Today is Stand Up To Bullying Day and the sad fact is it’s incredibly likely you’ve been the victim of a bully at some point in your life.
In fact, more than half of us in the UK (54 per cent) have been bullied in our lifetimes, according to a new YouGov survey for The Diana Award charity’s Anti-Bullying Campaign.
The problem is especially bad among young people, with 62 per cent of those aged 16-24 experiencing bullying, according to the survey of 2,000 people.
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And I was one of them. Growing up, it wasn’t until hitting secondary school that problems really mounted up for me on a personal level.
I wasn’t an exceptionally clever kid, but enjoyed learning so I instantly found myself in the minority. It started with petty insults, ‘boffin’, ‘geek’, ‘nerd’ were just a few of the bog standard phrases chucked in my direction.
It was enough to shrug off, at first, but it got a lot more personal. My family had moved to a house on the same road as my school and we were soon confronted by a rather nasty family further down the street.
It turned out one of their six kids was not only in the same year as me, but the same tutor group. He was ultimately the catalyst in making the next few school years an utter hell.
Name calling intensified and happened not just in breaks, but in lessons – with little reprisal from teachers. Pushing, shoving and general intimidation became part of my daily routine and the amount of bullies targeting me only grew.
This all eventually boiled over in what has to be the most vivid memory of my time at the school.
Non-school uniform day came around and I thought, what better time to wear some brand new jeans? Big mistake. It turned out that my main tormentor had decided to wear the exact same pair of jeans and he wasn’t impressed, at all.
Along with a gang of his mates, he told me to go home and change. I refused (mistake number two), and he and a group of mates proceeded to kick my legs in repeatedly.
Hobbling home, tears in my eyes, I asked myself: “Why me?” I’d end up asking my mum the same question when I staggered through the door.
In the aftermath my mum did what she could. She badgered my tutor and spoke to senior people at the school after it happened, but no solution was offered up and I was simply told to ‘grow a thicker skin’. This became a tagline that defined my childhood.
From then on I feared every school day. I’d fake sickness to avoid the bullies. Lunchtimes were no longer spent at school playing football, they’d be spent at home.
In this state it’s only natural for your self-esteem to become practically non-existent, and I’d be lying if I said the thought of ending it all didn’t cross my mind.
This trend lasted for two years or so, right up until we were forced to move away from the area when I was around 15-years-old – but that’s not to say I suffered in silence during this period.
I found some solace in music and it seems a lot of other victims of bullying do as well. Half of those who said they were bullied in the Anti-Bullying Campaign survey said listening to music helped them ‘feel stronger’.
Songs by people such as David Bowie, John Lennon, Michael Jackson and Taylor Swift have had positive impacts on people listening to them.
For me personally it was a variety of different artists and bands that helped me, but ultimately everyone has their own unique way of dealing with this negativity – whether it’s music, hobbies or sports.
However, some aren’t so lucky. Many kids reach such a state of despair and become so overwhelmed by the psychological and physical torment that they are driven to suicide.
There have been a myriad of high-profile cases which have pointed the finger at social media and now, aged 25, I fear for my future kids and the inevitable struggles they will have to face in this new age of communication.
Gone are the days of coming home once school’s finished and getting some respite in the comfort of your own bedroom – now the 24/7 nature of the internet means that children can be targeted around the clock.
Research by ChildWise showed that 78 per cent of seven to 16-year-olds use social media. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat – to name just a few – have not only become primary tools of communication for younger people, they’ve also unlocked a Pandora’s box containing a whole new world of bullying.
Fat-shaming, sexist trolling and even a rise in viral bullying videos have circulated all over these platforms, making the bullying epidemic a whole lot worse.
A study by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) found that the number of young people tormented by online trolls has increased by a staggering 88 per cent in five years.
Heck, this is something that even translates to adulthood. Playboy model Dani Mathers infamously fat shamed a naked woman in the gym showers and then posted it to thousands of people on Snapchat.
And we can’t forget Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones, who briefly quit Twitter after facing a barrage of racist and sexist abuse from trolls.
Some social media platforms are doing more than others to curb cyber bullying. Twitter finally announced that its users would be able to mute specific conversations, as well as filter out all tweets with a particular word or phrase from their notifications.
Instagram also lets users swipe to delete comments, report abusive posted remarks and even have accounts blocked.
And Facebook relaunched their Safety Center, which has a bunch of tools to help address bullying and promote safe sharing for all its users.
But is this really enough? Many would argue no, but with increased social interaction on these platforms there was always going to be an associated risk that not all users would behave themselves.
So, what is the solution to this? Sadly, there’s no definitive answer. Leaving social media altogether or ‘manning up’ – a phrase which does nothing to help young men in difficult situations – simply won’t do the job.
The only advice I can give is that it does get better and your time at school is relatively short in the grand scheme of life.
Find out who your real friends are before it’s too late and get support – because you don’t need to be alone out there.
If you or anyone you know has been the victim of bullying, the Diana Award’s Anti-Bullying Campaign has loads of really useful information and advice.
If you’re 18 or over, the Samaritans are available 24-hours a day, 365 days a year to provide confidential emotional support. Their free to call number is 116 123, and you can email them at [email protected]
Alternatively, if you are a child or young adult in distress or need some support call Childline on 0800 1111. Adults concerned about a child, call 0800 800 5000.