Starting this week is the UK’s annual Anti-Bullying Week, which seeks to raise awareness of the realities of bullying and the support available to help children and young people across the country. The Anti-Bullying Alliance runs the week and this year’s theme is ‘One Kind Word’.
“Kindness is more important today than it has ever been. The isolation of the last year has underlined how little acts of consideration can break down barriers and brighten the lives of the people around us.” - Anti-Bullying Alliance
Childline is a counselling service supporting young people and children around the UK and has shared some of their data regarding bullying. They have stated that in 2020 and 2021, 6,654 of the counselling sessions they have delivered have been concerned with bullying. Of those sessions, 62% (4,146) were about bullying in person, a 61% decrease from 2019 to 2020. However, there was a 25% increase in counselling sessions about online bullying, with 38% (2,508) of sessions concerning the subject.
The rise and fall in online and in-person bullying incidents were in line with national lockdowns, Childline noted. For instance, in the third national lockdown in February 2021, the sessions about online or in-person bullying were at an almost even split – 216 sessions were about in-person bullying, and 213 were about online bullying. However, the next month when children returned to school, sessions about in-person bullying drastically rose to 523, while sessions for online bullying fell to 171.
A girl aged 13 who attends Childline’s counselling sessions has commented on the unhealthy environments in school, saying:
“I have been bullied for the past 6 years - it started in primary school. I have no one, and it feels like everyone hates me and is better off without me. I have tried to make friends, but I feel like I am invisible. I have not really told anyone because I don’t want to bring attention to it. I’ve not been to school for a while because of COVID, and my mum is thinking about home-schooling me as she has noticed I am a lot less anxious [about] not being at school every day.”
Another child, a boy also aged 13, has said that the lockdown also helped him to get away from the stress of bullying, saying:
“I haven’t told anyone about the bullying because it just seems like a waste of time. If I report it, I will probably get taken out of school, and I don’t want to leave the school. It hasn’t really stopped apart from when we were in lockdown. The lockdown helped me a lot because I didn’t have to face people the way I did in person at school.”
Unfortunately, another girl, aged 14, has said that not even the lockdown has helped her deal with bullying.
“The bullying I used to get at school has gone online now because we are not going to school due to the virus. I am getting horrible messages sent to me and nasty comments about everything I post. One message that really upset me said my mum was going to die of coronavirus. The bullying is getting worse now than when I was at school”.
Head of Volunteer Operations at Childline, Alex Gray, has discussed the issues that the pandemic has brought to light with bullying, saying:
“The last 18 months have been extremely tough for children due to the challenges they’ve had to face because of the coronavirus pandemic. As well as grappling with home-schooling, being isolated from family and friends and dealing with worries about the virus, some children were also being bullied.”
Alex Gray continued to say,
“Our counsellors spoke to many children who said that the bullying that they experienced in-person prior to the pandemic transferred online during the national lockdowns. Many of these children as well as others who experienced this issue before the pandemic told Childline that the lockdowns made the online bullying feel even more overwhelming. They told us that the extra time they were spending online for their education, entertainment, and to keep in contact with loved ones was making the bullying feel inescapable.
“Although Childline has heard from a significantly lower number of children about in-person bullying over the past year, we saw counselling sessions on this issue peak at times when the lockdowns were lifted and when children returned to school. For some children, the lockdowns provided them [with] some respite from the bullying that they had previously experienced, meaning many felt really anxious at the thought of returning to school.
“As we continue to move out of the pandemic and adjust to the new normal, it is essential that children know where to turn to for support. Our trained counsellors are always here for children and believe that no child should have to deal with bullying alone.”