The battle against bullying
BULLYING - it's a social sickness infecting the lives of one in every three Australian children - and it seems there is no real deterrent.
In the US, where bullying statistics are even higher, film maker Lee Hirsch has started a revolution in the country's toxic schoolyards.
As a former bullying victim, Hirsch described the subject of the film as "deeply personal" and something he felt compelled to cover but struggled for years to explore.
"It was always on the list of projects I wanted to develop but it stayed as an abstraction for a long time," Hirsch said. "I was too scared to start developing the idea in earnest because it would mean confronting my own demons and revisiting a painful period of my life."
The turning point came in 2009 when Hirsch heard two 11-year-old American boys had been driven to suicide.
His film, simply titled Bully, follows the stories of three tormented teens from different social backgrounds and the parents of two young victims who took their own lives.
While the film is set in the US, Hirsch believes bullying knows no borders and has urged Australian teachers to take their students to see the flim which opened in cinemas around the country this week.
The message is simple - the only way to stop bullying is to speak up.
Since Hirsch launched the film's linked website thebullyproject.com, millions of Americans have joined the campaign to better educate teachers, parents and students in how to stamp out bullying in schools.
Already, more than 100,000 Australians have taken the pledge.
NEVER before have politicians been under so much pressure to come up with a solution to the bullying epidemic.
Almost daily media reports of bullying cases in the nation's schools have prompted state and federal governments to review their policies but for some parents, change can't come soon enough.
When an online video of Queensland bullying victim Casey Heynes picking up his aggressor and throwing him across the school yard went viral last year, Hervey Bay dad Damien decided it was time to skill his son in self-defence.
He was fed up with his primary-school aged son coming home in tears everyday and faking illnesses so he could stay home away from his tormentors.
At first, Damien found it hard to encourage his son to "kick butt" but he insists he had no choice.
"We had tried mediation, talking to teachers, approaching the other kids' parents and nothing had changed," Damien said. "The bully was simply put on a "behaviour management plan" which achieved absolutely nothing.
"The idea that a piece of paper was all that was deterring a group of boys from pushing my son's head into the wall on a daily basis just didn't stick."
While he was disappointed in the school's reaction, Damien doesn't blame them for his son's suffering.
He believes Education Queensland needs to implement tougher policies and give teachers the right to step in when a child is being harassed.
"There is so much red tape and politically correct rules that the teachers are too scared to do anything but say 'that's naughty Johnny, don't do that again'," Damien said "It needs to change from the top or the bullies will win."
At the beginning of the year a stoush at the school gate which involved Damien's son, "giving it back", changed things dramatically.
The bullying has completely stopped, his grades have improved and he hasn't had a sick day since February.
Damien accepts his method of "combating violence with violence" may not be particularly popular in some circles and he admits he's already copped some flack from other parents but he's not worried.
If his son comes home smiling, that's all that matters.
"I will do everything it takes to protect my son and if that means teaching him how to fight back and teaching these little "p****" a lesson then that's what I will do".
"I don't want him become another statistic".
THERE was a time when bullies were restricted to the school yard but the world of social media has opened the door for the tormenting to continue after hours.
In NSW, the parents of a teenage girl who killed herself following constant online attacks announced this week they would sue the state's education department for failing to take action against those they held responsible for their daughter's death.
Brianna De Vries, 14, took her own life after online bullying in her home town of Woolgoolga, near Coffs Harbour, followed her to her new life in Queensland.
Her parents, Brad and Liz, launched legal action against the State Government this week and have started an online campaign "Stand for the Silent", which offers help for troubled kids and their parents.
Coffs Harbour Detective Inspector Cameron Lindsay said bullies were on notice and warned police would not tolerate bullying in any form.
He was concerned police had noticed a pattern of online bullying spilling over into actual violence in the school yard.
He also reminded aggressors and their parents that even children were subject to criminal charges if they were caught using the phone or internet to harass or intimidate someone else.
"Anyone that feels as if they are protected by the veil of separation the internet provides needs to know they can still end up facing very serious charges," Det Insp Lindsay said "Police take a very dim view of any form of bullying and will take action."
IN CANBERRA, the Federal Government is seeking feedback about what needs to be done to change the culture of bulling in Australian schools.
The Our National Safe Schools Framework is aimed at helping individual schools develop stronger anti-bullying strategies.
The "Bullying No Way" website was also launched this year to give parents, teachers and children information on bullying warning signs and where to get help.
Last month Education Minister Peter Garrett invited teachers, parents and psychologists to take part in an anti-bullying forum.
A report on the forum will be released later this year.
Ideas about policy changes can be emailed to email@example.com or sent via Twitter using the hash tag #bullyingnoway.
More information is available at bullyingnoway.gov.au
BULLYING - HOW TO READ THE SIGNS
Signs your child is being bullied at school
- not wanting to go to school or participate in school activities
- does not appear to have friends
- is missing belongings
- has torn clothing
- seems to have become fearful and anxious
- has more mood swings, and seems to be crying more
- seems to have a drop in academic performance
- has poorer physical health and changes in sleep habits
- has increased negative self-perception.
- Signs your child is being bullied online
- being hesitant about going online
- seeming nervous when an instant message, text message or email appears
- being visibly upset after using the computer or mobile phone, or suddenly avoiding it
- minimising the computer screen, or hiding the mobile phone when you enter the room
- spending unusually long hours online in a more tense, pensive tone
- receiving suspicious phone calls, emails or packages
- withdrawing from friends, falling behind in schoolwork, or avoiding school.
- Where to go for help outside of school
Kids Help Line 1800 55 1800 kidshelp.com.au
Parentline New South Wales - 1300 1300 52 Parentline Queensland - 1300 30 1300 parentline.org.au