Rising Above Bullying
‘Rising Above Bullying’ is quite different from any other book I have written. It is a book for all those who encounter bullying. For those who are being bullied and their families, for the perpetrators and their families and for teachers and other adults who are in a position of influence. And for the bystanders - those who ‘turn a blind eye’ thinking it is not their business. We all have a shared responsibility to ensure the safety of our children; adults must be proactive in putting a stop to bullying behaviour. This involves doing something if you believe a child is being subjected to unkind and unpleasant treatment. Intervening and saying, “hello, what’s going on here” can often defuse a situation.
The sections which deal with coping strategies and the advice to parents and teachers on how they can be proactive in preventing or dealing with bullying have been compiled after years of first hand experience in recovering severely bullied children. It is my hope that this invaluable advice will be absorbed by adults and passed on to children who are experiencing bullying, helping them to begin to find a way through their misery, to deal with their tormentors and to regain their self-esteem.
The sheer scale of bullying is often not recognised; gang-bullying and cyber bullying, for example, are both relatively new – and they are escalating.
Rising Above Bullying also serves to make readers aware of the long term effects of bullying – and this is brought sharply into focus by the stories in the book recounted by young people who have suffered such traumatic bullying that they could no longer cope in mainstream education. These young people have allowed me into their lives and I have been horrified by the stories they have disclosed. Most of us think of bullying as a bit of unpleasant behaviour: a poke or pinch here or there, being called a few names, being ignored. What you will read about here is the traumatic, tortuous, systematic destruction of a young person’s self worth and self-belief.
In order to tell me their experiences, these children have had to return to this trauma, share it with me and relive their pain and fear. For some, the bullying happened a decade ago, for some it was only a few months ago. I am enormously grateful to them all and I hope that their courage in contributing to Rising Above Bullying will show readers how destructive bullying can be.
Their stories make uncomfortable reading but they are all based on personal experiences – though, for obvious reasons, all names have been changed - and illustrate just how widespread and diverse bullying is. The damage inflicted can be devastating so it is crucial that bullied children don’t suffer in silence. Overcoming their reluctance to admit to being bullied is the first hurdle. They need to be able to trust not only the person or organisation in whom they confide but also their school and their family to deal with the bullying and to keep on top of it. ‘Letting on’, ‘snitching’, ‘grassing’ can often make things worse if ongoing support from school and home is not forthcoming.
To stop bullying, an holistic approach is needed, so it is important to involve the children who do the bullying. Often, they are as vulnerable as those they bully. Their problems need to be addressed but they need to understand – really understand – the impact their behaviour has on those they target. Getting them to read the stories in this book may be one way of bringing home to them the consequences of their actions.
I have compiled this book in conjunction with Carrie Herbert and the staff at The Red Balloon Learner Centres in Cambridge, Norwich, Merseyside and North London who have given freely of their time, answered my questions and set up interviews. They are in a unique position to provide comfort, counselling and one to one targeted education that begins where the child left off learning. They rebuild confidence and teach useful strategies to help students deal with bullying behaviour.
Background to Red Balloon Learner Centres:
In November 1996 Dr Carrie Herbert, a teacher and Educational Consultant, received a phone call that was to change her life. It was from the parents of a thirteen-year-old girl called Harriet who had been so badly bullied at a girls’ only boarding school that she had taken an overdose. Her parents were asked to remove her from the school.
For six weeks, Harriet stayed at home, then her parents heard that Carrie Herbert ran a school for bullied children in Cambridge. In fact, this was not true. At a lecture in Brighton, Carrie had indicated that such a school was necessary but, at the time, it did not exist.
However, when Harriet’s parents contacted Carrie and told her of their desperation, she invited them to come and see her and to bring Harriet with them.
When they came, they told Carrie of their confusion and helplessness and of their horror that their daughter had been so carelessly cast adrift. As they talked, Harriet, a slip of a girl, sat white faced and mute, staring at the floor, her body language indicating defeat and misery.
Seeing their plight, Carrie made an instant and momentous decision. She told the family that she would, indeed, start a school. Harriet would be its first pupil and she could ‘begin on Monday’.
Within six months Carrie had turned her house into a school, recruited teachers, contacted the local authority who sent her more badly bullied out of school children and started the slow process of rebuilding shattered lives. *
This was the extraordinary birth of Red Balloon, a charity that runs schools for severely bullied and traumatised secondary school children.
By the time they arrive at a Red Balloon Learner Centre, many of these children have attempted or contemplated suicide. Some are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and have flashbacks, insomnia and panic attacks. Some are speechless with fear and all have low self-esteem.
Red Balloon has come a long way since 1996 and several new learning centres are now up and running. Through patience, understanding, encouragement and one-to-one counselling the dedicated staff have helped many young people regain trust and a sense of self worth in a place where they are safe and valued. No RB Learner Centre takes in more than 15 pupils at any one time and the children know that they can stay at the school until they are ready to go back into mainstream education, on to college or into the workplace.
At some time in their lives most people have experienced bullying and know how isolating this can be. It is my hope that the recounting of first hand experiences by bullied children and the advice from those who help them will shed light on this insidious and brutal practice, encourage those experiencing bullying to seek help and give adults – and children - the tools with which to tackle it.
Whether you are being bullied, or you know someone who is; whether you run a school or a classroom, or have memories yourself of experiencing bullying, I am sure you will find these pages inspirational. I know you will be moved by the young people’s stories and I would like to congratulate them on their courage, in allowing their experiences to be used to help and protect future generations of bullied children and above all to give hope so that victims can rise above bullying.
From the Foreword by Esther Rantzen CBE, broadcaster, founder of Childline and patron of Red Balloon.
The devastating impact on the future wellbeing and life chances of a young person, and the choice we have to liberate those affected, is admirably demonstrated through the voices of those who have experienced the effects of bullying and triumphed. I hope this gives pause for thought, renewed commitment, as well as hope.
The Rt Hon David Blunkett MP, former Secretary of State for Education and Employment.
All professionals, whether experienced in dealing with the effects of bullying or not, will find this book invaluable.
Young Minds Magazine
This deeply moving book manages to be affirmative and positive as well as disturbing.
The School Librarian
While this is not a book for children to use on their own, it is a book that belongs in every school, and it should be read and used by parents too. Common sense is the main theme, and the strategies herein should be in use everywhere.
(Jessica Kingsley Publishers)