ACT News


Sticks and stones: schoolchildren explain bullying factors

ACT primary school students say looking or acting differently to other students or having a different cultural or racial background are the biggest factors likely to lead to being bullied.

A new report by Disability and Community Services Commissioner Mary Durkin and Children and Young People Commissioner Alasdair Roy on bullying and disability to be issued on Wednesday is the first wide-scale consultation with young people in the ACT on the issues.

The two commissioners spoke directly with more than 150 Canberra school students aged between 10 and 12 to consider whether students with a disability were subject to greater levels of bullying. Of those who took part, 24 students identified as having a disability. Out of 271 reasons students came up with that might make them a target for bullying, 42 related to looking or acting ''differently''. A further 36 reasons related to cultural or racial diversity - having different race, religion, beliefs, accent, background and skin colour - while 21 related to physical attributes such as having braces, pimples, being hairy or making unconventional clothing choices.

Having a disability received 19 responses, making it the fourth most likely trigger for being bullied.

Students were asked to brainstorm ideas around bullying, including describing characteristics of bullies and submitting drawings of why students were bullied and how it made them feel.

Mr Roy said the report aimed to break new ground by speaking directly with children about their experience with bullying.


''Most current research on bullying and disability tends to be from an adult perspective and overlooks the views of children and young people,'' he said. ''If you are trying to solve a problem which impacts on kids, it makes sense to talk to kids about their ideas.''

The report findings ''support existing research that difference in appearance is typically the reason someone may experience bullying. However, it is not clear from this study whether disability, by itself, is a significant contributor to being bullied''.

Ms Durkin noted that disability might play a bigger direct role in leading to a student being bullied because ''looking or acting differently could also incorporate aspects of a disability'' but the correlation between having a disability and being bullied was difficult to quantify.

''While participants across all schools mentioned that students with disabilities were bullied, they could not identify whether this was more, the same, or less than students without a disability.''

The report noted that when students were put into focus groups, they also identified being overweight or gay or lesbian as common factors likely to lead to bullying, although Ms Durkin and Mr Roy cautioned that those results could be influenced by students responding to what their friends in the group thought.

When asked to identify characteristics of bullies, students nominated bullies being ''stronger'', ''bigger'', ''tough'', ''mean'', ''unhappy'', ''rude'', ''people who have been bullied themselves'', and ''people that have a bad home experience''.

They also associated bullies with swearing, bad attitudes and vandalism.

Boys were identified as being more physical bullies, while girls bullied through words.

When asked to identify what action should be taken to prevent bullying, most students nominated punitive measures, such as bullies being put

on detention, having to complete community service and parents being called in.

Some children provided more colourful suggestions including ''lock 'em up'', ''should be put into jail'', ''throw bad people in burning hot coal'', and ''chop off their heads and chuck them in a ditch''.

Ms Durkin said the vehemence of responses regarding retribution for bullies ''is quite understandable given the age group of students''.

She and Mr Roy were also heartened by more measured themes that bullies were unhappy and needed support - as illustrated by responses such as ''talk it out and become friends'', ''put them in a room together until they aren't fighting'', and ''get bullies to repair the damage''.

There was also support for workshopping bullying issues in the presence of teachers who listened to students opinions.

The commissioners have recommended schools consider additional targeted consultation with students on the issues, particularly around why ''difference'' is considered a negative characteristic among students. They have also asked their report be tabled at the Safe School Taskforce meeting as a discussion point and school use an accompanying workbook to further workshop issues relating to bullying and disability.

''Getting through school can be tough and getting through school with a disability can present additional challenges,'' Ms Durkin said. ''I would hope that the discussions we have started … will be continued and will encourage children and young people to think twice before engaging in situations that are hurtful.''

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