Leader comment: Bullying boil has still to be lanced

As the schools go back, parents have identified bullying as their biggest concern for their children.
As the schools go back, parents have identified bullying as their biggest concern for their children.
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Research we highlight today shows that 
bullying at school is the top concern for parents ahead of schools going back this week. The survey, commissioned by Action for Children Scotland, found that almost one in five parents ranked bullying as their key worry, above the cost of uniforms and getting children back into the school 
routine.

Bullying is a malign and hateful activity that can poison the 
atmosphere of a school and blight children’s lives. Much good work has been done by teachers in curbing the more egregious examples
that plagued the school playgrounds of previous generations.

But much of the worst bullying today is to be found not in the physical environment of schools but in what goes by the name of social media: online abuse by phone and laptop through threatening and vicious emails and text messaging.

Intimidation by mobile phone creates fear and misery, destroying not only a child’s sense of security, without which learning is impossible, but also undermining confidence and self-esteem. Indeed, in psychological terms, online bullying can be every bit as malign and poisonous as physical intimidation. It is a gift for the bullies and cowards who can resort to it at any time, anywhere, just with a few toxic remarks dropped into the recipient’s social media feed. There is no hiding place. And children are often reluctant to report this experience in case “telling” makes it worse.

Little wonder that a poll of 1,000 parents of five- to 16-year-olds going to school this month found more than 18 per cent citing bullying as their greatest concern.

Schools have a job on their hands to counter this. Action for Children Scotland highlights the need for parents to talk to their children regularly, monitor use of social media and build in family time when young people and children are more likely to open up about their problems.

That would be a useful start. But greater emphasis is needed, too, on encouraging children, and giving them more confidence, to report online bullying. No adult would consider this kind of treatment acceptable. And children should not have to suffer in silence. Intimidation of this type is totally unacceptable and children need support to boost their courage and speak up. That – and firm action to unmask, expose and punish offenders – would help to curb this menace.