Comment from Lesley Podesta, CEO Alannah & Madeline Foundation on Episode 1 of the two-part program 'Bullied' aired on ABC TV March 14.
There’s no doubt bullying occurs in every Australian school. It is worse in some schools, better in others and the difference is dependent on complex, interrelated factors.
Some responses help bullying situations, others do little or nothing - or may even make them worse.
We know that many parents, students and educators are desperate for information on how best to approach bullying behaviours in their community.
The program Bullied has noble intentions. It aims to highlight bullying as a serious issue, and the lack of training and support available to teachers and parents to properly address it. It also provides a forum for discussion around the necessary steps required to support those adversely affected.
In Bullied we see Ian Thorpe, whose interest in this area stems from his own predicament as a former target of bullying, taking on ‘problem-cases’ of bullying.
The first episode of Bullied certainly presents some hard viewing. We see a young person and a family in crisis who agree to work with Ian and program-makers out of what can only be described as desperation.
In this episode, we also hear from peers but not directly from the school, or the Education Department in Queensland, where the episode was filmed.
Bullied uses covert surveillance to highlight the intensity of the problem, which is a problem in itself. The Alannah & Madeline Foundation corresponded with the producers of the Bullied project in March 2016, expressing concerns over the harm media exposure of this kind can visit on the target and perpetrators of bullying alike; our view is that the age group being investigated are children and need protection.
We also had reservations about a show that had to find a state with weaker surveillance laws to be able to undertake filming of this sort. Upon viewing episode one we were relieved to note hidden camera footage did not identify any children by voice, or by vision.
Bullying remains a very complex issue. Depicting protagonists as ‘baddies’ and ‘goodies’ is simplistic and in many cases, these roles can be blurred or interchangeable.
Crucially, it ignores the fact that most bullying is about relationships and requires solutions within the context of these relationships.
The Alannah & Madeline Foundation through its advocacy arm, The National Centre Against Bullying, calls for whole-of-organisation approaches to reduce bullying.
Many schools are addressing bullying effectively, consistently and with respect for all parties.
Some are less successful, but overall, bullying has actually decreased in schools, a finding borne out in research from across the world. Its incidence has fallen in Australia from 27 per cent to 19.8 per cent over the last decade.
We know that bullying frequently occurs in environments with a culture where there is little respect, kindness and caring. Adults are responsible for the home and school environments these young people come from. Focussing solely on the children is manifestly wrong.
Many educators, parents and school systems are doing something right but, as depicted in Bullied, others are desperately seeking help.
We must support these efforts with resourcing, professional training for teachers and accurate information for parents rather than allocating blame and ignoring evidence.
We need an agreed national definition of bullying and for school leadership to make it a key priority in their planning. We need governments to support and fund teacher pre-service and in-service training and to mandate evidenced-based practices to tackle bullying culture and behaviours.
The Alannah & Madeline Foundation is committed to making schools safe for all children and believe that it's everyone’s responsibility to take bullying seriously, to address and, as far as possible, to solve.
Click here for Lesley Podesta's opinion piece on the matter.
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