By Justine Pardoen, Founder of the Youth & Media Bureau / Parents Online
Reading time: 2-3 minutes | Be sure to read the other articles in the Decent Digitisation series.
Children get bullied most between the ages of 10 and 15. That’s when they slowly become more independent in their thinking, but they can also get caught up in group dynamics. Teasing – bullying – is part of growing up. And however optimistic parents and teachers may be, it really does happen everywhere –even online, for example when children send each other mean texts in group messaging apps or share photos that make other children look foolish.
Cyberbullying may be a natural part of growing up then, but it can be very painful for children and damage them for life. Bullying is ubiquitous and we must always try to stop it. Teachers play a crucial role in this.
That’s because their work gives them the best vantage point for seeing how children treat each other in a group. They have the children in their classroom and see them make friends and exclude others. Parents often do not have that overview. Teachers should therefore assume the role of leader and point the group in the right direction. They should not merely coach pupils by offering occasional advice; they must be strong women and men who set boundaries –and not only during school hours, but beyond as well.
Fear has us at a disadvantage
After all, it’s precisely outside of school hours that things tend to go wrong. There are teachers who say ‘I’ve got a private life too. Parents are responsible for what happens beyond the school gates.’ But teachers cannot simply withdraw from the group process. They must remain available to children and engage in continuous dialogue with them. That is the best medicine against bullying.
Antibullying legislation and resilience training can never replace genuine personal engagement. In fact, governments, experts, parents and teachers all have a tendency to hide behind the rules, methods and advice. Fear has us at a disadvantage: the fear of actually engaging in dialogue with youngsters, and the fear of giving teachers the opportunity to do so.
Use new technology in the teacher-pupil relationship
Those teachers who remain engaged after school and, for example, spend an hour in the evening texting with their pupils about homework are often reprimanded. The Education Inspectorate warns teachers not to get too chummy with their pupils. In fact, teachers can improve their teacher-pupil relationships precisely by using the new technology.