Bullying: We have a choice...

Written by: Martha Evans | Published:
Image: iStock

How can we use discussions about respectful disagreement to help stop bullying? Ahead of Anti-Bullying Week, Martha Evans considers how schools can support children to ‘Choose Respect’

We don’t all have to be best friends but we do all have to choose respect. Anyone who spends much time on Twitter will appreciate its ability to present different points of view on an issue.

The diverse opinions that often co-exist around every possible topic – from parenting to politics, pets to pop stars – can stimulate discussion, make us laugh, or let us see life from another person’s point of view.

But it also illustrates how difficult some people find it to disagree and yet remain courteous and respectful to others. Too often those 280 characters descend into name-calling and spite.

Of course these traits aren’t limited to social media – they are common on the playing field and playground, in the press and even Parliament. In the heat of the moment, we can all at times be equally guilty of abandoning our regard for another person’s wishes, feelings or rights.

Creating a climate of respect is an important part of the way schools support their pupils. It can help protect children from bullying and hurtful behaviour. And it can make for a better understanding of harmony and diversity.

That is why this year’s theme of Anti-Bullying Week (which runs from November 12 to 16) is “Choose Respect”. Following a consultation with more than 600 children and young people and 200 teachers and school staff, it became clear that children are all too aware that disagreements can occur, that friends fall out, opinions differ, and that some children will simply not like one another.

In this context, when talking to children about bullying, saying that we need to “all be friends” and “be kind” isn’t always enough. The children we spoke to said a top priority was showing that bullying is a behaviour choice and that children and young people can set a positive example by opting to respect each other at school, in their homes and communities, and online.

Building on the theme, the Anti-Bullying Alliance has produced a range of free resources to help teachers promote respect during Anti-Bullying Week, including lesson plans, assembly ideas and teaching packs.

We hope that younger children will love the lesson ideas inspired by CBeebies star Andy Day and his band Andy and the Odd Socks. The group has released a free, feel-good single entitled Choose Respect to mark Odd Socks Day (on the Monday of Anti-Bullying Week). The idea is to get children talking about what makes us all unique by wearing odd socks to school and raising money for a good cause. We are also running a competition – three schools will win a visit from Andy and the Odd Socks. To enter, all schools have to do is send us a photo or video that best captures how the school participated in Odd Socks Day. All details are on our website.

For secondary schools, the Thursday of Anti-Bullying Week marks the first ever Stop Speak Support Day to highlight the issue of cyber-bullying, what bystanders can do to help stop cyber-bullying, and the importance of respect on the internet.

At its heart, the campaign encourages children to stop cyber-bullying, speak to someone they trust if they see it taking place, and support others who have been cyber-bullied.

The day is supported by the Royal Foundation and the Royal Cyberbullying Taskforce set up by the Duke of Cambridge. To mark the occasion a new beat-poetry video made by young people is being launched alongside a teacher’s pack with ideas for firing the imagination of pupils.

We hope that this year’s Anti-Bullying Week will inspire schools to ensure that promoting respect and celebrating difference in us all is a priority that should run throughout school life – from the anti-bullying policy, through a programme of RSE and PSHE, to school sports and after-school clubs.

And who knows, with so many young people choosing respect, we could create a better society for us all, online and off.

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