In a year when we as humanity have come together and united against everything that has been thrown at us, the theme #UnitedAgainstBullying for Anti-Bullying week 2020 could not be more fitting.
To be United Against Bullying, we must first be clear on what bullying is; it is if somebody physically or verbally abuses another person, with the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) describing bullying as the intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group. Bullying could be an isolated incident or go on for a prolonged amount of time, it can happen to anyone and it can take on many different forms that usually focus on someone’s individual differences – sexual orientation, your race or ethnic background, individual beliefs or faith to name a few. There is, however one aspect of bullying that is a type in its own right, but a common thread amongst all forms of bullying and that is cyberbullying.
It is fair to say that the importance of the message behind Anti-Bullying week has not changed since its origins in 2004; to raise awareness of the bullying of children and young people. However, the issue of bullying has become even more complex due to the rapid evolution of the digital age – this is where cyberbullying has really come to the fore given our constant online connectivity.
So, what is cyberbullying?
It is targeting someone online for any specific reason (or seemingly no reason at all) and often, it is anonymous. With many of us having lived in a state of isolation this year (and many still being in some form of isolation), we are living more of our daily lives in the online world, witnessing or being exposed to online bullying, whether this is directed at you personally or indirectly through sight of hateful or hurtful posts about aspects of who you are. This is commonly referred to as ‘trolling’.
Part of the issue with cyberbullying is that we can very easily become desensitised to it due to its anonymous nature, both as a witness and indeed as the bully. We may witness bullying and share our distaste, but we carry on scrolling. We may leave hurtful comments, share or laugh at what is being said and then simply carry on with our daily lives. For the individual or group being bullied, this is not the case. They are not desensitised to the comments and it can have a direct impact on their daily lives – reading hurtful comments, seeing upsetting stories and reactions leading to feelings of isolation.
So, what effects can bullying have on individuals?
Simply put, a negative one. The impact on a young person’s mental health and wellbeing (or anyone for that matter), is likely to be significant. Feelings such as worthlessness, a loss of confidence, loneliness, anxiety or anger are common. For some, bullying can lead to much more serious mental health problems such as depression, anxiety or eating disorders and in extreme cases, this may also lead to self-harm or drugs and alcohol abuse.
Returning our focus to this year, 2020, where we have all lived through stints of isolation, many young people will not have had, or continue to not have, their usual support systems or outlets available to them. Those feelings of worthlessness or loneliness may be heightened and in some cases just as damaging, and you may find yourself asking – what can we do to unite against bullying?
- We can be more conscious of how we are behaving online, not only for ourselves in terms of who we follow, but in how we react and treat others online.
- Reach out if you see a friend or family member getting unwanted comments or attention online and offer them support.
- Check in on your friends and family, encourage them to take breaks from social media or their phone/laptop in general.
- When COVID guidelines say it is safe to do so, meet up and get outside, talk and support each other.
And what about if you are the one being bullied, what can you do?
- First and foremost, find a way to speak up. Ignoring the situation will not make it go away and there will always be someone willing to listen be that a friend, parent, sibling, teacher or carer.
- If you are experiencing cyberbullying specifically – you can report abusive posts on social media platforms or to CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre). And again, speak to someone.
- If this is happening in a school environment (whether that be physically in school or virtually), talk to a parent, carer or teacher – they may have no idea that you are being bullied and there will be policies in place to tackle it. There may also be a listening service available to help you such as the one we offer in some certain schools across the Island.
- Never stop reporting. This may be difficult and tiring, but it is important to keep reporting.
You may not think that if you are being bullied, reporting it is doing much to unite against bullying, but we can assure you – it is! By speaking up, you are shining a spotlight on the issue – you are helping to remove the stigma. You may give someone else the confidence to act and address it, or someone close to you who you never knew was being bullied may resonate with what you are saying. You may make someone realise that they are in fact being bullied or, and maybe most importantly, you may be the voice that helps someone realise that their situation and feelings are real and valid.
This Anti-Bullying week lets stand United Against Bullying. If you are struggling with bullying in any form, please speak up to friends, family, teachers, carers – whoever you feel comfortable opening up to.
Let’s stop the stigma and start a conversation about bullying.