I was bullied as a kid.
That might be hard for you to imagine if you’ve met me in person.
As a former representative footy player who stands around 191cm and over 110kg, I don’t come across as your typical ‘victim.’
But I used to dread going to school on a daily basis. Each day would be spent in a state of hyper-vigilance looking for the older kids who, for some reason, had taken it upon themselves to make my life hell.
It started in primary school when I was around 9, I think from memory. It’s hard to recall the exact details as I’ve worked pretty hard to forget them.
I got a two-year reprieve when they went off to high school, but sure enough when I got there a couple of years later they were waiting for me.
It seemed they were keen to pick up where they left off. And the irony of it was it appeared I was their target because I was big.
For three years I longed for the 3:30 bell, the weekend, the school holidays, a sick day – anything that would keep me home.
Of course, as is all too common, I told no one. I didn’t tell my teachers and I sure as hell wasn’t going to tell my parents – they had enough to worry about I told myself. My mates didn’t stick their oar in. They were just happy that they weren’t being targeted. I don’t blame them.
One day when I was in Year 9, the secret was out.
I got kicked unconscious in the schoolyard by a guy three years older than me.
It’s a bit hard to keep that to yourself.
Fast-forward to 2014 and the publication of research by King College, London, who tracked 7,771 children born in 1958 from the age of seven until 50.
They found that those who were bullied in childhood were more likely to have poorer physical and mental health and cognitive functioning at age 50.
They were more likely to be less educated, with men who were bullied more likely to be unemployed and earn less.
Social relationships were also affected with bullied individuals less likely to be in a relationship and to have good support from friends and family at 50.
In the worst case scenarios, those who were bullied frequently were more likely to be depressed and have suicidal thoughts.
When I read the research, I immediately felt fortunate that whilst I know my experiences have affected me, it was not to the extent reported in the paper.
But then it hit me.
Imagine being bullied today.
I know what it feels like to have the sanctity of home, school holidays or sick days.
But with technology being what it is today, kids have the privilege of being able to carry the bullies around with them in their pocket.
Everywhere they go.
Kids today have no sanctuary.
I’ve heard all manner of responses to bullying in school. From teachers and parents who ‘get it’ and genuinely care, to those who believe it’s a ’rite of passage’ that ‘everyone goes through.’ Right through to those who believe that in some way, the victims are probably ‘asking for it.’
As a parent of a 5 year-old who started school this year, I need to know that schools are on top of this. I need to know that, not only do they have the latest evidence based program in their school, but I need to know it’s not just gathering dust on a shelf somewhere. And I need to know that the school community as a whole is committed to standing against bullying, wherever it takes place.
And it’s not just me who thinks that.
Prof Louise Arseneault, senior study author, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, says: “We need to move away from any perception that bullying is just an inevitable part of growing up. Teachers, parents and policy-makers should be aware that what happens can have long-term repercussions for children.
“Programmes to stop bullying are extremely important, but we also need to focus our efforts on early intervention to prevent potential problems persisting into adolescence and adulthood.”
This video would be a great conversation starter in your school. It gives me chills every time I watch it.
Author: Dan Haesler is a teacher, consultant and speaker at the Mental Health & Wellbeing of Young People seminars. His website is: http://danhaesler.com/ and he tweets at @danhaesler