This week marks Anti-Bullying Week 2023 in the UK, running from Monday 13 to Friday 17 November. This year’s theme, “Make A Noise About Bullying,” encourages us all to break the silence surrounding this issue that has long been ingrained within our society.

The campaign’s call to action, championed by the Anti-Bullying Alliance, resonates deeply: “Too often, we are silent when we see bullying take place, silent about the hurt bullying causes, and silent when we hear bullying dismissed as ‘just banter.’ It doesn’t have to be this way.”

How can bullying impact young people?

Bullying is far from a harmless rite of passage or “just a laugh”. It can have a long-lasting impact on young people’s mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. Below are just a few ways bullying can affect victims:

  • Emotional distress: Young people who experience bullying often suffer from anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem as a consequence. The constant fear and humiliation inflicted by bullies can lead to a sense of hopelessness, which can continue with them even into their adult years.
  • Negative impact on academia: Bullying can disrupt a victim’s ability to concentrate and perform well in school. It can lead to decreased attendance, lower grades, and a reduced interest in learning, ultimately affecting their future. This is particularly the case if the bullying occurs within school.
  • Physical health: A lesser-known consequence caused by bullying is how the stress of the situation can manifest into physical health problems, such as headaches, stomach aches, and sleep disturbances. These physical symptoms can further heighten the emotional toll of bullying.
  • Social isolation: Victims of bullying may withdraw from social activities and even friendships to avoid any further victimisation. This isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness which can in turn further impact their distress and mental health.
  • Mood swings: Bullying can lead to significant mood swings, with victims experiencing sudden shifts in emotions, from anger and frustration to sadness and despair. These mood swings can impact every aspect of their life, from their daily-to-day living to relationships.
  • Loss of interest in hobbies: Many young people who are bullied lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. The emotional toll of bullying can make it difficult for them to find pleasure or motivation in their hobbies and interests.
  • Thoughts of self-harm and suicide: Sadly, some young people who are bullied may experience thoughts of self-harm or suicide as a way to cope with their pain and sadness. They will want to escape the situation, and for some people, they feel these avenues are their only option. These thoughts should be taken seriously, and immediate support and intervention are so important.
  • Long-term effects: The impact of bullying doesn’t always end with adolescence or once the bullying stops. It can cause lasting psychological scars, affecting self-confidence and relationships well into adulthood. It may damage their outlook on friendships, romantic relationships and even their personal relationship and how they see themselves.

Forms bullying takes place

Bullying can manifest in so many different forms and settings for young people, some that many of us wouldn’t even consider:

  • School bullying: This is perhaps the most common form of bullying among young people. It can include physical violence, verbal abuse, exclusion, and cyberbullying (using technology to harass or intimidate).
  • Cyberbullying: With the widespread use of digital technology among younger generations nowadays, cyberbullying has become a significant concern. This involves sending hurtful messages, spreading rumours, or sharing embarrassing photos or videos online.
  • Social media: Also a form of cyberbullying, platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook can be breeding grounds for bullying. Young people may be targeted through nasty comments, fake profiles, or the sharing of private information without consent. It gives bullies the platform the publicly target someone with an audience to witness.
  • Peer pressure: Bullying can also take the form of peer pressure, where young people are coerced or intimidated into engaging in harmful behaviours they might not want to participate in.
  • Sibling bullying: In some cases, bullying can even occur within families, with siblings being the perpetrators. In situations such as these, its important parents take it seriously and address this issue promptly. While there is no doubt sibling rivalry and fall outs are inevitable among families, the effects of bullying can be equally as damaging as if the bullying were taking place at school by peers.

