Katie Ferguson says it’s time to listen to young people and empower them to lead the real change needed to prevent bullying
Young people experience bullying, they see it play out among their peers and they often thoroughly understand it and its impact. Clearly, their voices should lead the way when we are developing new strategies to address it. That is the message at the heart of respectme’s Change Starts With Us campaign – the first national, youth-led, anti-bullying initiative of its kind which gets underway this Anti-Bullying Week and runs until the end of the school year.
We know that young people’s voices are vital in effectively addressing bullying, they can make policy-making and practice stronger, more appropriate and ultimately better able to meet young people’s needs.
At Coatbridge High School, young people have been regularly feeding into some of the schools most fundamental decisions and everyday practices, meaning they are shaping the school’s direction and culture. They have directly influenced the school’s anti-bullying policy, and are leading many of the approaches being taken within the school to address the issue.
Recently, school captain Leah Woods reflected that young people taking the lead at her school has “encouraged everyone to get involved and helped diffuse the stigma of bullying”. She has also noticed that “…naturally, young people are often more likely to take advice from their peers.”
Coatbridge High School is not the only school leading the charge on youth participation across anti-bullying work. Youth-led approaches at Alloa Academy in Clackmannanshire have seen pupils being empowered to choose the school’s health and wellbeing priorities through focus groups and discussions. From this, pupils identified that they wanted to include a focus on bullying given the negative impact they felt this could have on every aspect of young people’s lives, including their mental health.
Young people at Alloa Academy have directly shaped the school’s anti-bullying policy, revised Personal and Social Education courses and strengthened the school’s focus on promoting equality and diversity.
There are few who would argue with the power of youth-led approaches, however in reality, the time and skills required to roll out quality youth participation continues to be an obstacle and there is still much more to do. That is why we are making this a priority for our service in the year ahead, and we will create a platform to encourage and support all those working on the ground to nurture this.
We want to support our communities of educators who are pivotal to empowering young people to fully participate, and who help ensure the voices of young people are heard and taken seriously. This is crucial to ensuring that children’s rights under the UNCRC and Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 are fully realised.
That is why this Anti-Bullying Week we are calling on all educators to join the movement towards anti-bullying work that is consistently and directly shaped by young people across Scotland, and to become part of a transformational change in young people’s everyday lives by helping to create cultures of respect and kindness.
Katie Ferguson is service director at respectme