This week is Anti Bullying Week. Having been involved with a (now infamous) anti bullying helpline, I feel that bullying is something close to my heart.
Personally, I'm not sure that I have ever been bullied. I say "not sure" because I feel there is a massive grey area in some bullying situations. I was teased mercilessly by my friends at school about everything: my lisp, my diminutive stature, my obsessively neat homework and tidy appearance; not one part of my school day existence was spared. And yet, I am still friends with all of those girls. In fact, some of them are my best friends.
So when does a hearty teasing turn into something darker and more malicious? And when is bullying just merciless teasing? Should we discourage our children from ribbing each other entirely lest they suffer some sort of emotional damage? I think that depends on the child and the situation.
Our school days are the times when we develop our adult personalities and I think it's important to learn to be able to take a certain amount of teasing on the chin: certainly the constant baiting at my expense has well and truly girded my loins for the advent of Twitter where a celebrity can be a real target for cyber bullying...However, as with all things, there are times when we adults and parents need to intervene. Some children are more sensitive than others and simply can't cope with their school compatriots goading them on a daily basis and, of course, any violent conduct is completely intolerable and must be nipped in the bud immediately.
It must be hard for a bullied child to feel that they can go to a responsible adult though: it's the ultimate double-edged sword: the violent threats may stop, but the "snitch" whispering campaign may well start. I'm afraid I would have no idea how to deal with any of this in a school. I guess that's why those who can, teach...;)
As I mentioned briefly earlier, the advent of social media has completely changed the playing field in which the bullies play. Now a bully can hide behind an alias and a fake email address and pretty much attack whomever they want provided their prey is on Twitter. I've had my fair share of vile and really quite twisted abuse on Twitter, but that's nothing compared with what some of my contemporaries have to put up with.
As a general rule, we all try and rise above the disgusting behaviour and ignore and block that user but sometimes a nasty tweet will really hit a nerve and I have lashed out in the past, getting embroiled in a futile war of words with the perpetrator. I've learned that that is utterly pointless and ultimately plays into the hand (or iPhone) of the individual in that you've engaged with them, which presumably is exactly what they wanted in the first place. It's really hard to do, but with the faceless Twitter bullies just ignore them, then block them. Ignore and block, ignore and block, ignore and block (repeat after me taking deep breaths until the red mist disperses and you know you've successfully risen above their childish and pathetic behaviour...)
I stopped reading a lot of the feedback I received after various television appearances a long time ago. My mother's mantra is if you haven't got anything nice to say, say nothing. Try telling that to the Twitter masses, Mama! But I see her point and it's a rule I try and live by myself. When kids are being victimised by cyber bullies I would offer the same advice: tighten up those privacy settings and try and rise above the rest of the abuse. It's hard but if you can master the art of having a hide made of Teflon, then you're setting yourself up for life and it will certainly take you far in the land of Showbusiness ;).
My brush with a kind of bullying fame was last year when, as patron of the National Bullying Helpline, I felt I had no choice but to withdraw my support along with the other three patrons, including Ann Widdecombe, as we all felt that Christine Pratt - who ran the helpline - had totally compromised the code of privacy attached to it by implying very publicly that members of 10 Downing Street had used the helpline to complain about workplace bullying within Gordon Brown's government. (Claims which were never substantiated and strenuously denied by Gordy's camp).
What happened prior to and after the scandal made me question whether Christine Pratt should even be in charge of an anti bullying charity since her quite unpleasant emails to my agent, I felt, verged on, you guessed it, bullying.
Some of the BBC news reports can be found here. The helpline has since closed down due to lack of funding and I often wonder whether Miss Pratt has ever felt any contrition over her behaviour in the whole sorry mess. Certainly I never received so much as a note to apologise for the whole slightly contemptible debacle. In her case, as a woman who set up the charity in the first place after feeling bullied in the workplace in her previous job, I really felt that the victim became the bully. Or perhaps she misguidedly just wanted to up the profile of her little charity. Her misguidedness had the opposite, unfortunate effect though and killed it off completely.
Bullying has always been with us in some form or another but the advent of the Internet has made it so much easier to attack our fellow humans and vent our anger and frustration and attach blame to every small unlucky event that happens in our lives. This week is Anti Bullying Week and I think here's where we start our bullying and blame amnesty. It's so much easier to be lovely to each other. I'm going to start by trying my damnedest to be really nice about each and every contestant on I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here this evening...well, I'll try...;)
Follow Sarah Cawood on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@sarah_cawood