Copyright © Tie Tours 2000
This is the first section of a report written in July 1998. You can purchase a copy of the full report
What is the best way to stop bullying?
This is the first section of a report written in July 1998. You can purchase a copy of the full reportfromTie Tours.
Tie Tours, an international theatre, education and training company carried out a detailed UK study with people between the ages of 13 - 17 years old. We explored bullying through the medium of theatre with young people in schools, youth clubs and in the open-air. During 1997 Tie Tours toured to these venues across England, performing plays and running 'anti-bullying' workshops with the audiences. Afterwards all participants were given a questionnaire to fill in. One of the questions on the questionnaire was: "What do you think is the best way to stop bullying? The answers to this were varied, some were not as specific as others and required a certain amount of interpretation.
This report is based upon the answers given.
"... find a way to help yourself, find a way to stand your ground, speak to people who will listen, respect your fears but do not let them control you. Accept help from those who will give help." (Hickson/Dallas: 1998).
This report does not set out to give an overview of research and publications on the subject of bullying (e.g. Rigby, Besag, Fuller et al). Its intention is to provide statistical data on a specific project, namely the ' Tie Tours bullying awareness project for young people'.
We must also be aware that bullying can take many forms, including all kinds of harassment. Before people can decide on a course of action people need to have an understanding of what bullying is. Once this is done we can find ways of combating it.
Bullying is an issue that affects most if not all of us. We might get bullied, we might have been bullied in the past. We might know about people who are being bullied. We might be a bully ourselves. It is strange to think that many people might complain of being bullied, but hardly anyone admits to being a bully. For example, teachers in schools, when talking about the subject of bullying, often say that parents will complain about their child being bullied, but no parent has ever informed a school that their child was a bully!
This raises the question of whether people know that they are bullying others, but just don't like to admit it? We bully others when we force them to do something they don't want to, or we try to hurt them in some way physically or emotionally. Put like that we all do a bit of bullying at some time or another. Where do we draw the line? When does a bit of playful banter between friends become interpreted into being bullying? When do a manager's orders to an employee become a form of bullying? It depends of course on the context and the way the order was given.
Bullying can be interpreted in many different ways, but a general consensus appears to be that if bruises (mental or physical) or tears are the result of unprovoked intentional action from one or more people to another person then it can clearly (usually) be classed as a form of bullying. Bullying is seen as abhorrent, this is probably one of the reasons why people do not readily admit to being a bully. People who bully often seem to get some kind of enjoyment, or satisfaction, or fulfillment from it. We often see this in 'proud' parents of young children, when 'their' child is clever enough or strong enough to push themselves over other children in a playground or a park.
Pleasure in bullying or in others misfortune is something that many of us share to greater or lesser degrees. It is also true to say that the majority of people do not want to be bullied. It is also true to say that many people suffer very badly indeed from being bullied, some so badly that they kill themselves. Why is bullying such a problem in the UK, within all levels of society, at work, in school, at play, and in the home?
The reasons people give for being a bully are many, there is no need to go into them here apart from the main reason identified, that of 'frustration'. If we are frustrated in some way, whether it's because we are sitting in a traffic jam, or we are suffering some other kind of stress, or people are not doing what we want them to do, we hit out. When we are frustrated we take it out on other people, usually in a violent way (physically or mentally). This is not always a conscious process. In fact many people seem to act subconsciously when they feel like this. Some people might be surprised to find out that bullying is not a central problem in all societies. People in some places seem to have it culturally in-built into their way of life not to hurt other people (Dentan 1988). People in these societies will go out of their way to appease others of their unfulfilled desires. If someone is frustrated they will not take it out on another, rather they will look to themselves to find the cause of their frustration.
Bullying seems endemic in our society. In an effort to explore what can be done about bullying, Tie Tours carried out a detailed and focussed study with people between the ages of 13 - 17 years old using the following methods: Initially we performed shows to groups of young people showing the horrors of bullying, then we followed up these shows with participative workshops where young people provided answers and ideas on how to stop bullying. These programmes were run with young people in schools, youth clubs and in the open-air. After the workshops all participants were given a questionnaire to fill in. One question from a series of 10* was: "What do you think is the best way to stop bullying?
*Copies of Tie Tours evaluation sheets showing all 10 questions are available from Tie Tours office, if you would like a copy then please send a SAE,with a request to Tie Tours:Tie Tours.
