The Soap Box – A regular column in which readers tell us about what matters to them....

Together we can beat the bullies

The ISPCC website features the heartbreaking story of Holly (15 ). After months of suffering at the hands of bullies at school and on a social networking site she plucked up the courage to contact the Childline One to One instant messaging service and admit that she was finding it hard to cope. Holly had her hair pulled and her lunch taken. She was being threatened and called names. Worst of all she was feeling isolated, scared and lonely as her former friends no longer talked to her.

Childline assured Holly that she had a right to be safe and she had a right to tell a trusted adult about what was happening in order to get the support that she needed. She approached a sympathetic teacher and her situation is being dealt with. Unfortunately, not all children finds the help they need. In the most extreme cases young people who are suffering at the hands of bullies may believe that they have no option but to end their lives. What a terrible, tragic, waste of potential that is.

Bullying remains a serious concern for all Irish teenagers. The UNICEF Ireland Changing the Future: Experiencing Youth in Contemporary Ireland report published in April this year found that a shameful 55 per cent of teenagers were bullied and although “cyberbullying” is quite common (20 per cent ), traditional forms of bullying are still most prevalent. Almost all were bullied with words, a shocking 24 per cent of those who were physically bullied were beaten up, 33 per cent were attacked, 55 per cent had things thrown at them and 59 per cent had things stolen.

Historically the Irish Government has adopted a relatively hands-off approach to tackling bullying in schools. As a result some schools implement very effective programmes while others do not and bullying persists as a problem. It is truly shocking to learn that 21 per cent of teenagers admit to having bullied another person, causing heartache and in some cases lasting psychological damage to their peers.

Professor Mona O’Moore who established the Anti-Bullying Research & Resource Centre in Trinity College Dublin has been campaigning for more involvement and a coordinated programme for many years. She feels that slow progress is being made and that we are merely “chipping away” at the problem slowly. Professor O’Moore herself piloted a National Bullying Strategy in Donegal that succeeded in reducing the incidence of victimisation by 20 per cent, and bullying of others by more than 17 per cent.

Anti-bullying TV series

Anti-bullying initiatives do work as long as they are implemented across wider society and supported with external training and funding on a national, government sponsored basis. This is the approach adopted in other countries including our nearest neighbours in the UK, where a national anti-bullying week is held annually, and most notably by the award winning KIVA programme in Finland that takes a whole community approach to combating bullying.

Here in Ireland the popular and trusted psychologist David Coleman has been commissioned by RTÉ to front a three programme anti-bullying television series to be broadcast early in 2012. Coleman hopes to help young people to understand and deal with bullying, by learning coping skills and assertive strategies to rebuild their confidence and self-esteem. He also plans to shine a light on the issue of bullying in Ireland.

If you think your son, daughter or family could benefit from David Coleman’s help with bullying then you can call or text a dedicated number 087 416 4998, email the producers of the programme [email protected] or email directly at [email protected]. There is also a twitter account www.twitter.com/@Beat_The_Bully and a Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/pages/Beat-the-Bully/215855355120277

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