Bullying is as old as schools are – in fact, older. A sad reality of the human condition is that we always seek to find fault with another person, and for time immemorial, human beings have chosen to persecute, ridicule and bully each other. There really is nothing new about bullying, yet we still haven’t been able to find a consistent and permanent solution.
When I was a teenager on Merseyside back in the dark days of the late 1970s, bullying was a thriving phenomenon. Go back another twenty years and ask family and friends who went to school in the ’50s and the stories of peer pressure and bullying are almost exactly the same. The most noticeable difference is that we could find solace for a few hours a day, whereas in a time where mobile technology dominates our lives, bullying is now available online 24 hours a day.
So, while society and the world have changed beyond recognition in the past century, embracing supposedly a far more sophisticated and advanced way of living, just how has the age-old institution of systematic bullying been allowed not only to sustain itself, but to thrive in this modern era? Why have generations of young people in schools been allowed to be routinely victimised day after day in schools across every continent in the world?
Theories for anti-bullying programmes
Educators, psychologists and sociologists the world over have scrutinised human behaviour to discover and identify what causes human beings to behave in such a primitive way. Many books and many theories have prompted the birth of a multitude of anti-bullying programmes and workshops that have attempted to stop schoolchildren from inflicting pain & misery upon each other. Inevitably, some of these programmes have brought success, but many have failed to thwart this blight on humanity.
I can’t claim to have written books [yet] to validate my thoughts. I don’t have a PhD to prove my intellectual prowess. However, my fourteen years as a teacher and the past fifteen years working in over 1,000 schools across the world with over 300,000 young people is enough for me to have witnessed and experienced thousands of unsolicited testimonials from young people who have been bullied, and those who have bullied.
During this period, I ran hundreds of programmes aimed at helping young people make more of their lives by transcending their past and becoming more optimistic about their future. Throughout this process, we ask young people to reflect on why their self-perceptions are so limited, and on almost every occasion these self-imposed restrictions were a result of unkind remarks made by other people. I’ve found that the process actually helps young people confront themselves – and each other – to help them better understand the reasons and root causes of their behaviour.
Key components for an effective anti-bullying workshop
So just why have our anti-bullying workshops had such unrivalled success in the face of relative failure in many other cases? These are the 4 things that I do consistently in order to create and run really effective anti-bullying workshops.
- Create (And Maintain) An Emotionally And Psychologically Safe Environment
- Ensure That All Views And Opinions Are Listened To Without Condemnation Or Judgement
- Allow The Audience To Deeply Understand The Consequences Of Bullying
- Use Positive Psychology To Help Young People Move Forward
For the past fifteen years, when running anti-bullying courses, I have followed these four steps religiously in order to create a safe space and productive environment that allows young people to hit reset, whilst giving themselves – and each other – permission to reinvent themselves, improve mental health and create a new culture. The impact of these workshops has astonished even me, as day after day, young people share their experiences with their peers, expressing themselves in a way they could never have imagined, having their voice heard in a safe and supportive environment. Time and again, I have watched bullies stand up in tears and apologise to their victims for their actions.
In this time, I have had hundreds of teachers approach me to say that they have never seen, heard or felt anything like it in their careers. They tell me how they wish they had had something like it when they were at school and how the workshop should be run in every school as part of the curriculum to build a positive community. I often wonder why as a society we have not yet managed to stamp this cruel behaviour out. That said, knife crime, racism, religious hatred and homophobia are all on the rise, and my conclusion is that we must re-imagine education now. We need an educational revolution – to completely rethink how we are preparing our future generations for life on this planet.