Yah boo stinky poo!

Every time the name Crump (a pseudonym) comes into my mind, I have a tinge of guilt. The memory goes back 70 years when he and I were age nine and we were at school together. He was an effeminate boy, given to whining, and he was broadly disliked by his schoolmates. He may have been pushed around a bit, but he was never physically bullied. We were at a good Catholic school and we knew that that was wrong. But he suffered contempt from his peers, and he was frequently criticised for his erring ways. He must have been very unhappy.

I should, of course, have taken his part. But I was at an age when my  immature moral sense was guided by the attitudes of my peers. So I passed by on the other side.

I was later to learn that the unpopular boys were often the most interesting. And, from time to time, I have read how people who achieved distinction in later life often had a history of being bullied it school. A characteristic of high achievers is their independence of thought, which may well make them unpopular in conformist circumstances. Indeed, ensuring conformity is a frequent motivation for bullying the outsider. But I do not think that Crump would have benefitted; to the best of my knowledge he sank without trace. And we should expect that to have been so, because, in general, the long term effects of being bullied can be very serious indeed for those who do not have the innate toughness and confidence to survive it.

Several studies of these long-term effects have been done, and a recent one published this year in Psychological Science gives us a good overall view. The children were assessed between the ages of nine and 16, and the adult outcomes measured in their mid-20s.Victims presented very clear health risks in adulthood, being six times as likely to be diagnosed with serious illness, or to develop a psychiatric disorder. They were more than twice as likely to have difficulty in keeping a job, or to commit to saving. Poverty in young adulthood is common. They have difficulty in forming, or sustaining, long-term friendships or keeping good ties with their parents in adulthood. They are also prone in childhood to become bullies themselves, in turn, since they lack the emotional control to cope with their experiences. Those who have been bullied and have themselves bullied appear to be the most affected by the consequences.

Another recent study, by the American Psychological Association, shows that victims of chronic bullying were substantially more likely to commit crimes in adult life and, in consequence, to find themselves in prison. Female victims shared these characteristics, as well as a propensity to turn to alcohol or drugs. The author, Michael Turner, commented: “This study highlights the important role that healthcare professionals can play early in a child’s life when bullying is not adequately addressed by teachers, parents or guardians.” He tells me that he is planning further studies to refine his conclusions.

The NSPCC tells us that nearly half of all children report that they have been bullied at some time or another. Around a third of children experience bullying in a given year, and one in five of the children who were worrying about being bullied said that they would not talk to their parents about it. Two out of five have experienced cyber-bullying. Bullying was the main reason that boys contacted the NSPCC ChildLine service.

Experts are agreed that bullying is potentially a very damaging experience with severe long-term consequences. And parents are most concerned that their children should neither be bullied, nor bully in turn. They may wish to take action through the school as forcibly as possible. But it may not be as easy as that. It is hard to tell whether an isolated episode of bullying, which many will experience, is of short duration and can be safely ignored with the help of a little parental support. Nor must we suppose that parents will always know about it. Children have their own private world of relationships, nowadays much extended by social media. They may feel that the interference of parents will identify them more clearly as a target. And they may well be ashamed of being bullied and, as their self-confidence leaks, they may begin to feel that they deserve it. This suggests that action should be taken before it is actually needed – in the same way that prudent parents tackle sexual education.

The subject for discussion is not best opened by a direct question such as: are you being bullied? The third party approach is better. Here, in general conversation, the questions are in the form of: is there much bullying in your class? What kind of person is a bully, and what makes them so? Do you have any friends who have been bullied? Can we imagine what it feels like to be bullied? We might even have a personal experience of being bullied to pass on as an anecdote. This should be an informal discussion not an interrogation, nor a tense interview. Even if personal clues are not raised in the children’s answers, at least parents can ensure that necessary information is given.

Notwithstanding such an ideal, parents should keep a weather eye open for uncharacteristic changes in their children. A sense of depression, loss of appetite, poor sleep and an unfamiliar reluctance to go to school are among the signs which may tip off parents that their children need support and help.

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Catholic Herald columns, Church and Society, Moral judgment and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to Yah boo stinky poo!

  1. Quentin says:

    This came in from ‘Thecla’ — who prefers to remain anonymous.

    I think that is a good subject to investigate. If you can help children or anyone who is being bullied, you will have done well.
    I had a taste of it when I was six from another six year old who used to get a gang of her friends to call me names,pinch me and pull my hair, etc. so I dreaded playtimes.
    I remember that I never told my parents as I thought I must be to blame myself but eventually I ran a temperature every morning, and when my Mother took me to the doctor he told her to change my school at once and all was well.
    It has never happened since.
    Please keep warning parents that they may not always know when this is going on.

