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Beating the bullies

As 700 schools here take part in Anti-Bullying Week campaigner Lee Kane explains below why it’s vital parents tackle the issue while, overleaf, Rachel Tucker and Pete Snodden tell Marie Foy how they coped

Bullying can affect anyone at any time in their lives. Just last week Girls Aloud star Nadine Coyle revealed that she was being bullied because of her Londonderry accent.

We at the Northern Ireland Anti-Bullying Forum want to stamp out the problem and are working with children and young people to make them more aware of how serious it can be.

More than 700 schools across Northern Ireland are taking part in Anti-Bullying Week 2010, which is brilliant.

Each year we focus on a different theme — in recent years it has been cyber-bullying, going to a new school, and bullying while travelling to and from school.

This year we are looking at where bullying happens around schools and how to stop it. Research shows that the hot spots are corridors, locker rooms, toilets and playgrounds.

As part of Anti-Bullying Week we have given teachers materials and ideas for class and assembly activities and have sent out posters. We’ve asked classes to write anti-bullying messages in chalk on their school playgrounds.

We also ran an art competition and received some fantastic, imaginative entries from hundreds of pupils. Once again Anti-Bullying Week is supported by Translink and they are also displaying our posters in bus and train stations.

NIABF helps schools develop anti-bullying policy and practice, making sure they have the resources to prevent bullying and to take effective action to deal with any situation that crops up.

We also work hard to raise awareness among the public, challenging the view that bullying is a natural part of growing up, and making it clear that it isn’t an acceptable form of behaviour.

Bullying can make young people withdrawn, leave school early, and it can affect them for the rest of their lives.

One of our key messages is that it is the responsibility of everyone in society to tackle the problem.

The most recent Department of Education research indicates that 43% of year 6 and 29% of year 9 pupils report they had experienced bullying. And we've all seen it, not just in school but in every walk of life.

It can take many different forms — it can be based on race, religion, culture, on what you wear or the colour of your hair — and can vary in seriousness from name calling and teasing to serious physical assaults.

The most common form of bullying is name calling, though cyber-bullying by email or text is a very worrying trend.

Recently, along with Ernst and Young, we held a very successful series of workshops in schools to encourage pupils to think before they act, and telling them what to do if they are being bullied.

I’ve heard of a few cases of serious physical bullying, humiliating cyber-bullying and very distressing harassment, which can even lead to a young person taking their own life, but these are rare. Many cases stem from friendship fallouts, and when one person is excluded from the group and subjected to repeated behaviour which is intentionally hurtful, there's a problem.

No matter how minor the incident may seem we have to nip it in the bud and make sure it doesn't become more serious.

Teenagers in particular can be very sensitive at a time in their lives when emotions are running high. There is a fine line between banter and bullying behaviour, and it's our job to let young people know where that line is.

The main thing children and young people want when they are being bullied is for it to stop. We advise anyone going through a bad time to tell someone and bring it into the open. Adults should always take reports seriously and act. Parents need to set a good example and teach their children about tolerance, diversity and respect.

And it's important they work with schools to resolve any issues. As one young person told me: “You don’t have to like me or be my friend, but respect me.”

Lee Kane, from Ballycastle, is co-ordinator of the Northern Ireland Anti-Bullying Forum, which represents more than 25 voluntary and statutory groups. www.endbullying.org or tel: 9043 2828

‘Just a few words can hurt someone very deeply’

Belfast-born singer and actress Rachel Tucker (29) is playing the lead role in the hit West End musical Wicked. She is married and lives in London. She says:

This is something I feel passionate about so I’m delighted to support NI Anti-Bullying Week. At the moment I’m playing the role of Elphaba in Wicked, based around the story of The Wizard of Oz.

Elphaba is made an outcast because she is different — she is green and has special powers. I love Elphaba’s character and strength because she uses her humour and wit to outsmart the people who pick on her. Kids often find it easy to relate to her experiences. She stands up for herself and is strong — that’s why so many love it.

I absolutely loved school, but there were some rough, tough kids ready to pick on the weaker ones in the class. It’s very hard to stop that. Just three or four words can be belittling and hurt someone very deeply, like saying scornfully: ‘What are you wearing today?’ I don’t think children and young people always realise what they are doing is bullying. Raising awareness is so important.

I was very much a moderator. My mum says she was most proud of me when I came home from school and told her I had stood up for a girl who was being picked on.

When I was 13 or 14 teachers would encourage me to sing at school. I used to get comments like: ‘Look at her, she thinks she can sing’. But I wouldn’t take it.

My response was, ‘I don’t think I can sing, I know I can sing.’ It sounds big-headed, but it was an answer for them and my way of telling them they weren’t going to stop me. Not everyone is as confident as I am. It’s a good thing to step in and help someone who’s having a rough time.”

Bullying is wrong. If you are having problems, tell someone. The more people who know the better, the less power the bullies have. School can be a fantastic place, but it can also be hell — don’t spoil it for others and don’t let others spoil it for you.

Log onto the internet websites www.wickedthemusical.co.uk and Facebook.com/WICKEDLondon during November for more information

‘I turned an unpleasant episode into a positive’

Pete Snodden (30) presents the Breakfast Show on Cool FM. He and his wife Julia, who live in Bangor, are expecting their first child in February. Pete and co-presenter Kirstie McMurray are supporting NI Anti-Bullying Week. He says:

I can’t understand why anyone would want to make anyone else miserable. Many people think of bullying as being pulled into a corner in school and being hit, but it takes many forms and is widespread. It involves being excluded, perhaps by groups within schools, university or in the workplace.

One of the newer forms is cyber-bullying — putting hateful comments about someone on line — which is totally wrong. It can spread like wildfire on social networks like Facebook and Bebo.

Most of us have witnessed bullying in some shape or form — people backstabbing each other. In my eyes it’s a form of bullying when you try to put your negative feelings about people into the minds of others. That is very, very sad.

When I was younger I was never physically bullied, but I did go through the odd spate of exclusion in my teenage years, though nothing that bad. Part of me thinks, well that’s part of growing up. But part of me asks, should it be? The answer is no. Some people argue that it makes you a stronger character, and those are the types of attitudes that the NI Anti-Bullying Forum is trying to change, which I think is brilliant.

I loved going to school. It was a great place for me, even if I was teased when I said what I wanted to do and achieve in life. I realised I was the better person, and those people were very much the driving force pushing me to go for what I wanted. I didn’t let them put me down.

I feel I turned something that was unpleasant into a positive. I still remember it, though, so it obviously affected me to some extent.

In today’s society there is a lot more pressure on people about how they look, the way they dress, whether they have the latest gizmos. People should be allowed to be individual.

School years can be spoiled or tainted by being afraid to go to school. I feel for kids out there who are suffering that kind of treatment. It’s an awful thing, but it’s important to know you don’t have to endure it.

These days it’s easier to talk about. There is a protocol now for speaking to a teacher or other adult. Making it more open makes this type of behaviour harder to hide and is the best way of tackling it.”



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