Tony Humphreys: We need to take a different approach to bullying

23% of children are at risk of being bullied, says Consultant Clinical Psychologist, author and international speaker Tony Humphreys, who offers advice on tackling it
Tony Humphreys: We need to take a different approach to bullying

"The high prevalence of bullying for both primary and secondary schools is certainly a challenge to parents and teachers to prioritise the wellbeing of young people who are being bullied, and, also, those young people who are bullying!," says Dr Tony Humphreys. Picture: stock

IT is estimated that 31% of primary and 16% of secondary students have been bullied at some time.

Of the total Irish school-going population, some 23% or 200,000 children are at risk of being at the receiving end of bullying.

74% of bullied primary school children reported being bullied in the playground, while 31% claimed that it occurred in the classroom.

At secondary level, people reported 47% of incidents in the classroom, 37% in the corridor and 27% in the playground. 19% of the former and 8.8% of the latter grouping said they also experienced bullying going to and from school.

The high prevalence of bullying for both primary and secondary schools is certainly a challenge to parents and teachers to prioritise the wellbeing of young people who are being bullied, and, also, those young people who are bullying!

My concern is that the course of action that is being taken is what is being called ‘anti-bullying campaign.’ 

The word ‘anti’ means against and does not consider the possible sources of the bullying behaviour. Be assured, bullying comes from fear and is an unconsciously created protector in response to childhood adverse experiences. Similarly, passivity comes from fear and is also an unconsciously created protector in response to childhood adverse experiences.

When parents and teachers bring their unconscious protectors into their relationship with children, they are not in a place of psychological safety to realise the impact of both bullying and passivity on children’s wellbeing. Tone of voice accounts for most human misery, alongside the ‘look that kills’. It is important that adults who have charge of young people be provided with the psychological safety opportunities to travel the road less travelled from fearfulness to fearlessness, from hiding to living and from control by others to authorship of self.

Human suffering is generational and both passive and aggressive words and action in the adults and young people are shouting out for the suffering that lies hidden to be seen and healed and be allowed to slowly and surely emerge into conscious thought and action.

It is a truism that when adults present with passive and aggressive actions, they are not trying to make life difficult for each other or their young charges; they are trying to show how life is difficult for them!

Similarly, when children and teenagers are troubled and troubling, they are not trying to make life difficult for adults or peers; they, too, are desperately attempting to show how difficult life is for them!

The reality is that it is only adults who are fearless authors of their own self and living their lives from the inside-out (rather than outside-in) are in a place to appreciate that difficult behaviour always make sense!

The conscious response required for both bullying and passivity in young people is one of creating an unconditional and non-judgemental relationship with them and a gentle enquiry into the sources of their passivity or aggressiveness.

My concern is that an anti-bullying approach does not create such a psychological safety holding; indeed, it is likely to lead to an increase in the bullying. What will be more affective and effective is an Understanding Bullying and Understanding Passivity campaign within schools and communities. Understanding bullying is not condoning the threatening behaviours; rather it is an owning of the actions as revelations of hidden unresolved suffering.

Bullying is 100% about the person (adult or young person) who bullies and is a pathway into what lies hidden.

Equally, passivity is 100% about the person (adult or young person) who is passive and is also a pathway into what unconsciously lies hidden.

In both scenarios, it is the nature of the relationship that is created with the young person that is critical – be it the young person who bullies, is passive or, indeed, a bystander.

The author and medical doctor – Gabor Mate – puts it well when he wrote: “If we have been hurt in relationship, it is in relationship we can be healed.”

What to do, then, around both bullying and passivity is to:

Provide understanding that bullying comes from fear

Provide understanding that passivity comes from fear

Create psychological safety with the young person who is bullying or passive or by-standing

Creation of an Understanding Bullying campaign

Creation of an Understanding Passivity campaign

Bullying support letter box (writing it as it is)

Creating Psychological Safety Course for parents/teachers

Dr. Tony Humphreys’ most recent book: Creating Psychological Safety published by Panoma Press and available at amazon.co.uk.




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