  2. Vincent says:

    I am interested in the note here that bullying can often appear in adult life. I encountered this myself when, for a number of years, I had a boss who was a bully. I came to the conclusion that he was not by nature unkind. Something in his make up led him to think that threats of various kinds were the only way to keep control. I am reasonably resilient but I nevertheless had many sleepless nights. And I was in middle life and really quite successful in my work. Another colleague of mine effectively had a nervous breakdown, and indeed died while in service. Rightly or wrongly, his widow was certain that her husband’s degree of worry, maintained for a number of years under this regime, was responsible for his premature heart attack.
    Eventually I managed to slip out of the situation by moving to another part of the company. But I noticed that, whenever I completed a successful project, my former boss would bad mouth it.
    It seems strange to me that the attitude of one’s boss can be the biggest factor in whether one is happy or unhappy at work.

    • St.Joseph says:

      I agree with you. Bullying can be see in various forms. Which I have encountered for many years whilst teaching Fertility Awareness. and making it known I am speaking about serious bullying rudeness,and insults, it was not as though I was stepping on peoples toes..Perhaps maybe their conscience.!!!
      At least the hidden bruises were worth it,as it is becoming quite acceptable now and more people are informed..

  3. Vincent says:

    I read in the papers this morning that girls in class avoid being too forward with their ideas because they find that they are attacked for doing so by the boys who like to be noisy and to make the running.
    Is this a form of bullying?
    I am surprised, going by the comments so far, that so few of us appear to have had any experience of bullying!

    • St.Joseph says:

      I had a brothe r2 years older than me who used to bully me (not now) maybe because I used to take his Dinky car tyres off and pretend to chew and swallow them at 4 years old. Only because he would not let me play with them, he eventually let me play with his ‘tin’ lorry. and I badly cut my finger. I learned my lesson then!.
      Depends what would come under the category of bullying!! He would call me a bully!…

  4. Singalong says:

    Experiences of bullying are very hard to relate as they are so personal, and can be very subjective. What is unbearable stress for one person can be useful stimulation for another, and the same kind of treatment can be considered bullying by some, but rather mild unkindness by others. However, in the worst cases, as we all know, and perhaps have experienced, the victim can feel so hopeless that suicide seems to be the only way out, leaving family and colleagues totally devastated, trying to understand the depths of misery which has caused this drastic step, how they could have missed the signs and what they could have done to help had they known the situation was so desperate.

  5. ionzone says:

    If only bullying was as mild as “ya boo”. A lot of the time it encompasses things that would, in the adult world, be classed as assault, harassment, and even GBH. I was on a bus once where a couple of thugs were bragging about how they stamped on a kid’s head in the hallway. They got away with it because the kid was too frightened to do anything. A lot of kids live in a world that is basically a miniaturised state of civil unrest.

    • St.Joseph says:

      My eldest grandson now 24-when he was 14 he saw a younger boy in the play ground crying with his blazer on the ground, he told my grandson that 2 boys had hit him and taken £2 he had in his blazer pocket, He took him to the headmaster and told him what happened. Then my grandson was beaten up in the toilets. He came off the school bus upset and told my husband, so his mum and dad went to the school and complained
      A Catholic High School. But I suppose it happens in all schools.

      • ionzone says:

        They may not even have been Catholics, if that school is anything like the one I was in…. Not that I’m indulging in the No True Scotsman, I’m just commenting on how many of those schools are now forced to cater to non-Christian kids and dilute their purpous to appease people who hate us. Yay.

  6. Iona says:

    It seems to be a very common experience and happens in all schools though not to all people. Staff have to be very vigilant in their supervision.

  7. John Candido says:

    I was born in Australia of Italian extraction, so I had a dual identity to contend with as a boy. It took me a very long time to be comfortable with, or to consider myself an Australian of Italian extraction. Starting from a very young age till probably my mid to late thirties, I saw myself as an Italian in Australia, not an Australian with an Italian background.

    The reason for this very slow development was racism and bullying directed at me as a pupil at school, and to a much lesser extent in my neighbourhood. The name calling was unbearable at times. It was like I was at war with my fellow students, and the odd fight and scuffle did break out from time to time. There I was, a white boy born in Australia, with a European background.

