Bullying remains a serious problem in Irish primary and post-primary schools
Newest research has shown that a quarter of young Irish, age nine to sixteen, experience some form of bullying. The alarming fact is that the level of harassment in Irish schools is above the EU average, and that Irish teenagers find it more difficult to cope with the problem than their peers in other EU countries. Such a conclusion can be drawn also by looking at the number of suicides committed by young people in Ireland in recent months – very often they decide to take such a desperate step after being bullied at school or online.
The problem of bullying can occur at any age, in every environment and can be directed at anyone. However young people are especially prone to any form of harassment and aggression. As Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan said, these people are 'extremely vulnerable', so experiencing bullying can cause some really serious damage to their lives, and it is vital to show them support and let them know they can ask for help. He also said it was very important to stand up to bullying whether in the real world or online.
Cyber-bullying can do as much harm as 'conventional' bullying, in some cases it can be even worse. Children and teenagers use their smartphones and laptops on daily basis to connect with their peers and as Trinity College Dublin psychologist and cyber-bullying expert Dr Stephen Minton explains, they "are technologically smart but not mature enough to handle the issues that can arise, such as cyber-bullying". One of the solutions to the problem can be Garda's 'Connect with Respect' campaign in their schools' education programme that can help students understand the possible impact of cyber-bullying. Another step in the Government's plan to solve the problem of bullying is a newly launched website called Watch Your Space. Its main aim is to encourage the victims to talk about their worries and to help them realize they are not the only ones who experience this.
The experts emphasize, that the role of parents and teachers in the combat against harassment in schools and on the Internet is very important. Research shows most of the Irish parents (up to 68 percent) are not even aware that their children are being bullied or cyber-bullied. Young people don't want to admit they have experienced any harassment or aggression – they are afraid the problem might worsen or they worry they might lose their smartphones or the Internet access if these are the sources of bullying. That is why parents and teachers should remain very watchful to be able to take action as soon as they discover something is wrong. Signs of bullying can be various, yet the most common ones are fear of going to school, inability to concentrate, deteriorating schoolwork, depression, loss of confidence and some physical symptoms like shortage of money, torn clothes or repeated signs of bruising and injuries.