It all started one afternoon when Liam decided to give his phone to his mother. When asked by his mom why was he was giving up his phone, he gave her a slight shrug and went on to his room. This was just the first of weird moments that would later nudge Deidre Fell-O’Brien, Liam’s mother, to question her son about his suspicious activity. Deidre started to realize Liam’s bike was in the garage more and his interest in soccer was becoming less prominent. Liam’s appetite also began to diminish and his weight started to decrease dramatically. After one morning when Liam refused to go to school, Deidre knew she needed to figure out what was going on. Shortly after sitting down with her son, the truth was finally revealed. Liam confessed to being bullied for over a year by a group of boys who believed he wasn’t good enough to be on the soccer team. These boys did everything to make Liam feel as little as possible. They physically hit him, called him names, told him that he was worthless, and was even told to kill himself. Once Deidre finally gotten to the bottom of what was happening in her son’s life, she turned to the school and the bullies’ parents for answers. After talking with both, she soon realized that no one was being held accountable for their actions.
Unfortunately, Liam’s story is not that unique, and bullying is still a major issue that many children are dealing with. Over 70% of school staff have witnessed bullying within the school and 62% have seen two or more accounts in the last month. Only 25% of students reach out to teachers and staff due to the lack of confidence in the help they will receive (‘Facts About Bullying’). This most common grade of bullying is in grade 6th, and once a student reaches high school, they reach out less than any other grade. Many schools have even implemented anti-bullying programs that work in some and not others. So why is bullying still an issue even though there is an increase in awareness and anti-bullying programs?
In a recent study conducted by Ditch the Label researched why people bully others and the scientific reasoning behind it. Ditch the Label is a very well-known anti-bullying charity that provides support to those who have been negatively treated and bullied in their life. It was founded in 2012 by a man named Liam Hackett, a young man who was also bullied when he was younger. Ditch the Label in 2015 helped nearly 500,000 young people get through bullying, and in 2016 received the most comprehensive bullying survey by the House of Commons of the United Kingdom. Originally founded in the UK, Ditch the Label is now spanning across the United Kingdom and the United States to help those in need of overcoming bullying.
In 2018, Ditch the Label spoke to 8,850 people to ask them a series of questions about bullying. They were first asked their definition of bullying and whether or not they have bullied someone before. Then asked very intimate questions about their lives, such as trauma, relationships, home life, and their general stance on themselves. Of the 8,850 people, only 1,239 agreed to bullying in their life. All answers were then compared by those who have never bullied anyone, people who have bullied once, and those who bully others daily. The data showed that those who have experienced some type of drama or stress in the last 5 years are more likely to bully others. Some of these causes of stress come from relationships, parents divorcing, and even the death of a relative. This can make sense, as all people have different ways of dealing with these hardships in life. Some find positive ways to help relieve the stress, while others turn to a much worse alternative. Many people do not know how to properly deal with stress, so they turn to bullying as an answer. Males were also the majority of bullies being 66% of the overall study. In this society, women are supposed to speak out on their feelings, yet men are looked down upon when they do so. They are often looked at as weak when they try to reach for help or express what they feel. In return, guys respond in a very negative and aggressive way, which helps them cope with their issues. Another major reason for bullying is the bully's home life. The study showed that 1 in 3 people who agreed to bullying feel as if their parents don’t have enough time to spend with them. It also shows that it normally happens when the family is larger, therefore, less communication is distributed throughout the family. Not being able to communicate with the people who are supposed to support you the most makes one feel rejected, causing them to take it on others.
Dr. Dan Olweus is a professor of physiology and the world leader of research and developing programs to help end childhood bullying. He was one of the first people to research bullying in the 70s, and his research was published in 1978. Dr. Dan Olweus has a program known as the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program that originated back in the 1980s in which it was first put to test. After a few decades of tweaking the program, it is now enrolled in seven projects in the United States. In particular, a study in Pennsylvania shows that bullying in school decreased when this program was enforced. Dr. Dan Olweus says that the school should be held responsible for bullying within the schools, not so much the parents. The parents put trust in the schools to protect their children and allow them to receive an education in a positive work environment. The program works in just three levels which are the school level, the classroom level, and the individual level. The school-level refers to the staff being present and intervening when bullying is occurring. The classroom level includes a number of anti-bullying policies and a positive message portraying that our school is anti-bullying. The individual level is the consequences that a bully might receive if they decide to disobey their warnings. Dr. Dan Olweus stresses that teachers are the key to help prevent bullying. He says: “You must not only have a good program, but you must also have a good implementation moral so this becomes an everyday life of the school”. That sentence alone directly answers why some of these anti-bullying programs aren’t working and others are. It’s not about these programs as a whole, it’s about schools not practicing it enough for it to take action in their schools. If these anti-bullying programs are being enforced in schools, then they should be held responsible to make sure that everyone is abiding by it.
Running out of options, Deidre decided to turn to social media to get Liam’s story out. Out of her surprise, Liam’s story went viral, and their family began to realize that they weren’t alone. Many families reached out and explained that they had gone through similar experiences with their children as well. Liam’s story went so viral that t-shirts and even billboards were being put up in honor of him saying ‘#WESTANDWITHLIAM’. Liam went on to complete his 10-week long care to help battle his depression and eating disorders. Once out of care, Liam decided to return to his old school and finish out his year playing soccer, and become much more open with his family. He’s found new interests and even rekindled with old friends that help support him significantly. Bullying will only come to an end when we all decide to fight it together.