    This was quite a searing experience of considerable psychological pain. It was also a seminal experience for me as a future adult. While it was so unfair, it did slowly make me realise how much worse it could be for Asians or black people. Experiences such as this clearly informed my attitude to prejudice everywhere, i.e. that it was unfair, sick, unsocial, hurtful and uncivilised.

    When the first media reports on television about the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, the treatment of African Americans since slavery, a near constant stream of reports about the white, racist, apartheid minority government of South Africa, the racism and hatred against European Jews that culminated with the Holocaust or Shoah, and Australia’s appalling treatment of aboriginal Australians since European settlement by the First Fleet in 1788; I felt that I did have some understanding of what these people were going through, matched with a near instant empathy for their plight.

    Things such as the Shoah and the apartheid regime in South Africa affected me the most, as events occurring outside Australia. Television reports about the apartheid regime often found me shouting back at the television set in a cascading anger. I had a searing rage for the privileged whites who were complicit in governing, administering and policing South Africa, the end of which was oppressing, marginalising and disempowering the African majority. I could not and still don’t understand how they justified what they did and slept comfortably at night. What I could not and still don’t understand is how the majority of Africans forgave their oppressors and tormentors.

    This miracle of forgiveness that is South Africa is probably due to the leadership of one man. Out of the sewer that was apartheid, in a jail that he and some of his friends had been locked away for 27 and a half years, stepped Nelson Mandela. This is the final paragraph taken from his opening remarks during his trial for sabotage offences against public property in 1964.

    ‘I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.’

    Mandela is probably the highest living moral authority in the world.

    When Mandela dies, I remain confident that the civilised world will greatly mourn his passing. While my bullying was visceral and painful, it was nothing compared with what others had to endure.


  8. Geordie says:

    Not many comments on this topic, Quentin. We are either too ashamed of what we’ve done or we have suffered too much to talk about it.
    I found bullying at work was more painful than the rough and tumble at school.
    It’s all to do with power. Those in authority are in great danger of becoming bullies. I always tried to be firm but fair with my children and my colleagues. How successful I was, is difficult to say.

    • Quentin says:

      Thank you for this, Geordie. You may well be right about the reasons for sparseness of comment. You may agree that, given that our ping pong with controversial matters is valuable in its own right, issues like bullying and our heightened awareness through thinking about it, is rather more important.

      Your remarks remind me that we may sometimes bully without it occurring to us that we are doing so. Certainly my sensitivity is greater for having thought about it.

  9. Ignatius says:

    “….Not many comments on this topic, Quentin. We are either too ashamed of what we’ve done or we have suffered too much to talk about it.
    I found bullying at work was more painful than the rough and tumble at school.
    It’s all to do with power. Those in authority are in great danger of becoming bullies. I always tried to be firm but fair with my children and my colleagues. How successful I was, is difficult to say….”

    It might also be of course that interest in the topic is limited. I was bullied pretty much mercilessly throughout my childhood and then, predictably enough, became one at school. When I returned to my hometown to live after 35 years away I had to go and apologise to someone I remembered bullying cruelly myself. ….What do you all need to understand about the act of bullying that you don’t already know? Most likely very little because its pretty obvious isn’t it? You all have a potential bully inside you don’t you?

    • St.Joseph says:

      If we as Christians lived like the saying ‘Do undo others as you would have done to you’, or ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ then we shouldn’t have a potential bully inside us as ‘you say’! That’s what’s pretty obvious to me..

    • Quentin says:

      Ignatius, you are of course right to say that everyone knows that bullying is bad news. The value, and I think the interest, in the psychological studies is that we clarify and refine the picture. What has emerged has been the establishment of the potential gross long term effects. Anyone who hides a bully inside themselves is thus put on warning. And that may be all of us. I suspect that for most contributors to the blog bullying is historical or autobiographical. But for parents, and perhaps grandparents, it should be a live issue in the care they have for their charges. And of course for those with pastoral duties. We all know we should love our neighbour but we often need to understand better just how we do this. It’s not enough to have our hearts in the right place, we need our heads in the right place too,

  10. John Nolan says:

    There are natural bullies and natural victims. I remember at school one particular individual who was habitually being picked on by the form bully but there was surprisingly little sympathy for him; it was felt he was at least partly to blame on account of his general wimpishness. A bully will sense weakness and exploit it for his own gratification; think of Bennett and Ferraby in ‘The Cruel Sea’.

