of a catalogue of crime: murder, rape, knifings, beatings, muggings and sheer antisocial behaviour. The ages of those carrying out the crimes gets lower by the day. Successive governments have attempted to curb the rising number of incidents involving young people, to find a solution to juvenile crime and to force parents to control their children. So far a lot of money has been thrown at the problem with little or no effect....

Mary Basham suggests that good behaviour begins in the home.

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Bullying is an awful word. It sounds awful, it’s meaning is awful and as I have discovered it has a multitude of different degrees stretching from downright pathetic name calling to outright thuggish.

I learnt the extent of bullying’s range by sitting as a panel member on a Schools Admission Appeal Board, basically hearing parents pleading to get their offspring into the school of their choice after their application had been refused by the Local Education Authority. Although parents should, according to the government, have parental preference to opt for a certain school, in practice it only works if numbers allow.

It was a gruelling few days and at times heartbreaking. Desperation hung in the air like fog on a November day, tempered only by an undercurrent of fervent hope that an Appeal might, just might, produce the desired place at the chosen school.

The irony of the situation was that almost half of those appealing were not so hung up on the fact that they were trying to get their child into a particular school as attempting to keep their son or daughter out of another. Invariably the reason was bullying. Time and again I found myself inwardly questioning “Did these things happen when I went to school? Was I unaware of what was going on around me?”

I must have been one of the lucky ones. Apart from one six year old who would lay in wait for me at playtime when I was at Infant school and relieve me of my wine gums by threats rather than manners, I went unscathed. Even then I remember dealing with the matter after a few times. My mother was a force to be reckoned with and my father worked with the boy’s dad, so that was that. He had chosen the wrong victim. At the Christmas party that year I recall he stayed well out of my way and I wasn’t his pick as a partner for any of the games, but hey, I lived with that!

Some of the incidences we listened to on the Appeal were so far out of that league I wondered whether I was hearing right. Brutal taunting, persistent harassment and physical violence sufficient for the Police to become involved. The result, children so scared of going to school that in the end the victim not the perpetrator got relocated to continue their education elsewhere. Is that fair?

Picking up a newspaper or listening to the local news these days seems to consist of a catalogue of crime: murder, rape, knifings, beatings, muggings and sheer antisocial behaviour. The ages of those carrying out the crimes gets lower by the day. Successive governments have attempted to curb the rising number of incidents involving young people, to find a solution to juvenile crime and to force parents to control their children. So far a lot of money has been thrown at the problem with little or no effect.

I asked one of my acquaintances his feelings on the subject, as he had not long retired from a career in teaching. The usual comments came out: too much pressure on the school system; lack of respect for teaching staff; not enough parental control.

Let’s take a look at the last reason, beginning in a very simple way with how toddlers behave in supermarkets. There are those who are neatly strapped in to trolleys, who do not demand of their parent and who are happy to hold a packet of something or other without sinking their teeth in to it and making a thorough mess.

On the other had, there are those who refuse to sit in the trolley seat, who run amok in the aisles, pull things off shelves and whose parents do not seem to either have the instinct or strength of character to correct them. If they do not receive discipline at such a tender age, how on earth will they take to a teacher trying to keep them in their seats at school and impart knowledge?

Multiply that up a few years and there is a distinct possibility that from small acorns large oak trees grow, or rather an unruly toddler may well turn into a thoroughly aggressive and ill mannered child….teenager…..adult.

Chastising a child effectively without it turning into a slanging match, tantrum or physical demonstration of will power takes enormous patience time and time again. Parents can feel like they are a record stuck in a groove; “don’t do that,” “put that down,” “wait at the curb,” etc etc., day in day out. The art of conversation can seem a distant dream.

But what is the alternative? A household where children rule the roost? A life interspersed with telephone calls from school about an offspring’s behaviour, or worse, waiting for the next knock on the door from the Police?

Bullying scars; it turns confident kids into wrecks, ruins their education and sometimes so lowers their self-esteem that they never regain it and go on to a life dogged by self-doubt. Nobody, child or adult has the right to do that to another.

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