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How to survive the crucible of school bullying

  • 24 February 2017


Squarely back into the school year, dinner table conversations with our kids have included strategies for dealing with bullies. We are by no means alone; a 2016 survey of 20,000 Australians students found one in four respondents (27 per cent) reported being bullied.

Apparently, bullying 'was more common for year 5 students (32 per cent) and year 8 (29 per cent)' — the grade levels of our boy and girl respectively — and, while 'bullying by females tended to be more covert, males were more "in your face" about it'.

While I'd dearly love to be the 'parent nonpareil', with the right words and apt advice, it's not that simple. The variables of personality and situation mean there is no easy, perfect answer.

The old 'fight, flight or re-write' principle comes into play, as parental advice is dispensed. Stand up for yourself. Make yourself scarce. Change the situation with some unexpected empathy, or engagement. Carry yourself well, eyes up; work on your poker face (not responding or buying into teasing, so as not to reward the bully).

My perennial advice to refrain from focusing on petty stuff, letting minor irritants be 'water off a duck's back', also comes in handy.

Competition is a given in life. Genuine instances of bullying, however, as opposed to honest disagreements or competitive scenarios, are characterised by an imbalance of power. The Bully Zero Australia Foundation defines bullying as 'an abuse of power by someone who is stronger physically, verbally, mentally, socially, electronically, politically or financially'.

An imbalance of power and nous makes for testing times. Whereas humour, attempts at compromise, or enforced empathy may work in some cases, communication often fails in others. This leaves your progeny trying to work out what 'confrontation' looks like in their world.

In the bad old days, physical violence was more prevalent and accepted among peers. I had a collarbone snapped in defence of my lunch in grade eight (a hungry classmate was trying to pinch my sangers when we tripped and he squished me — and the sandwiches). These days it would be a huge mess; back then, it meant proudly eating my lunch at the local surgery and revelling in an unexpected holiday from school.


"I have faith that my kids will survive the crucible of school bullying better equipped to resolve conflicts. A core message is both altruistic and practical: your strength does not come at the expense or whim of another."


A few years before,