Nearly half of all the answers suggested that the best way to stop bullying was to tell someone. It might be a teacher, a friend or a member of the family. For these people keeping quiet was not an option. Talking about our difficulties with other people helps in many ways; firstly we let people know what is happening, we also get 'fresh-eyes' on the situation. Other people can show us new ways of looking at things, different angles, and fresh strategies to cope with what is going on. Telling people can also provide an avenue for eliciting help.
Although it appears very positive that nearly half of people suggest that telling someone is the best way to stop bullying, the reverse could suggest that many people do not feel 'able' to tell someone. The bridge between thought and action is so vast that they think it is not possible to cross. Some people might feel embarrassed or think it's 'un-cool', others feel equipped to sort it out themselves. Many people could have a difficulty in actually letting other people know how they feel. Some people find communicating with others a problem, either through language barriers, shyness, or because they are frightened.
This statistic can also suggest that nearly half of all young people cannot deal with bullying themselves, they need to tell other people about it. This is in contrast to our next group, who suggested that 'being assertive' was the best way to stop bullying.
752 people, just over 18% of the sample, gave these answers. Typically they offered strategies such as 'stand up for yourself', 'say "no"', 'use eye contact' and 'stand your ground'.
Less than 20% of people felt able or knew how to be assertive when confronted by bullying. Being able to say "no" when we want to is an important ability (or skill?). Assertiveness must not be confused with aggressiveness. Asserting our rights clearly, without fear, in a positive way has nothing to do with being aggressive. There are many assertive techniques that can be learned quite easily, perhaps schools might want to think about assertiveness training for some (all) of their pupils? Assertiveness training could not only help people who are being bullied, it could also show people who are sometimes seen as 'aggressive' alternative ways of behaving that cannot be interpreted as bullying.
The third highest category of answers offered violence. 273 people, six and a half per cent of the sample, gave these replies. Typically they suggested things like 'fight back', 'kill the bully', and 'use a weapon'. Many people would in an us-or-them situation, with no other way out use violence to protect themselves. The sample who suggest this as the best way to stop bullying is very small, but it becomes a lot of people if we translate these figures to the national population. It could seemingly suggest that a few million people would use violence if they were being bullied. This is a view held by Alan Clark MP, who when being interviewed about English football hooligans said "if someone throws a bottle at you, the best thing to do is throw it back at them" (BBC Radio 5: June 1998).
Nearly 200 hundred people recommended avoiding the bully. Many people know that it can take a lot of courage to 'walk away' from a difficult situation. In many cases, particularly if one is in immanent danger of harm, this could prove to be a very effective strategy. If a particular danger is being experienced on a daily basis for example, then 'ignoring it' will not make it go away. Spending time 'avoiding' will start to dictate how one lives ones life. One needs perhaps to look deeper, to the root of the problem.
This statistic, as with others here, can quite easily blend in with other categories. Getting 'help from someone' could also be classed as 'telling someone'. To get help we need to speak to people about our difficulties. They were separated from the other category because they were specific to 'getting help' as opposed to just talking or telling. 127 people suggested getting help to stop the bullying. Examples are "get someone big to threaten the bullies", or "making new friends". Only three people suggested phoning a help-line such as 'childline'. It can be very difficult to ask for help. When we ask for help we often feel vulnerable, and embarrassed that we cannot sort it out ourselves. Maybe what is needed is just a different perspective? For example; if we regarded asking people for help as something positive, as a social activity, a way of sharing ourselves with other people, then it starts looking like a positive activity. People very often enjoy helping others, for them it is not seen as a burden, but as a pleasure. It is generally recognised that the more we share with other people then the more they will share with us.
63 people wanted bullies to be punished. Many of these people thought that bullies got away with it too easily and that bullies should be punished much more severely. 21 of this sample thought that the police should get involved, and one person thought that all bullies should go to jail.
49 people suggested using some kind of specialist help as an answer to bullying. The emphasis here tended to be directed towards the 'victim'. For example; suggestions like 'making counsellors available to people who have been bullied'. A third of this group thought that bringing in theatre companies such as Tie Tours, to explore the subject of bullying, was the best way to stop bullying. 5 people thought that it was the bully who needed help, these people talked along the lines of 'the bully being sick', and thus needing to be cured.
