You Can Sit With Us
Once dismissed as ‘character building’ and ‘just a part of growing up’, bullying is now widely recognised as a corrosive issue in Australian schools.
From whispered insults to social exclusion, online harassment to physical intimidation, bullying comes in various forms and is a problem that touches many students.
The question is, how do we stop it?
“If I knew the answer to that I’d be retired,” said Professor Marilyn Campbell from Queensland University of Technology’s School of Cultural and Professional Learning. “Bullying is a complex social relationship problem and it’s deeply embedded in our society.”
“It’s not about how widespread it is, which it is anyway, but it’s about the emotional impact, not only on the kid who is victimised, but also on the bully and bystander. Some kids are really resilient and have supportive friends and family, but for some, the consequences of bullying can be quite catastrophic. Plus, we know that kids who actually bully have bad long-term consequences and bystanders are affected as well.”
It is my hope, with people pledging to be ambassadors at their schools, that no one will feel left out.
While it’s difficult to measure how widespread bullying is, the Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study, which used data collected from more than 20,000 school students, suggests that being bullied every few weeks or more was a common experience, affecting about one in four Year 4 to Year 9 Australian students (27 per cent).
Frequent school bullying was highest amongst Year 5 (32 per cent) and Year 8 (29 per cent) students, with hurtful teasing the most prevalent of all bullying behaviours experienced by students, followed by hurtful lies.
With the birth of the internet and boom in social media, cyber-bullying has emerged, giving bullies the ability to harass and intimidate others 24 hours a day.
“Through our cyber-bullying complaints scheme, we know firsthand the negative impacts these issues have on young people,” says Acting Children’s eSafety Commissioner Andree Wright.
“We know cyber-bullying continues to be a big issue for young people, with our research showing 19 per cent of Australians aged 14 – 17 have experienced cyber-bullying in the 12 months to June 2016.”
While it can feel like bullying is out of control, Professor Campbell said it was most likely that it was more a shift in attitude, rather than bullying actually increasing in recent years.
“I think the thing that has changed is society’s attitude [towards bullying],” she says. “It used to sometimes be seen almost as a childhood rite of passage or character building, but I think since research into bullying in the 1980s started looking at the consequences, the results have made society change its mind. Now, because we know the negative consequences for everyone involved, people want to reduce it and stop it.”
With increased awareness of bullying, new initiatives have been devised to stamp out the problem.
Friendship seats are designed to encourage children to befriend others who are feeling lonely or isolated. Trialed successfully in other countries, it fosters positive relationships.
When a child sits on the specially designed seat, it signals to their peers, as well as teachers, that there is a problem, and others are encouraged to check in on them.
It’s an idea that inspired Zarraffa’s Coffee Salisbury franchisee Sharon Apap to partner with the Rotary Club of Salisbury, to raise money to buy friendship seats for local Brisbane primary schools.
Sharon, along with fellow staff members, participated in the 10-kilometre Bridge to Brisbane run in August, and raised $1,200 for seats to go into Moorooka and Salisbury schools.
Sharon says she was touched by the whole concept.
“A lot of our regular customers work in the local schools and we have good connections with them, so when we learned about the seats helping against bullying, it really touched our hearts,” she said.
Johnno Chen, from the Rotary Club of Salisbury, said the creation of the friendship seats for local schools from the fundraising was a perfect example of how businesses and services work together to serve humanity.
“The seats provide children with the opportunity to learn about the basics of friendship and leadership and taking ownership of their actions,” he says. Johnno believes that these are lessons that can influence the rest of their lives, to the benefit of society.
SIT WITH US
Born out of ‘a miserable experience of being bullied in middle school’, 16-year-old Natalie Hampton, from California, said she designed the app Sit with Us to ensure other kids don’t suffer as she did.
“Apart from the verbal taunts and violence, one of the worst things was having to eat lunch alone, and the embarrassment of having others see me eating lunch alone,” Natalie writes on her website.
“After I changed schools, whenever I saw someone eating lunch alone, I would always invite the person to join the group. Each time, the person’s face would light up, and the look of relief would wash over the person’s face. Some of those people have become some of my closest friends.”
After signing up, students use the app to meet others and make lunch arrangements. They can also become Sit With Us ambassadors and host open lunches for others to join.
Natalie says she believes every school has students willing to invite peers to join them.
“It is my hope, with people pledging to be ambassadors at their schools, that no one will feel left out,” she writes. “I believe that seemingly small, incremental changes in the overall dynamic of a school community can bring about change, so that everyone feels welcome and included.”
Since its launch earlier this year, Sit With Us has garnered worldwide media attention and has been downloaded by young people across the globe, including Australia.
Sit With Us is available on the App Store.