Constable Adele White's advice on bullying
Adele White is the School Community Officer for Howick, Auckland. She works with schools and communities to promote safety, and delivers the New Zealand Police’s Kia Kaha programme to schools in her area.
What usually happens when bullying occurs in schools?
Most schools have policies that clearly state the school’s stance on bullying, and these policies usually determine how schools will respond to bullying. In most cases, the first step would be a teacher speaking to both or all students who are involved. If it happened again, the next step would be to refer to a dean, parents might be called in, and finally, a student who continues to bully others could be stood down.
If schools identify that there is a bullying problem in the school, they will often call the police in to try to change the culture within the school. When we come into a school, we work with every classroom, and with parents and teachers as well to try to eliminate bullying culture from within the whole school community. Often schools will teach a programme not because there is a bullying issue in the school, but to give their students strategies to keep safe as they move throughout the wider community.
How should parents respond if their child is being bullied?
We all love our children, and it’s understandable that parents want to protect their children. However, it’s important that that if bullying has occurred in school, the schools are given the opportunity to deal with the situation first. They will follow the process outlined within the appropriate school policies to deal with bullying.
If a child is being physically bullied – or assaulted, parents can come to police and lay a complaint.
For me, as a police officer, it’s really important to see that schools have good policies and procedures, that the teachers are well informed as to what these are, and that they’re all taking the same action. Parents are perfectly entitled to familiarise themselves with these and other school policies.
If parents have an issue with the way things are being dealt with at school they have the right to complain to the school's Board of Trustees.
My child hasn’t told me that they’re being bullied, I found out from the school/their friends/someone else. Why would they keep this a secret?
Sadly, a lot of bullying is not disclosed. Often young victims of bullying worry that if they tell on someone, the situation will get worse. Many young people are very conscious of what people think of them and want to be liked and/or appear popular. Victims don’t like that they’re being treated badly but don't want to be thought of as a tell-tale. Often too, this bullying is covert – like exclusion or gossiping. Some victims are unsure whether this is actually bullying (it is!) and are worried they may not be able to prove it.
No one has noticed that I’m being bullied – not even my parents or my teachers. What should I do?
You need to go and tell someone about it! That’s the number one rule. And if the first person doesn’t believe you or can’t help, go and tell someone else, and keep talking until someone listens. That person might be a parent, a friend’s parents, a teacher, a dean, a counsellor, a person in your church – whoever you feel comfortable with.
I’m being bullied – what do I do?
If you don’t like how someone’s treating you, you need to tell that person. For example – you might say, “I don’t like the way you’re talking to me, I find it very offensive.” Once you’ve told someone that you don’t like their behaviour and they do it again, then you can pretty much guarantee that they are bullying.
If you need to get some help from an adult, it’s great to be able to say, “I’ve tried to deal with this myself, it hasn’t worked, and now I need you to step in.”
The bullying that is being directed at me is homophobic, what do I do?
Well, on the bright side, these days many schools are aware of, and even celebrating equity and diversity within the school! Most schools have a great relationship with Rainbow Youth. You can go and talk to Rainbow Youth or your school's guidance counsellor. Usually a guidance counsellor is a good person to talk to if teachers can’t or won’t help.
If people start nasty homophobic campaigns it’s a huge load for a person to bear, but there is support out there. You can talk to Youthline or OUTline anonymously.
A gay youth coming out can often feel confused and alone; most counsellors will understand this.
If you get a negative reaction from a counsellor, take it further! Go to the Board of Trustees and say, “I went for guidance on a significant life issue, I’m being bullied and I’ve had no support.” You deserve to feel safe and respected in and by your school.
The school is saying that my child is a bully. How do I respond?
If your child has been identified as a bully, laws and policies are in place for a reason. If someone can prove your child has gone beyond those rules or laws or policies, you need to let the school, and sometimes the authorities, follow through.
It’s natural for us to want to defend our children, but if it’s really important to you that your child grows up to be a responsible and caring person, let the process take place, and perhaps follow it up at home with some sort of discussion or counselling. Make sure there are consequences to their behaviour, that these consequences are carried through at home.
A lot parents find this hard, but it’s really important to reinforce the messages the school is sending home.