Bullying fears not taken seriously, say parents

Last updated 05:00 11/12/2013

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Parents believe schools are not taking concerns about bullying seriously, new research suggests.

As part of her master of educational psychology programme, Victoria University student Susie Harcourt investigated the experiences of 26 parents whose children had been bullied at primary school.

Those that responded to the online questionnaire were female, and had children aged between 5 and 11 when they began to be bullied.

Harcourt said almost all parents reported they had taken various actions to try to combat the bullying, including contacting school staff.

While some reported positive outcomes, many said they felt the school did not believe the extent of the bullying, did not take their concerns seriously or made excuses in an attempt to relieve themselves of the responsibility.

"I think there is a culture of protecting the bully and helping them, while the victim is left to struggle on," a parent said.

Harcourt said a theme that emerged in the research was the frustration and tension about who was responsible for dealing with the bullying.

There needed to be "ideas of sharing responsibility and the need to stop the fingerpointing, instead of saying, ‘This is your problem'."

She suggested clear guidelines should be developed about who parents needed to approach at a school if their children were being bullied, and how they could work with the school to solve the problem.

Principals Federation president Phil Harding said bullying never happened in front of adults but in a "child's world", meaning it took time to investigate.

There was a difference between a playground tussle and bullying, which was a sustained attack on a person to make them feel bad, and sometimes parents and schools disagreed on the seriousness of an incident.

It was important schools took the time to report back to the parents of the child who was bullied, as well as contacting the bully's parents, he said.

"If you get that all right, you build this amazing sense of trust and confidence . . . but the reason schools don't always get that is you can't spend all your time investigating everything."

Harding advised parents with concerns about bullying to contact whichever staff member they felt most comfortable talking to.

The research also revealed that, while many parents noted the bullying caused problems such as stress between themselves and their partners, it was not all bad news.

Harcourt said an unexpected finding from her research was that, in some instances, bullying led to more positive outcomes in the home. These included increased resiliency in the child who had been bullied and closer relationships between parents and children within the family overall.

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"[I felt] awful, completely useless and powerless because I couldn't keep my child from being hurt. I feel that I let him down by not doing more to stop the bullying from happening."

"There is nothing worse than sending your child to a place where there is no guarantee they will be happy."

"If anything, we pulled together to get [our son] through this tough time. You could say it drew us close to fight a common enemy."

"I think there is a culture of protecting the bully and helping them, while the victim is left to struggle on."

"Everyone should take responsibility. It's everyone's problem."

- The Dominion Post

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