Has school bullying increased?

Or school violence generally, for that matter.

Obviously it depends where you look and who you ask, but the issue has resurfaced here in Australia over the past week or two.

KERRY O’BRIEN, PRESENTER: Two tragedies unfolded in a Brisbane schoolground early yesterday: one life lost, another life ruined. A Year Eight student was stabbed to death, and as a senior police officer said, you can’t imagine what it would be like to send your 12-year-old boy to school for him never to return.

The second tragedy revolves around the 13-year-old boy who allegedly did the stabbing and is in now custody charged with murder. The court will determine the consequences surrounding the death, but other students at St Patrick’s College in northern Brisbane are quoted as saying the alleged offender had been a victim of bullying and had brought the knife to school to scare his tormentors.

The public reaction has included claims that violence in the playground is on the increase in Australia, and calls for greater security within schools, including even metal detectors.

There have been various studies into bullying and playground violence, and while it may still be arguable about whether it’s on the increase or not, what is clear is that it certainly is not declining.

One person who has more insight than most into this issue is adolescent mental health specialist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg. The Melbourne psychologist is an internationally-recognised authority on teenage behaviour, an author of several books on parenting and a consultant psychologist to many schools around the country. He joins me now from our Melbourne studio…

Writer John Marsden’s response drew some interesting discussion.

Marsden … told ABC News Breakfast that schools are more peaceful than they were 20 to 40 years ago. And Marsden, author of the Tomorrow When The War Began series, says video games and violent movies are not having an effect on today’s youth.

“It’s a more peaceful society, kids now are more peaceful than they were a generation ago,” Marsden said. “If all these video games and movies were having such a pernicious effect on them, we should be seeing violence absolutely rampant in schools, and we’re not seeing that at all.

“In my day … the chant of ‘fight, fight, fight’ echoed through the playground on a daily basis – those fights could be pretty savage and pretty bloody,” he added.

“What we have got though is a knife subculture at the moment, a feeling that knives are a weapon of choice.”

But Marsden says the right moves have been made to address violence in schools.

“I think what we’re doing now is continuing to educate people in finding more solutions to aggression and violence,” he said. “One of the things I think is happening now is that people are being given more options. So a child who’s angry or upset or fearful is now learning through better schooling or better parenting that they do have a number of options open to them. There’s a menu of options, not just grabbing a baseball bat and grabbing a rock or grabbing the knife.”

Among resources for such options is the site Bullying No Way.

School violence -- the traditional approach

What do you remember of school violence at your school? At Sutherland Primary School around sixty years ago I recall a regular playground war between two classes that involved throwing large lumps or concrete at one another and hitting one another over the head with fence palings. I remember spending a whole afternoon with my face covered in blood after my scalp was gashed by a fellow student with a metal bolt. The teacher checked and told me to stick my head under a cold tap. (The injury was in fact not serious.) Students almost all had pen knives and some had Bowie knives, but fortunately rarely stabbed anyone. At high school I remember throwing a cast-iron coat hook at a fellow student, but I missed and merely broke a window.

The cry of “fight, fight!” accompanied me all through school and into my first decade of teaching. I recall a Year 9 at Cronulla who was very worried because he had hospitalised a fellow student whom he had hit; turned out the victim had a thin skull. Fortunately the victim recovered, but I doubt the incident was reported. And so it goes… A teacher at Keira High in Wollongong pushed down the stairs by a group of boys, and that in the mid 1970s… A replica pistol brought to school in the 1980s…

There’s a good chance we are simply more sensitive about such things and more prone to report them. Not saying, of course, that school violence is not a problem — just saying we can easily be panicked into thinking there has been a major change.

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3 thoughts on “Has school bullying increased?

  1. As a high school Principal I dealt with bullies briefly and without ceremony. I was fortunate in that I had a school which offered lots of extracurricular activities eg 180 boys playing a musical instrument so they had plenty to occupy their minds.

    I had very few bullies to deal with. I could count them on the fingers of one hand. When I became aware of what they were doing I would take them aside, into an empty classroom or even a store room, and bully the bloody life out of them for about 60 seconds. That was all it took. Word of mouth took the message around the school. One (then in Year 8) went on to become School Captain and play rugby for NSW Schools 2s.

    Bullies can’t stand being bullied.

    I did not have the problem of Net bullying but I would have dealt with it as I did with a couple of lads who indulged in Net porn on school computers : slap a 12 month ban on them. Believe me, the word spreads.

    I had a firm philosophy that I communicated widely : ‘No boy will enter the gate of this school in apprehension of his personal wellbeing’.

    I spent much of my own first year at high school being bullied so I know what it’s all about. I also worked out how to sort it out by bullying the bullies, all off the record of course.

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