Success vs Safety: The impact of bullying & peer pressureBlogs
School is getting back in swing and across the country young people are considering their options for the future. At this time of year some teens can struggle to get back into learning after a long summer of fun. Homework, timetables, course requirements and revision goals can all leave youth feeling under pressure as the new academic year kicks off.
For some young people the thought of heading back to school or college after the summer break is far more complex than simply feeling the pressure of passing exams. Almost half of all children and young people in the UK report having experienced bullying at some point in their school life according to research conducted by the government, and in 2011/12 over 31,000 young people called ChildLine to get advice and support about bullying.
Bullying is defined as repeated, harmful behaviour that leaves a person feeling victimised and disempowered. It can take many forms including physical attacks, verbal taunts, cyber harassment, threats, gossip-spreading, homophobic or racist slurs and other types of emotional, physical, or psychological aggression. Bullying can affect anyone, regardless of their age, gender, race, religion or other facets of their character. It is as likely to happen in the school yard as it is the workplace and yet often bullying goes unreported and unchallenged. Many young people speak of their fear of reporting an incident, in case their attacker retaliates and makes things worse, while others who see bullying taking place - the bystanders - keep quiet to avoid becoming the next target themselves.
Bullying and Disengagement
Young people can quickly become disengaged and withdrawn in cultures and environments where bu llying is allowed to fester. Victims of bullying are far more likely to display poor school or college attendance, and to therefore miss out on their learning and harm their future opportunities. A survey conducted by the charity Red Balloon Learner Centres estimated that nearly 16,500 young people aged 11-15 in England are frequently absent from state school or are home educated because of bullying. A report by Beat Bullying into the link between bullying and truancy found that 20,000 young people truant everyday as a result of bullying, equating to 31 million lost school days per year.
These statistics are arguably worse for young Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered (LGBT) people, those questioning their sexuality, or those inaccurately labeled as gay and targeted by bullies. Homophobic bullying is rife in our schools and communities according to The School Report produced by the charity Stonewall . Their research of young LGBT people in Britain's schools found that over half (55%) had experienced homophobic bullying, with one in three (32%) changing their plans for future education because of the bullying they had endured.
The impact of bullying on young people's education and future employability is clear: the more education or training time lost by a young person, the greater the likelihood that he or she will fall behind their peers, fail to attain and reach their aspirations, and potentially become disengaged altogether as another NEET statistic (a young person Not in Education, Employment or Training).
Caught in the Career Trap: Peer Pressure
While some young people are lucky enough not to experience bullying, the far more insidious problem of peer pressure can be just as detrimental to keeping young people in education and employment and on a successful future path.
Many young people express a desire to fit in and be 'one of the crowd.'- At a period where life is confusing and hormones are chaotic, standing out is a frightening proposition. But when it comes to education and career choices, peer pressure can have long term effects.
In our work with young women at Full Circle we often see the effects of casual peer pressure and the desire to conform. Girls find themselves undertaking training and employment in low-paying, stereotypical careers such as hairdressing or beauty because it's seen to be a feminine choice, and one that their friends are making. While some young people truly are passionate about hairdressing and will make a successful career in the beauty industry, others will quickly become bored with their choices and disengage. Young women are still highly under-represented in the more profitable industries of IT, engineering and business, and sadly women equate to 64% of the lowest paid workers in the UK. However, peer pressure plays a role with young men, too. Expressing a desire to try a stereotypically feminine training course or job role is often met with ridicule or even bullying, leaving some boys just as boxed in as girls.
Bullying and peer pressure can limit young people's choices, aspirations and success. As educators and employers it is crucial that we are mindful and aware of youth who may be experiencing victimisation, so we can work to create safe, inclusive environments to help young people learn and prosper. Encouraging both boys and girls to try a range of activities and careers will help to broaden their horizons, and teachers can play a key role in developing young people's awareness of the breadth of career paths available to them. Communicating to young people that bullying is not tolerated in our schools and communities will also help to create safer environments. Each school in the UK must have an anti-bullying policy by law, and schools should work to provide support and guidance to students so they can better understand what bullying is and its effects.
Full Circle can help organisations and schools to develop their anti-bullying policies and practices. Learn more about our work to combat bullying and our campaign for National Anti-Bullying Week 2013 on our website.
Nikki Giant is the founder and director of the social enterprise Full Circle Education Solutions . Full Circle provide training, youth projects, events and resources to improve youth well-being and connect children and young people to their potential.
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