I met Sarah a couple of months ago at a very exciting event I attended in London (which you can read more about here). Sarah really knows her stuff about our younger generations, and is clearly very switched on about people in general.
Having already started to think about writing this mini series, I immediately saw a fantastic opportunity to hassle someone in the know for their expert take on the complex issues of bullying. Sarah very kindly agreed to be interviewed, and I’m delighted to share her insightful answers to my questions:
What are the best ways to protect our children from bullying?
I think the best thing we can do as parents to protect them from bullying is find opportunities for them to experience what it feels like to stick up for themselves and deal with their own situations.
Often as parents we step in, and that gives them a very clear message that they can’t cope and therefore they end up feeling like a victim.
We can also talk to our children about what is and is not okay for people to do around them and come up with a list of strategies for when someone crosses those boundaries.
If our child is being bullied, what do you propose is the best way to handle the situation?
I always think the best thing to do first is ask your child what they want to do about it.
Often our children are much more capable then we think and I always think allowing them to figure it out themselves first is best. When we allow them to come up with their own solutions and handle things themselves, it gives them confidence and they can do it again.
Of course, if your child is in danger or there is violence involved then this is a matter that we should be contacting the school or police about.
Do you find that bullying changes dependent on age? For example, bullying about appearance/ interests/ class/ background?
I think it changes in complexity and can become more personal as a child gets older. For me, the two years where it seems most rife are years three [age 7-8] and nine [age 13-14]. The younger bullying tends to focus more on friendship groups and while this does continue into the later years, things can get more personal and involve appearance, body shaming and bullying of a sexual nature.
Do you think the perpetrator is always aware of the impact of their behaviour?
No I don’t think they are.
We are different and what may feel like a joke to one person may be bullying to another.
I think most people who say mean things have no idea how the others person may feel about it.
Do you think bystanders are equally guilty, and if so, how do you suggest we encourage them to foster positive change among their peers?
I think they are but let’s face it, the social courage it takes to step up and say something is really hard. I think this is a very complex situation and I think we need to be start very young to promote kindness among peers.
And the adults need to look at how they behave too; the bullying we do as adults and [in] the media, giving the impression that this is okay. Often we are asking our children to behave to far higher standards than [those] we [demand of] ourselves.
Do you believe some people are easy targets, and if so, what makes them so? Is it a state of mind or other quality that can be changed; or is it a fundamental part of a person’s personality?
Really interesting question and I am sure everyone you asked would have a different opinion on this. From my experience in the police and working with young people I would say yes, some people unfortunately are easy targets and for me it is often down to body language and posture, which I know sounds incredibly simple.
I think we can have a victim posture, which means we may be more likely to get picked on.
While this does form a victim style mindset, I do believe that by changing our body posture we can change how we feel about ourselves.
Do you believe that adult bullies tend to have also been bullies at school, or more likely were themselves bullied?
I think people bully because they don’t feel so great themselves and feel they have no control over a situation, and I think that can happen at any time of our lives. Personally, I don’t feel it links to whether you were bullied or a bully; I think it relates to how much control you feel you have in your life and how bad you feel about yourself.
If you had one tip to help prevent a person from becoming a target, what would it be?
Stand tall, stand up straight and walk tall. It is all in how you hold yourself; if we don’t look like a victim we are less likely to become one.
Do you think the solution to bullying lies in educating the bully, equipping the victim with skills and strategies to change the situation, or teaching coping mechanisms?
I think it is a combination of all three but I also think it goes further than that. I think the answer lies in us teaching everyone how to treat other people, us as the adults setting better examples and teaching everyone about how to have the social courage to be able to stand up when they see something that doesn’t feel right.
I also think we need to stop thinking of bullying with a perpetrator and a victim; in my experience often the bully is in as much pain as the victim. In the police, I was trained in restorative justice, and I think that the answers lies there, where we ask questions such as how did the perpetrator cause harm, how did we as a community let the perpetrator down, and what have we to do to fix all harm and make this community work better together.
With my great thanks to Sarah for kindly agreeing to this interview, and for sharing her wisdom.
I hope you found this interview as fascinating as I did. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank my lovely hubby for his intriguing questions over the last few months. Alas, all good things must come to an end, and his services are no longer required (it’s okay Darling, I’m not divorcing you just yet).
Over the following couple of months I will be asking the questions, and I shall again be passing the reins over to various professionals in the childcare sector.
I’m very excited to be interviewing, amongst others, a health visitor; a midwife; a nursery assistant; a police officer; a foster carer.
Should you have any questions you’d like me to put forward, please don’t hesitate to comment below!