New research into bullying finds many young people believe ‘nothing helps’

Mission Australia’s annual survey of young Australians aged 15-19 has, for the first time, shone a spotlight on bullying.

More than one in five of 25,126 young respondents reported having been bullied in the past 12 months, while almost half (47.7 per cent) had witnessed bullying.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, and young people from rural Australia, were more likely to be bullied than their peers. Cyber bullying was directed at girls more often than boys.

But perhaps the most concerning finding came when the survey asked young people who had been bullied what helped them to deal it.  One in seven bullied young people replied: ‘Nothing helped me’.

This is unacceptable. No young person who has been bullied should be left feeling alone or without hope.

We know that some young people who have been bullied don’t tell anyone what has happened. Some feel too embarrassed to come forward; some are afraid of repercussions if they tell, and others don’t believe anyone can help them. Some bullied young people may feel overwhelmed by other problems at the same time, such as poor mental health, family conflict, or social isolation.

Unfortunately, some young people who do ask for help don’t get a response that’s effective in stopping the bullying. Another recent survey asked Australian students who had been bullied about their experiences of seeking help. Most students who asked for help found that things improved afterwards – but not always. Of the bullied students who asked their parents for help, for example, most felt that things got better, but more than a quarter said the bullying stayed the same or got worse. (Rigby and Johnson, 2016)

Some adults don’t take bullying seriously; others don’t know what to do, or are preoccupied with other problems. Many adults respond by telling student(s) doing the bullying to stop, punishing them, or forcing an apology. Sometimes this helps, but often it doesn’t.

We need to build students’ confidence to speak up about bullying, but we also need to make sure the right supports are in place when they do. This should include:

  • Putting adequate wellbeing and mental health services in place in the student’s local community – a big gap in many rural and remote areas.
  • Building the skills and knowledge of parents and carers to support their children.
  • Building school communities where everyone is committed to modelling respectful, empathetic, safe and responsible behaviour. This should include parents, students and volunteers, as well as teaching staff.
  • Upskilling schools with a range of intervention techniques for responding to bullying, such as the Support Group Method and the Method of Shared Concern.
  • Connecting students with positive opportunities to make friends and build their skills, confidence and purpose away from where the bullying happened. This might occur, for example, through sporting clubs, outdoor groups, arts, cultural or volunteering opportunities.

For tips and guidance about how to have better conversations with our kids about bullying and online safety, check out the Parent Hub, recently launched by Dolly’s Dream.

And we encourage school communities to engage with eSmart, a unique model which supports schools to build positive, inclusive cultures where student wellbeing can be strengthened and bullying and cyber bullying can be addressed.