Take it from me, the middle class bully is alive and kicking and it’s something, I think, we conveniently ignore even following the publication of the biggest ever anti-bullying survey.
Anti-bullying campaign Ditch the Label has just published their annual bullying survey 2016 and it was covered extensively yesterday on BBC Breakfast. However, much like most bullying stories, the report presented the perpetrator as the troubled child and from a deprived background. The former bully interviewed here certainly seemed to fit this stereotype.
Well, let me tell you, the middle class bully with his or her perfect life and perfect parents is probably the most vindictive little shit you will ever meet.
Mainly, because he or she is the apple of mummy’s and daddy’s eye and can’t possibly do anything wrong, the sun shines out of their pompous little derriere and he or she will undoubtedly also be among the top performers in the school. Forget the parents, the teachers find it difficult to believe the child is capable of anything other than sweetness and light (and obtaining them the sat scores they need to secure their place at the top of the league table).
I talk from experience, in case that wasn’t obvious.
My son, the youngest of three, like his sisters attended the same village primary and then junior school. He struggled in the early years of school, he was hugely active, outspoken and not quick to pick up on the social nuances which other kids seemed to absorb so quickly and with little difficulty. Consequently, he became a natural target and as he always reacted, he was easy to provoke.
The bullying became most apparent at an external club and then when he left the issues manifested themselves in the playground.
There was a ringleader, let’s call him Master Perfect and with his miniature henchmen, managed to ensure my son was marginalised. I spent the first three months of year six in and out of the school to the point his class teacher refused to see me. She was totally ineffective, lily-livered and took the easy way out (with the tacit support of the school) and it was made my problem and more pointedly, my son’s.
You see, admitting a child is being bullied is admitting your school has a problem and no school is going to do that, especially a village school in leafy Buckinghamshire desperate for an outstanding Ofsted rating.
So we left. But a few weeks before we were due to transfer the head called me. Another incident had happened at the school (some of the boys had been caught taking the blades out of pencil sharpeners, but, oh no, we don’t think they had any intention of misusing them, of course not, these are high performing boys from middle class families and they don’t do things like that). Anyway, the head continued, as a result of the ‘investigation’ the children reeled off a load of incidents when my son had been treated unfairly by these boys, the word ‘bullying’ was carefully omitted.
For us, it was too little, too late and I have no idea whether these boys were called to account for their actions against my son.
Oh yes, the middle class bully. With their professional parents, fairly affluent lifestyle and high expectations, this is just as much a breeding ground for bullies as the low income, single-parent family.
Typically, the bullying rhetoric talks about parents who don’t care, a questionable home life, lack of love and attention. Lose the label and focus on the issues which are causing the bully to behave a certain way, we are told. I don’t doubt the soundness of their arguments but this bully (and I am sure he is not alone) had nothing short of a perfect, loving home.
Perhaps that was part of the problem; it’s not a great leap to see how a child who can do no wrong and is perfect in every way, at least in the eyes of his parents, absolutely believes he can behave exactly as he pleases and get away with it. Well, he certainly did. I hope one day he will get his comeuppance and I hope my son is there to see it but I can’t help thinking he will end up as a stockbroker, doctor or even the prime minister.
Bullies come in many guises and there are no class barriers, so let’s not kid ourselves the bully is simply the product of a child with issues from an impoverished background.
In fact, the survey bears this out. A cross section of youngsters were questioned 81% were white British and more than a quarter (27%) had a household income above £41k although 43% chose not to disclose this information. A total of 73 schools and colleges across the UK took part with responses from 8,850 12-20-year-olds which enabled the researchers to ascertain the level of bullying and how it manifests itself.
The stats are worrying:-
- 43% of young people have been bullied, 44% of which are bullied at least once a week
- 52% said the bullying targeted their looks including weight and ginger hair
- 74% of those who have been bullied, had also been physically attacked;17% have been sexually assaulted; 62% have been cyber bullied
The impact of bullying is far-reaching with 44% suffering depression and 33% having suicidal thoughts. For those suffering the bullying, just going to school is like climbing a mountain everyday.
Whilst 36% who had bullied were more likely to be in trouble with the police, that leaves 64%, the majority, who do not find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Almost a quarter (24%) who had been bullied admitted to bullying themselves although more than three quarters (76%) do not engage in such behaviour.
Of those who bullied, 62% lived with both parents and 27% say they are under pressure to succeed from parents, although these youngsters are more likely to be subject to bullying, 31% who had been bullied over the past year on a daily basis agreed with this statement.
More than half (56%) who admitted bullying said their parents/guardians would rather spend time with them than anyone else. Only 5% of bullies reported they were subject to strict parenting with 48%, the majority, saying their household was balanced compared to 2% whose parents/guardians were very relaxed.
More than a fifth (22%) of bullies lived in a house where arguments were rare compared to 10% where rows were a daily occurrence, the rest were spread fairly evenly across the spectrum, for example, 11% of bullies reported arguments once a month and once a week.
It is high time we stopped painting the bully as a troubled, low income, deprived child. Of course there are bullies who come from these backgrounds, but they are not the only ones. There are plenty ‘hiding out’ in the ranks of the middle classes.
Only 14% admitted to bullying. That means, in this sample of 8,850, around 3,805 young people were bullied by 1,239 of their peers, so one person bullied, on average, three youngsters.
The survey didn’t explore this further and I wonder how many more are either in denial or don’t even recognise their behaviour as bullying. Given that 33% admitted to purposefully upsetting someone, 27% owned up to saying something nasty to someone online and 20% admitted to physically attacking someone, the stats would suggest many are not being honest with themselves.
All in all, 58% had engaged in behaviour which typically constitutes bullying although the survey didn’t query the extent so some actions could have been defensive and others could have been isolated incidents.
Ditch the label, says the charity (the words ‘bully’ and ‘victim’ are not used to label youngsters), but we also need to ditch the stereotype.
Whatever the bully’s background or academic achievement, bullying is bullying and what’s startling about this survey is it suggests it’s endemic. Sweeping it under the carpet is not an option. I recommend you take a look at the full report but I warn you it does not make pleasant reading.