Children consulted on bullying
Children’s ombudsman Emily Logan has consulted with 300 children around the country in efforts to try to influence developing policies on cyber-bullying.
Ms Logan’s office consulted with children between 13 and 17 years old in the hope the work might inform a working group established by Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn. The group is tasked with developing strategies to help schools manage bullying.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Ms Logan said the issues of prevention and intervention had featured very strongly in discussions with the children.
But she said it was interesting to note that children were sympathetic not only to the victims of bullying but also to the perpetrators.
They believed that children could bully others because of “issues that may be happening at home or in their community”.
Students had also suggested that parents and pupils rather than just principals and teachers be involved in implementing anti-bullying policies.
Ms Logan said schools also needed to be more inclusive. The children with whom she had met had felt that school councils were composed of nominated individuals, who might be the “more popular” students.
They felt that for such bodies to be more inclusive, all pupils needed to be involved.
The ombudsman’s office particularly spoke to children with disabilities, children in care, children with lesbian, gay, transsexual or transgender (LGBT) backgrounds because it had been hearing of problems with bullying.
“ It’s not that it’s any more prevalent but that children described that it’s more difficult to deal with, because of the underlying prejudice that exists,” she said.
Ms Logan said that while adults had been debating the issue of cyber-bullying, or online bullying, for a number of weeks, the children interviewed believed they needed more information.
“We assume that they know more than we do about these websites, but in fact they asked for a lot of information explaining what cyber-bullying is, what forms it can take.”
She said they wanted the adverse consequences of such bullying to be highlighted to other children and they had had “some very practical suggestions”.
This included special school assemblies at the beginning of the year, where the school principal would “make a statement of intent and be publicly clear that bullying won’t be tolerated in the school and how it will be dealt with”.
With regard to nominating an ‘anti-bullying officer’ in schools, Ms Logan said there was potential in such cases for people to see bullying as “one person’s responsibility rather than a shared responsibility”.
She believed it was “useful” to have a nominated person in a school, but it was important that teachers and principals were supported in dealing with the issue.
It was not an easy issue to deal with, because principals were faced with “one set of parents that are distraught because their child is a victim of bullying” and “another set of parents who are very angry because there has been an allegation against their child”.
“I think children are keen that there are good relationships across the community and that teachers and principals reach out into their communities to engage with parents and the children in trying to resolve these problems.”
Ms Logan said one of the “recurrent” themes dealt with by her office, not just in relation to bullying, was that children were “not being fully confident of being believed”.
The ombudsman said she was also conscious that social media was “very emancipating” for children with disabilities or those living in isolated rural areas.
They used Facebook as a means of support and Twitter as a means of keeping in contact with other children and young people.
“So I don’t want us to destroy what could be a really positive tool for children and young people to use.”
In relation to the recent death by suicide of 13-year-old Erin Gallagher in Co Donegal following a campaign of alleged cyber-bullying, Ms Logan said everybody was “devastated” by such a trauma happening to any child.
“I think the frightening part of it is not that bullying is not new it’s that any child as young as Erin’s response to bullying might be so traumatic.”
Ms Logan said the children she had spoken to were “very mindful of the dangers of cyber-bullying”.
Fine Gael Cork South Central TD and chairman of the party’s LGBT group, Jerry Buttimer, called on Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn to "carefully consider the difficulties experienced by young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in schools when drafting new anti-bullying proposals".
Mr Quinn and Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald earlier this year established a National Anti-Bullying Forum, bringing a range of experts, support groups and representatives of the school sector together to examine the best way forward in reducing the prevalence of bullying among, he said.
A working group was also established to examine possible policy changes and this group is expected to present an action plan to the Minister before Christmas.
“While all children are the potential victims of bullying, young LGBT people can sometimes be seen as easy targets for harassment and discrimination," Mr Buttimer said.
"Coming out or dealing with gender identity issues at a young age can be extremely difficult. Added to this, some young people are unfortunate in that they may not receive the support they need at home, leaving them with little other choice than to turn to authority figures in school for reassurance and advice."
Mr Buttimer said dealing with bullying in all its forms was a key objective for the Government.
“I would encourage Minister Quinn to ensure that the views of representative groups from the LGBT community are considered during the consultation phase of policy formation. I look forward to developments being made in this area and to what will hopefully be a more stress and bully-free environment for our school going children.”