Pink Shirt Day tomorrow, 26 May, raises awareness about bullying, a problem that is prevalent on Waiheke. Rose Davis talks to Wendy Richards about her Bully Free Waiheke project and learns more from Piritahi Hau Ora social worker Wendy Ford.
After a group of boys told Wendy Richards’ son to drink bleach, she set up Bully Free Waiheke to tackle the issue.
She created a Facebook page in 2013 and continues to support families suffering the impacts of bullying.
While many might think bullying is a minor problem with teasing, Wendy says it is often a daily onslaught that can leave victims devastated.
Her son was 14 when a teacher caught a group of teenagers at Waiheke High School teasing his friend, who revealed that Wendy’s son had been bullied even more severely.
“They were telling him to kill himself, to drink bleach, and I had no idea,” Wendy says.
“There were behaviour issues – not sleeping, not eating, being moody, but I put all that down to being a teenager.
“I was horrified when I found out.”
Her son was reluctant to talk about bullying he had experienced on a daily basis for more than a year.
“Kids don’t speak about it because they think something is wrong with them or they have caused it in some way. The parents can be the last to know.”
Wendy kept her son at home and told the school he would not return until the problem was sorted out.
Although she was pleased with the way the school responded, Wendy says more education programmes are needed to create a bully-free culture among students. Individuality should be encouraged and differences celebrated, she says.
“Kids need to be encouraged to be themselves, no matter how they are or what they like. They might not be like the person at the top of the popularity ladder, but that does not mean they’re not as good. They’re just different.
“I would like to see the schools celebrate the differences.”
Young people can be oblivious to the impacts of their bullying and need to be taught to understand it can have serious effects, including pressuring people into suicide.
“Even if they don’t talk about it, you can see it has an impact.
“Adults who were bullied as children say they still feel the effects – it’s something that doesn’t go away.”
Bullying can involve calling someone mean names, ignoring them, starting rumours about them or physical attacks. It often involves exclusion and many victims go through it alone, with no peers to support them.
Teaching children to stand up for themselves and each other is important. “If you’re being bullied daily and other students stood up and said ‘that’s not very nice’, it would make a huge difference.”
Children and teenagers sometimes bully others as a way of expressing feelings about their own bullying at home or at school.
“Sometimes it’s to make themselves feel stronger. They put someone else down, so it makes them feel they’re better than that person.”
Wendy would like to see more “mutual respect” in the playground, workplaces, on Facebook and in the wider community.
“You don’t have to be nasty to someone because you don’t like them. You can just accept you don’t like them and let them be.” • Rose Davis