The scourge of bullying

Insidious. Damaging. Unacceptable. Disturbing.

Choose your word for the act of bullying, and for two recent reviews of the levels of bullying that paint a rather alarming picture, and odds are it will fit.

We like to think we have made progress as a society - opened our minds, built a better world, begun to behave better - but you start to wonder when the evidence of a bullying culture still being rife is presented.

It started with the latest survey from the Education Review Office, which found 46% of New Zealand primary school pupils had felt bullied at their current school. This came less than two years since it was revealed New Zealand had the second-worst rates of schoolyard bullying in the OECD.

That rate was "profoundly troubling" to ERO - as it should be to all who expect school to be a safe place for our children to learn and grow.

The survey showed 83% of pupils had learned what to say or do if they experienced bullying, yet only 35% who did what they had been taught reported the bullying stopping. That is a concern - are we providing effective strategies? Or putting too much back on the child?

The consequences of school bullying have been made clear, and they are serious: children who are bullied can develop anxiety and depression, and can be driven to self-harm. And they can become bullies.

Why are we still here? Why, with all of the resources and education we have poured into this area in recent years, are there still worryingly high levels of bullying in our schools?

Well, talk about timing. Just a week after the release of the ERO report comes the review into bullying and harassment in New Zealand Parliament, launched in November and completed by external reviewer Debbie Francis. And, lo and behold, the lofty halls of central government seem to be as bad as some schoolyards.

Following high-profile allegations of bullying against National MP Maggie Barry and Labour MP Meka Whaitiri, the review found an unacceptably high level of bullying in the Beehive and surrounds.

"You can't do anything about it," a staffer told the review.

"You feel completely helpless. You don't want to raise it in case no-one takes your side. I just want to get out."

For the health of the workplace and New Zealand's democracy, Ms Francis wrote, it was time for the gradual improvements made to the "tone and culture" of Parliament to be fast-tracked.

She might have added: to set an example for our children, our elected leaders could possibly do a little better at behaving like grown-ups.

We are, in general, much more aware of bullying, and the damage that can be done. Pink Shirt Day and Anti-Bullying Week have boosted awareness. Most schools have robust, transparent policies concerning bullying.

Yet we must be vigilant - whether that is in the schoolyard or the houses of Parliament - to stay on top of the bullying plague. It's a societal issue, and we must work together to stamp out bullying.



The young gave up on adult power structures long ago.

Not influential.

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