When West Auckland businessman Barry Hart’s son Josh was eight years old, the text messages started.
“He would get text bombed at 1am, four or five kids at a time sending him terrible messages, every night,” he remembers.
School became a trial for Josh, and Barry and his wife struggled to know what to do to help.
“We’re lucky that we’ve always had a good relationship with him, and he felt he could talk to us,” Barry says.
Bullying has changed since Barry was in school
“I remember getting bullied at school, and then going home and walking in my door and thinking ‘phew, I made it. I’m safe.’ But kids today can’t just shut the door. They’re still getting messages on their phones or Facebook, and sometimes they feel that there’s no escape.”
The Harts tried to get help for Josh from his school, but couldn’t find a resolution. They saw the bullying cycle start to affect him, and worried that he too would become a bully. Research tells us, after all, that most bullies have themselves been the target of bullying. They enrolled him in counselling, and tried to find ways to build Josh’s self-confidence.
“It wasn’t the punching that was hurting him,” Barry recalls. “It was the fact that people said the world would be better off if he wasn’t here.”
Barry eventually pulled both of his children out of public schools, and enrolled them in a private college. It was an expensive move, but he has no regrets.
“We believe that it’s what saved Josh’s life,” he says. “His new school is very good at managing bullying.”
Today, eight years since Josh’s life was first impacted by bullying, he’s doing well. But the memory of seeing his son so vulnerable and hurt has stuck with Barry.
Both kids made him proud
A big fan of Pink Shirt Day, in 2013 all of the staff at Barry’s United Video stores celebrated Pink Shirt Day in a big way, and it was a proud moment for Barry when he sent both of his kids off to school wearing pink shirts.
“For Josh, wearing the pink shirt on Pink Shirt Day was a big moment. His sister wore the shirt in support of Josh, which is pretty cool.”
Barry has some tips for parents who are worried that their children are experiencing bullying, and don’t know what to do to help.
“Go to the school, or to the police if you think that’s what you need to do, and tell them your child is being assaulted, intimidated, and harassed,” he advises.
“I learned that these three words change people’s perceptions of the seriousness of what is happening and changes start to happen.”
Making sure you keep talking to your kids is important, too, as is teaching them how to treat others. Retaliation is not effective in the long run.