Guidance head putting case on bullying

MICHELE ONG
Last updated 05:00 04/04/2014

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Bullying has no place in Yvonne van Lent's life.

The New Plymouth Girls' High School guidance head will be lending her voice to the issue as she flies to Australia for a three-day conference covering school and workplace bullying.

The conference, No 2 Bullying Conference 2014, runs from April 6 to 8 with presenters from both sides of the Tasman.

Van Lent will be presenting on the outcomes of an investigation into the "nature, frequency, attitudes and perceptions of bullying behaviours of years 9 to 13 students at a large provincial girls secondary school".

"I have a passion around bullying," van Lent said, who was also a former music teacher at Francis Douglas Memorial College.

Her role as a counsellor means she sees first hand the effects of bullying on the day-to-day life of a student.

Low self-esteem, social isolation, depression, absenteeism and anxiety were among the traits displayed by a student who had been bullied.

Bullying places a huge stress on students, van Lent said. "My concern is that it stops learning," van Lent said. "Learning can't happen with it being emotionally distressed."

The bullying landscape has changed over the last decade with the use of social media on the rise.

"It usually starts with friendship, it's always friendship based. But it's changed over the years with cyber-bullying," van Lent said. "It's now immediate, it's public and it's humiliating."

"There's no control over it and it's far more damaging."

Boys and girls bully differently, and while boys were more physical, girls were more inclined towards "exclusion, isolation and verbal put-downs," she said.

Any bullying reported at the school was dealt with immediately. "But the bullying that is not reported, we can't do anything about," van Lent said.

To report of a bullying happening can be a daunting task for some of its students, who were afraid of retaliation.

"When they bring it to our attention, we tell them about the group support, that is an intervention and it doesn't make things worse or cause any retaliation," she said.

The intervention involves a group of students lending their support to a schoolmate who was being bullied.

"They'll come up with a plan on how to support the student," van Lent said. "We'll tell them how the student is feeling, what teachers have noticed, but no mention of the bullying. It's a completely no-blame process."

Van Lent is attending the No 2 Bullying Conference as a New Zealand delegate.

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