One of the main concerns of parents with reference to their children has to do with bullying. No-one wants their child to experience bullying. However, bullying is more common than any of us would like. A recent editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald discussed the findings of a survey of students in eighty Australian schools. According to the article, the Australian Child Wellbeing Project found that one in five students in years 4 and 6 are bullied at least once a week. The bullying comes in multiple forms
"from dirty looks to being threatened or humiliated. Bullied children are often subjected to physical violence or have their belongings stolen. They can be excluded from a social group and gossiped about or targeted online through social media."
How do these findings compare to the experience of Inaburra? Overall, we have reason to believe that bullying is less prevalent in our school than in many others. For example, in our recent parent satisfaction survey, 88% of parents agreed with the statement Inaburra provides a caring and safe environment for students. This represented a 4% improvement since the last survey in 2012 and it is 6% higher than the benchmark for similar schools.
We are still waiting for the results of the Year 6 and Year 12 surveys for 2015, but the 2014 student results are broadly aligned with the parent responses outlined above. It is worth noting that far fewer of Year 6 Inaburra students in 2014 thought that bullying is a serious problem than the students of benchmark schools (2% compared to 8%).
We should not be surprised that young people treat one another badly on occasion. When they do so, they are mirroring the behaviour of people throughout the world in which they live. Bullying happens in the workplace, in the home, on the sporting field and between nations. The ongoing reality of bullying resonates with the Christian account of humanity, which understands each one of us to have the capacity for, and inclination towards, doing wrong. When we take one thousand young people and place them in close community with one another during the fraught and tumultuous years of childhood and adolescence, it ought not surprise us when some of them do the wrong thing towards others.
Schools are far more sensitive to bullying now than they have been in the past. It is inarguable that some behaviours and practices that were previously regarded as being usual or tolerable, are no longer acceptable. I heard a story about a school during the 90s at which older students compelled the new Year 7 students to walk through a brimming urinal on their first day of school as an 'initiation' to high school. If it was to happen now, such an incident would be likely to lead to summary termination of enrolment.
However, it is not the case that all negative peer interactions constitute bullying and it is not the case that our young people ought never to encounter a negative peer interaction. Life requires the navigation of relationships, power, connectedness and all of the elements that are part of the human social world. This happens in the spheres of learning, work, leisure, and family, and it will continue to be our children's experience in adulthood as well as childhood.
Viewed in this way, a negative peer interaction is a learning opportunity. If your child is not invited to a social event, you have the chance to help reframe the disappointment. How will our children learn to deal with 'missing out', unless they do miss out. Not being invited to a party is a similar experience, on a smaller scale, to not being offered a job interview or not being selected for a team or not succeeding in any highly valued pursuit. We learn and grow through the negative events; thankfully the negative events that are characteristic of most childhoods have lower stakes than those of adulthood.
This is not to dismiss or ignore bullying. Inaburra is continuing to work hard to be a safe environment for our students and we are unrelenting in our expectation that our young people will learn to do their relationships well. You can find some information and resources about bullying here, including the paths of communication for reporting bullying. However, my encouragement to parents is threefold:
- First, be realistic about the fact that your child will have negative interactions with others. Sometimes they will be blameless, sometimes they will not, and often it will be grey. However, as the parent of a young person, you should be confident that there will be bad days and tears and distress. It will happen!
- Second, understand that your role as parent is not just to protect but to prepare. Our goal as parents is to prepare our children to be able to make their way in the world without our protective oversight. Therefore, when a bad day comes, ask yourself how this might be made into a learning experience.
- Third, trust us and work with us. Our goal is to work in partnership with you in the interests of your child. The school is not the enemy. (Nor, I would add, is the other student the enemy.) We have a much better chance of achieving positive long-term outcomes for your children if we are able to work together.