What to do if you’re being bullied

If you’re currently experiencing bullying, please know that you are not alone, and there is help and support available for you. Bullying can take many forms, from physical and verbal abuse to cyberbullying. It can be a isolating and suffocating experience, but remember, you have the right to feel safe and respected. Here are some steps for you to consider:

  • Open up about it: We know this can be challenging, and in some cases, it might not even feel like an option, but try to confide in someone you trust—a friend, family member, teacher, or school counsellor. These people can offer support and guidance on how to address the situation, as well as provide emotional support rather than carrying this weight alone.
  • Document incidents: Keep a record of each bullying incident, including dates, times, locations, and descriptions. This documentation may be helpful if you need to involve the school or other authorities.
  • Report bullying: Inform your school or workplace about the bullying you’re facing. They have a responsibility to address and prevent bullying. You can also report online bullying to the platform or website administrators.
  • Stay safe online: If you’re experiencing cyberbullying, block the bullies and change your privacy settings to ensure you can only receive messages from people who you trust. Remember that it’s not your fault, and you don’t have to tolerate online harassment.
  • Seek professional help: If the bullying is causing severe emotional distress, consider speaking to a mental health professional or counsellor who can provide strategies to cope with the emotional toll.
  • Know your rights: Familiarise yourself with anti-bullying policies and your rights at school/higher education or work. Laws and policies are in place to protect people from bullying.

Remember, you are stronger than you think, and there are people who care about your wellbeing. Seek the support you deserve and know that you have the power to overcome this.

What to do if you’re concerned about a young person being bullied

If you are a parent, carer, guardian or someone concerned about a young person who may be experiencing bullying, you play an important role in providing support and guidance. Here are some steps to consider:

  • Listen actively: Create a safe space for the young person to talk about their experiences. Be an empathetic and non-judgmental listener.
  • Offer encouragement: Remind the young person that they are not alone and that you are there to support them throughout the process. This can help give them the confidence to address the situation with the appropriate people.
  • Involve relevant authorities: If the bullying is happening at school, notify the school administration or teachers. They should be made aware of the situation and take appropriate action.
  • Empower them: Encourage the young person to stand up for themselves and their rights. Teach them assertiveness and self-advocacy With that being said, remember that sometimes, going higher – involving school authorities or professionals – can be more effective in ensuring their safety and wellbeing.
  • Seek professional help: If the bullying has significantly impacted the young person’s mental health or self-confidence, consider consulting a therapist or counsellor who specialises in bullying-related issues. Addressing these issues sooner rather than later can help the young person develop coping strategies, regain their self-worth, and prevent long-lasting emotional scars. It’s so important that victims know they don’t have to face this battle alone, and there are professionals ready to support them on their journey to healing.
  • Promote online safety: Teach them how to protect themselves online, including setting privacy settings and reporting abusive behaviour.

Where to turn for help

There are many organisations which offer support for those who are being bullied.

Helplines
  • Family Lives: offers a confidential and free helpline service for families in England and Wales. Call 0808 800 2222for emotional support, information, advice and guidance on any aspect of parenting and family life. If you don’t get an answer first time, they encourage callers to try again.
  • National Bullying Helpline: The National Bullying helplineoffers free advice to anyone in the UK experiencing any form of bullying. Call 0300 323 0169
  • ChildLine:ChildLine is the UK’s free, confidential helpline for children and young people. They offer advice and support, by phone and online, 24 hours a day. Call 0800 1111.
  • EACH :EACH has a freephone helpline for under 18s experiencing homophobic, biphobic or transphobic bullying or harassment: 0808 1000 143.
  • HOPELINE247: If you, or someone you know, is struggling with being bullied and this is contributing to thoughts of suicide, then you can contact HOPELINE247 for advice and support on 0800 068 4141, via text on 88247 and via email on pat@papyrus-uk.org
Websites

The websites below have lots of information and advice for anyone who has experienced bullying.

  • Kidscape was established specifically to prevent bullying and child sexual abuse, working with children and young people under the age of 16, their parents/carers, and those who work with them – information for young people 
  • The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) maintains a website for children and young people, and parents and carers about staying safe online: Think U Know
  • Childlineinformation about bullying
  • Direct Gov:Information for young people on cyberbullying, bullying on social networks, Internet and email bullying, bullying on mobile phones, bullying at school, what to do about bullying, and information and advice for people who are bullying others and want to stop.
Reporting cyberbullying

If someone makes you feel uncomfortable or upset online, talk to an adult you can trust, such as a relative or a teacher.  If you would prefer to talk to someone in confidence, you can contact Childline (0800 1111)

If someone has acted inappropriately online towards you, or someone you know, you can report directly to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).  It could be sexual or threatening chat, or being asked to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable or someone asking to meet up.

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