    Children are basically herd animals and only half-civilized, and girls are if anything worse than boys. Boys expect to be knocked about a bit, and most bounce back; the sort of social ostracism and psychological bullying that girls indulge in is more damaging and aggravated by the fact that the bullying of girls by other girls is usually a group activity.

    Did Margaret Thatcher bully her Cabinet? Probably, but they were all grown men, hard-bitten and ambitious, and as a woman she had to assert her authority. She was, however, very considerate to her staff.

    • St.Joseph says:

      John Nolan.
      I agree with you on natural victims. My grandson who is 20,( the middle one) I would call just that. I would not say he was wimpish but he would not defend himself.(,not like his older brother who would). One day on the school bus a boy threw a phone and hit him in the face. , they all thought it funny. His older brother who was sitting upstairs,When they got to the bus station,and came down,he saw his brother upset and tackled the boys, whilst he was doing so a crowd of others came up to him from outside the bus and said to him ‘are you looking for a fight’ to which he replied OK then, but they all backed off..
      He doesn’t look for a fight but he will defend himself,no one would bully him!!
      Two completely different natures’
      Bullies will pick on those who they know they can
      Something we were taught as children and that is ‘Never trouble trouble until trouble troubles you’.. However that is easier said than done.It is always wiser to turn ones back on it.. That has to be learnt.! And I believe my middle grandson knew that,!! at 13 as he was then.

  11. Ignatius says:

    “I completely agree with Quentin’s reply to Ignatius.”

    So do I !
    My daughter leaves for University tomorrow. She is a lovely teenage girl accomplished and at ease with herself and the world. She has never been told how ‘useless’ she was never been excluded from family things without knowing why and never been left to feel that things she cannot control.. such as family feuds, are somehow ‘her fault’ Once one of her teachers told her she would grow up with no friends because of her attitude, I went to see him and made it very clear that if he ever said anything like that again then he would answer not only to the head master but to me personally.

    St Joseph,
    ‘If’ and ‘should’ are dangerous little words-we easily use them to bully with!!

    Oddly enough I have just been accused of harassing student. When we finally got down to the real cause -in a formal situation- it transpired that he thought I had snubbed him by not saying hello in the pub across the road from our teaching clinic-I occasionally sneak off there for a coffee and a cake to hide from them all for twenty minutes or so!! Its a complex web that humans weave.

  12. St.Joseph says:

    You say ‘If and should are dangerous little words ( I said SHOULDN’T) -we easily use them to bully with!!!
    How come, can you show me an example please?.

    You say it is a complex web that humans weave .
    It is often down to a misunderstandings and a lack of generosity heart.! Only then can we get our heads in the right place!
    That is called ‘Christian thinking’..(Ref my post 7.54) In case you misunderstood.!
    There are lots of old sayings which make sense, one particular ‘Think before you act’.

    • mike Horsnall says:

      ” If you really love me then you’ll do what I say..”
      “You shouldn’t do that, you know it just shows what a weakling you are”
      We could go on forever with this. Words devalue a person greatly when used as weapons. Words are of course only the outflow of the heart so its the heart that we need to pay attention to.

  13. stormdog1 says:

    Jesus said ‘If you love me keep my Commandments’.
    There are times Mike to rebel against lawful authority is not always wise.. Perhaps it is better to turn the other cheek and believe in ones self. and keep silent.. ‘Do unto others etc!
    Sayings which are taunting are ‘Put your money where your mouth is’-perhaps a fist will go where ones mouth is. These are so immature and the cause of many unnecessary arguments.
    In the Pub Trade I have had a lot of experience of that.
    The advantage being that my children gained a lot of ‘life living’ results from their experiences in being involved with my husband and my work.in public relationships..We were in a prime position to be bullied and our children-if we allowed it!.
    All depends where the authority lies. can one turn the other cheek!..

    • stormdog1 says:

      P.S I told my children they ‘should not’ follow the example of others-then tell them what they ought to be doing!!
      The 10 Commandments have a lot of should not’s in them-only two should’s!
      The Law of Moses is still relevant, as Jesus said! Not one dot would be removed-just a better understanding of them.!
      So where does that leave us and ‘bullying’?Action don’t always speak louder than words.
      Sorry is a useful one!

  14. Ignatius says:

    Speaking of bullying, I have been having an interesting dialogue with all my friends over on a poetry website I frequent. Very few of my fellow amateur poets are religious and they tend to be united against what they see as the bullying and intimidation that goes on in Catholic schools as a result of religious indoctrination.

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