MARGARET ROSSITER COLUMN

The horror of bullying and how to deal with it

STORIES OF HURT ARE AIRED

The horror of bullying and how to deal with it

Margaret Rossiter

IF, LIKE ME, you are retired, then you will know the small perks of having your dinner in the middle of the day, followed by a siesta accompanied by Joe Duffy’s “Liveline.” Joe is a sort of national father confessor, allowing people to natter on about things that bother them, or institutions that irritate them, or even things they wouldn’t talk about to their best friends.

For the past week the dominant subject of conversation has been that of bullies; the appalling unhappiness, trauma, and longtime mental health wreckage which we, humankind, can inflict on each other. It was not possible to have the usual retireees’ snooze through the programme, such were the chastening disturbing stories which people told, day after day.

The subject of bullying has seriously entered the media in recent time, arising from the trial of Boy A and Boy B who were found guilty of murdering Ana Kriegal. It emerged in evidence that she was bullied at school; that she did not have a friend, other than her cousins, and her longing for such a friend made her vulnerable. She was tall, beautiful and different; was isolated by her contemporaries and a target for two youths, one of whom was addicted to the extremes of pornography. It is a frightening modern vision of an age-old story. There have always been bullies.

 Joe Duffy gave airtime to their victims over several series of his “Liveline” programme, ranging from the current to the historic and through the tools of the bullying trade, assault, jeering, name-calling, isolating, demeaning,  to the now technological - via the internet. Two stories from mothers who traced the suicides of their daughters to abuse and harassment by this modern method of communication, opened the subject to radio discussion.

Amongst these stories of hurt, the content of one such current communication was read out by Joe, following a warning that if a listener had “children in the car maybe they should switch off.” It was an ignorant near-illiterate diatribe sent to a 15-year-old daughter from a boy in her class. It said more about the character of the boy than it did about the girl and would be laughed-off by any sensible adult, but, according to the mother, it caused much devastation to her daughter and, understandably, to her parents.

She was told in variants of the “f-word” how much she was hated, and how happy he would be if she would go and “hung herself.” (Grammatical rules were not amongst bullyboy’s fortes). It would seem that bullying which originates in school has to be confronted by the school, but how this is done is not very clear.

What is clear, however, is that punishment for serious misbehaviour in school, whether that can be class disruption or bullying, is difficult to implement. Suspension is severely circumscribed by rules and regulations and ultimate expulsion near impossible.

However, from a recent case heard in the Dublin Circuit Court there is redress through our current laws for harassment via the internet. According to a report in “The Irish Times” (November 15) Judge Martin Nolan who heard the case said in his judgement that “while the internet had its advantages, the case exposed “the dark side” which allows a man sitting in his house to inflict huge amounts of trauma.” He sentenced the accused to three years imprisonment for his harassment of a number of women journalists.

That was a high profile case, but in a Q and A attachment to the newspaper report, Mark Hilliard has outlined what the ordinary person can do if they feel concerned about such harassment, including contacting the gardai and showing them the material.

While accepting that bullying has always been part of the human psyche, the apparent prevalence and nature of the current variety, as illustrated by the Joe Duffy programme, has to raise issues about the direction of our moral compass. So, too, are the shocking details which, apparently, fueled the murder of Ana Kriegel. If the extremes of pornography are available to children at the push of a button, and if, at the present time, there is no legislation to regulate its use by minors, the responsibility evolves back to  parents.

It is a cop-out to say “leave it to schools.” Home is much more influential. And while prohibition never works, helping children to navigate their way through dangerous territory does, especially if that moral compass is properly tweaked. And listening to the details of modern bullying on “Liveline,” one wonders where Ireland is going in its rapid race to change. Has the compass become so skewed that decency, fairness, kindness, or the Christian dictum for living in peace and harmony with each other has been lost.

“Do unto others as you would wish others to do unto you?”

Is it time to slow that race before we throw the baby out with the bathwater?