There’s a distinct treatment that bullying receives on the Internet. We show compassion and know it’s one of the lowest things a human can do at any age in their life. In 2016 we find ourselves thinking that we’re doing all we can to prevent it - or at least we think we do.

In actuality, bullying is prospering more today than ever in more forms than we thought possible. It goes all the way back to neighbourhood bullies. Those ‘tough kids’ on the block who stir up trouble with their own little group and with the age of technology, it stems all the way to Facebook and other social media outlets where it’s so easy to pick a target.

Many of us reading this have been victims of bullying whether it was a tough week of name-calling in school and was easy to brush off all the way to years of it. In my own experiences, I dealt with bullies a lot of the time and it was aimed at my difference. I distinctly remember someone referring to it as an ‘elephant’s trunk,’ or when I just started high school and a girl in my design & technology class turns around and says ‘You need to get your arm sorted out’ in a disgusting vicious tone.

As you read this now those comments might not sound so destructive, but when you’re eight and eleven-years-old, those hurt and the evidence of that pain is that I still remember them words even though they were said over a decade ago. Do they hurt me now? No, definitely not, but the memories are there due to the impact those words held at the time.

This isn’t just a limb-difference issue either. It’s a school crisis. Whether a child is tall or short, skinny or overweight, bullies find buttons in each of their targets and pick at them. You can go to many schools and they’ll all say they have a very strict zero-tolerance to bullying when in actual fact, what you hear and learn from parents is quite the opposite. Some schools will call students out of class, interview them, find out the smallest of details, have them apologise to each other and think that case has been dealt with when really, that’s only given the antagonists more fuel to throw on their victim and leads the target to think they have nobody to turn to now the teachers believe it’s settled. It’s really uncomfortable to see.

I love going to speak to children and educating them on my difference and how they can be a better person from learning about this, but it breaks my heart when I have to go to a project ran by a school and speak to children who’ve either been taken out of school for bullying kids or for being so severely targeted they weren’t showing up for school. Can you imagine being beaten emotionally and physically by classmates as a young child that you stop yourself going to somewhere everyday as compulsory as school? That’s soul-destroying to know that a child’s hopes and dreams are being squandered due to the fear of a bigger kid mocking everything about them.

It’s not just schools, either. There are many parents who believe the bullying is either just a phase that will build their child’s character and that it’s just what all kids go through or a child is making it more out to be more than it actually is. Those couldn’t be further from the truth and in the long run do so much harm to a target’s confidence, self-esteem and ability to address situations. The longer this is left untended to, the larger the cancer of bullying grows and follows them into teenage years.

This may shock you as a reader, parent or a student, but a high school study in 2013 shown that every one in three students has contemplated suicide at one point due to bullying. In a year group of 300-plus students, that’s a terrifying number to break down and that comes down to victims not knowing how to fight back – literally. This may come across controversially to some of you, but there are just some people out there, bullies especially in this context, who need to be taught a lesson physically.

I completely side with schools being against violence, but a schoolkid who’s been confronted by a group of bullies for a prolonged amount of time should not and cannot be expected to pay the price for defending themselves. They need to know that if they’ve been hit, it’s okay to hit back and people learn from those rules. In a time where safe spaces and political correctness is all key to our society, this is one of the long-standing issues that’s surrounded young adults for so long that needs to be met head on.

There was a time in my childhood where a kid kept pushing me around in the park right across the road from where I grew up. I knew from a young age, being different, I would have to be mentally strong and be able to look after myself. My parents taught me this and they were right in which I thank them today.

On one of the occasions, my parents just so happened to be hanging out at the front door on a summer’s evening. I remember being shoved about by the kid while playing football, looking over the road to my parents who had seen enough of it and knew what I had to do. In my mind I knew I had to do it too. The kid got a thwack on me and I know it took probably almost every bit of them to remain at the door. I knew there and then that it was okay for me to hit back. I did so, only once, and the problem went away for me.

That isn’t to say it’s always as simple as that, because it’s not, especially as you get older. However, the problem with many attackers is that they’ve primarily never been disciplined. Parents need to ask every single week how their kid is finding school and watch their body language as they respond. You may come across as overbearing and on their case, but discover ways to do it subtly. So many people will suffer in silence. Sit down with them and even if you have no reason to have suspicions, just reassure your son or daughter. We’ve all been through school and know how brutal it can be where reputation is everything.

In 2016, bullying is an issue that should be tackled not with the utmost sensitivity, but by giving it the utmost attention it needs. When there are kids contemplating ending their own lives, ‘zero-tolerance’ policies just don’t fit the bill.

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