Last week, a second suicide made the news. Again a child saw no way out. The bullying, the humiliation, the exclusion had become too much for her. In a farewell letter the girl named some of the perpetrators. The school was surprised and set up an internal investigation. The minister also, suddenly, has the issue “sharp” on his mind. The minister may be forgetting that attention was drawn to the subject years ago and our parliament did not give in at the time. The media also has a topic again and pays more attention than usual to the subject and there is no reticence at all about the way a child has found a solution for her unbearable suffering. One expert after another dives over and has the solution to the problem in hand. Suddenly the minister points out the importance of the Bullying Protocol. The education sector is questioning this, sometimes rightly so. The Bullying Protocol is just a piece of paper, it is an agreement on how the school is going to act when there is evidence of bullying. The Bullying Protocol is great, but it ignores the phases that precede it. It is not for nothing that the school in Meppel indicates that they are surprised by the suicide of the girl, but also surprised by the reason for this act. It is characteristic of bullying that it does not come to light easily. Sometimes parents are also completely surprised. “My child is a happy child, a laughing stock.
Everyone in a class, in a team where bullying is taking place benefits from it not coming to light. The bully doesn’t bring it out. Bullying gives power and that feels good. The followers don’t bring it out. For these children, too, bullying gives them power. On top of that, sometimes they are just afraid of becoming victims themselves. The victim does not bring it out, afraid as he is that he will be caught even harder if he brings it out and he is not taken seriously or the problem is not solved adequately. In a bullying group you often also have a group of potential victims, who will not go public, afraid as they are of being caught.
Bullying is an everyday occurrence, it is part of life, and when it comes to bullying the comparison with a monkey colony is often made. Even monkeys tease each other, it is a form of exploring each other’s boundaries. Sometimes it goes a step worse with monkeys and also with monkeys you can say that there is sometimes bullying. The comparison with the monkey colony goes a step further. Everything happens in relation to the Alpha male. He determines what can and cannot be done.
The class, the sports team, is like a monkey colony. Also in the class, in the sports team, boundaries are explored, people look at what they can do with each other, who they can trust and who they cannot. Just like in the monkey colony the teacher, the trainer, is not above or beside the class, not above his team but he is part of his class, his team. Everything that happens in the colony, the class, the team, happens in relation to his behavior. The way the teacher, the trainer fills his role determines what happens in the classroom, in the team. Many teachers have chosen teaching because they like to transfer knowledge. Many trainers give training because they have something to do with the sport they are active in. They often have little to nothing to do with the process of the group. Yet he has a very important role in the way the class, the team, functions, has a clear role in guiding the different phases that the class, the team goes through.
I find it striking that the bullying prevention approach mostly focuses on symptoms. Children need to be made resilient. Judo teachers, actors have jumped into the gap. Children need to become different than they are because if they are different, they are more resilient. Why shouldn’t children be allowed to be who they are?
Bullying protocols focus on the phase when someone does snap out of it. Bullying protocols also require an active attitude from the school, it requires addressing the bully(s), it requires addressing parents. A bullying protocol also often provides for a code of conduct, a code of conduct in which agreements are made that are often so open-ended that everyone agrees in advance. Even in schools that work with a bullying protocol, work with a code of conduct, bullying occurs. Bullying involves a sliding scale, “Before you know it you go too far”.
Just as in the monkey colony, teasing, exploring the boundaries with the other, is part of the normal behavior pattern. Whether teasing also becomes bullying, whether the group process also flies out of the window is up to us. The teachers, the trainers, sometimes really don’t know that the group process has gone off the rails. However, they are the ones at the wheel, they have a role in keeping the group on the road. We should all look at our own role a little more, have knowledge of the phases a group goes through.