She didn’t even know the punch was coming.
All she heard was a crack. Her nose was broken.
Tiny drops of blood decorated the pre-school floor.
The nurse came, then the police.
But there was little they could do: The offender was three years old.
It wasn’t the first time.
Cameron* had been kicking, slapping, and bashing kids for the past year.
His parents are in denial.
“All the other kids are to blame,” they say. “They’re egging him on.”
You don’t need a crystal ball to see where this child will be in 20 years’ time.
This true story is at the heart of the bullying debate.
10 days ago, Australians marked the second National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence.
There were plenty of pats on the back for the campaign, which includes a wonderful website www.bullyingnoway.gov.au
I’m not having a go at the government. It’s doing its best.
But its advice is being ignored by some schools desperate to protect their reputations.
Take the tragic case of 14-year-old Alex Wildman, who committed suicide after serial bullying.
The Coronial Inquest heard the principal and deputy at Kadina High School admitted Alex might still be alive had they handled the case differently.
Deputy Brad Farrell ordered the mobile phone footage of one assault to be deleted, to protect Alex from embarrassment.
Alex’s mother was told not to report the incident to police. Two days later, her son was dead.
His family has been awarded a $1m payout by the NSW Education Department.
Among his nine recommendations, Deputy State Coroner Malcolm MacPherson said the Department should provide clear advice about police involvement in the event of harassment by students.
Hopefully, this will make principals think twice before trying to sweep it under the carpet.
Last year, a friend was horrified to discover her 6-year-old had become part of a sexual assault ring at school.
An older boy had bullied the Year 1 kids into molesting each other in the toilets.
She marched up to the principal’s office only to be told, “Look, it would be best if we didn’t go to the police. We like to handle these things in-house”.
So, she confronted the parents of the ringleader.
“You’re making that up,” they said.
Far too often, the parents of the bullies escape blame.
“It’s not uncommon for parents to blame the victim,” according to psychologist Sally-Anne McCormack from parentsonline.com.au
Nowhere in the reportage of Alex Wildman’s death are the bullies or their families named and shamed; nor are those who stood silently by.
Ms. McCormack supports a push by police to replace the term ‘bullying’ with ‘assault’ and ‘intimidation’.
“Schools, kids and parents are getting confused because it’s become such an emotive word,” she says.
Sally-Anne has been called in to counsel kids who believe they’ve been bullied, simply because their friends don’t want to play the same game.
Coroner MacPherson also recommended the Education Department employ a full-time counsellor at schools with more than 500 pupils.
This re-iterates the importance of having trained counsellors in schools, instead of untrained chaplains.
Life Education, through its Healthy Harold program, has named bullying its number one priority in 2012.
CEO, David Ballhausen, says it’s up to parents to act: “We encourage children (whether the victim or a bystander) to report all incidents of bullying and urge parents to reassure their child that reporting these events to a trusted adult is the right thing to do.”
Unless this happens, the cycle of violence will continue.
Who knows what a kid like Cameron* will do next?
For tips on what to do about bullying, see the Enlighten Education website. http://enlighteneducation.edublogs.org/2011/03/23/bullying-its-time-to-focus-on-solutions/