A lot of starfish had been washed up and stranded on a beach. A little girl was busy picking them up one by one and throwing them back into the sea.  A passerby observed: You are wasting your time. There are thousands of them, what difference does it make?

She paused for a moment before throwing another one back into the sea: ‘It makes a difference to this one.’

No longer in the element where humans need to be, in the happy company of others,  there are many thousands of children who for one reason or another have been cruelly tossed out, like the unfortunate starfish, and desperately need the support of others.  Helping any one of them back into the swim is a wonderful achievement, not to be discouraged by a reminder that there are many others that are also in need.

Can such children be helped?  Yes, in two ways. Firstly, by schools working  hard and thoughtfully with students who have been left out or, worse still, been mercilessly bullied at school year in and year out for no any reason whatsoever. Secondly, by working with those who bully them and also with complicit bystanders. They are without doubt part of the problem and potentially part of the solution. 

Much has been written and much has been said about what can be done about bullying. There is now good evidence from research that some things do work in reducing bullying in schools and some interventions are successful in effectively stopping cases of bullying from continuing.  Many educators are now seeking to inform schools about what can be done, both preventively through social and emotional education for all students and through interventions in actual cases. Some schools are taking up these ideas together with ideas of their own. Progress is sometimes difficult and much work remains. 

We should not forget that responsibility for addressing this problem lies with both schools and parents – and we should give up the miserable practice of each blaming the other when things do not turn out well. My advice to teachers is to find out what the research evidence and reported practices are saying about what works – and do it!  My advice to parents is to find out what their school is actually doing, how they can help by working, as far as possible, with the school, and especially with their own children who need as much support as they can get.  

Whether their child is being bullied or not, parents should ask themselves: Do I really know – and care – about what my child’s school is doing about bullying? A recent Australian survey of 160 parents of  children attending  school showed that around one in three parents did not know whether their school had an anti-bullying policy, let alone what it contained.  Such knowledge is the first prerequisite for parents and teachers working together for the well being of children.

For those who want to know what, in my opinion, can be done in addressing bullying, please see my site: www.kenrigby@unisa.edu.au

Chanelle Shibata