The recent tragic deaths of 15-year-old Ciara Pugsley in Leitrim and 13-year-old Erin Gallagher in Donegal have highlighted the issue of bullying among young people. One organisation, the Donegal Education Centre, has been at the heart of helping schools to deal with this problem since 1997.
The DEC programme, which is
funded by the Dept. of Education and Science, outlines the effects of bullying as stress, anxiety, lack of confidence or self-esteem, depression, aggression, panic attacks, nightmares, feelings of isolation, betrayal and hopelessness, addiction and can lead to someone taking their own life.
Because of the recent growth in on-line bullying, especially among teens, the DEC has organised a teachers’ workshop on Cyber Bullying, with guest speaker Dr Mona O’Moore, co-ordinator of the Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre at Trinity College. This will take place on December 11 in Donegal town.
In 1997, the DEC ran the country’s first pilot project to evaluate the effectiveness of a proposed national programme to prevent and counter bullying behaviour in Irish schools. The programme, designed and developed by Dr. O’Moore, was based on the successful Norwegian programme which uses the ‘No Blame Approach’. Trained professionals delivered a course to school staff. Fourth year pupils at a number of Donegal schools filled in a questionnaire. Two years later, when in sixth class, they completed the same questionnaire again. Their responses showed an extremely high reduction in the incidences of bullying and general indiscipline in the participating schools.
The DEC has a network of trained and experienced professionals who continue to deliver anti-bullying workshops.
Another anti-bullying support strategy spearheaded by the DEC is the delivery of Anti-Bullying Awareness Week programmes in both primary and secondary schools. The comprehensive programme includes everyone involved in schools, from pupils and staff to parents, bus drivers, shop assistants and boards of management. The HSE, Bus Eireann and the Gardaí are also involved in the delivery of this programme.
The DEC believes it is imperative that any anti-bullying programe should be community based, interagency led and should include the following elements: awareness raising; clear definitions of bullying and; prevention and intervention strategies.
All the DEC’s research and experience has shown that a community commitment to zero tolerance of bullying is crucial and early intervention is vital.
Parents, teachers and other concerned adults should be aware of the following signs that a child or young person may be being bullied:
- unexplained bruising, cuts or damaged clothing
- visible signs of anxiety or distress, refusal to say what is wrong
- unexplained changes in mood or behaviour, eg becoming withdrawn, clinging, attention-seeking, disruptive
- deterioration in performance at school, loss of concentration, interest and enthusiasm in school
- reluctance to go to school
- asking to be accompanied to and from school
- asking for or stealing money (to pay off others)
- loss of or damage to personal possessions
- artwork expressing inner turmoil.
What to do if you are being bullied
- Don’t keep it to yourself. Tell someone you can trust, whether it is a friend, relation, teacher, prefect or a member of the non-teaching staff at your school. They are all there to help.
- Remember that it’s them who are wrong, not you. Try not to let them see that you are upset. Don’t retaliate physically as you might end up being accused of bullying yourself.
- Tell the truth. Don’t exaggerate. If a part of what you are saying is shown to be untrue, it will throw everything else in doubt.,
- Don’t believe the lies that the bullies tell about you.
Finally, if you know someone who is bullied, talk about it. This is not ratting - it is behaving responsibly. Silence allows other people to suffer.