49 people believed that not showing fear in the face of bullying works very well. Standing up to a bully with strong body language (but not aggressive) can often work very well, particularly if the bully does not know your 'weaknesses'. With this strategy 'eye contact' is very important - much of our fear is expressed with our eyes. With a little practice it is possible not to show fear even if one is very scared 'inside'.
46 people suggested a variety of approaches that were 'non-violent', and were directed at the bully. Most of these people thought that talking to the bully would be succesful, explaining the situation, how one feels, and asking the bully "why do you feel the need to pick on other people?" Other suggestions included: act as if you are 'mad' (this can often scare the bully away!), laugh at the bully (this has the possibilities of working in the 'right' situation but one must be careful not to make the situation worse!), Others suggested scaring the bully in some way (with or without the help of others).
33 people suggested learning some kind of self-defence. This can certainly do no harm, and is beneficial to many people. Martial Arts such as Kung-Fu, Tae Kwon-Do and Aikido, not only teach people how to defend themselves in case of attack, they also have a philosophy of teaching 'non-violence' and promote a very peaceful way of life.
20 people thought that we need to be 'nice to the bullies'. If we are friendly to people in the face of adversity this can sometimes wear off on the person or people who are picking on us. It is generally more difficult to be nasty to someone who is being nice to us. It must also be pointed out that a lot of bullying occurs between friends, and people we know - even within our own families. To use this strategy effectively we must remain confident and try to create some kind of equal partnership (this can be difficult).
18 people liked the idea of using 'official' anti-bullying strategies. Typically answers suggested that schools for example, should have anti-bullying policies that were proactive rather than just reactive. One person suggested that there should be a special court to fight bullying. The Peer Mediation Network based in the School of Psychology and Counselling at Roehampton does a lot of work in this area. They are at the forefront of research and peer mediation programmes in the UK.
About 70 people gave answers that were difficult to categorise, and sometimes difficult to interpret. For a full breakdown of these please refer to the answers in the 'Misc. category', which can be found on pages 16 and 17 of the report. Most of these were, I believe well-intentioned answers, although I think that some were suggested tongue-in-cheek.
There are many ways to stop bullying, what works for one will not necessarily work for others, we all need to find our own way. If we are being bullied and our reaction to it does not seem to work, people should not be afraid of trying something else, of using a different strategy to stop the bullying.Nearly half of all the people asked suggested that we should tell people if we are being bullied. This is a very effective strategy and can be used in conjunction with many other solutions. If bullies know that we will not stay quiet about what is happening then often they will lessen or stop the bullying. We must remember that we will get the best help or advice from talking to people who will listen to us. This is what can often prove difficult - what puts off a lot of people from talking about bullying is that they do not think anything will be done about it or that people will not believe them.
Many young people in the workshops expressed dissatisfaction with 'adults' who did not take their reports of bullying seriously. Our research also suggested that some parents who complained to schools about their child being bullied got labeled as 'troublemakers', and their child labeled as 'moaners'. At the same time, the majority of teachers who were interviewed thought that the best way to stop bullying was to report it. If "telling someone" is a desirable way to combat bullying, then reports of bullying need to be taken seriously. Most schools, on paper, do take bullying extremely seriously. Most schools have an anti-bullying policy. Other strategies include; bully-boxes, peer mediators and buddying. Some secondary schools show outstanding concern for bullying. Acland Burghley School in Camden, London is one such example. This school amongst other strategies has a special bully-line, and counsellors to deal with bullying problems. These counsellors are made up from the student body, and some have been bullies themselves.
Being assertive, was a popular answer, however, many people who we talked to found it difficult or did not know how to be assertive. Assertiveness skills were lacking in many of the people we talked to. There does not appear to be much in the way of 'assertiveness training' available to pupils in schools, or to young people in youth clubs. This inexpensive approach would not only help those that are bullied; it could also help bullies find alternative ways of dealing with people rather than bullying. We could go further and say that if one is assertive he/she will not be bullied in the first place, or that it is the one who lacks assertiveness who is bullied.
22 of the people thought there was no best way to deal with bullying, and of course they were right. Each situation is different, each person is different so there can therefore be no 'best' way, just different ways.
If we are able to promote sharing and reward non-violence, this along with proactive anti-bullying policies and assertiveness training for pupils in schools, will greatly lower the amount of people who bully and the amount of people who suffer from bullying.