Bullies thrive on bystander effect, says child protection worker

Aine Fitzgerald


Aine Fitzgerald

CHILDREN and adults who witness people they know bullying others must avoid falling prey to the “bystander effect” according to Limerick man Pat Forde who works in the area of child protection.

CHILDREN and adults who witness people they know bullying others must avoid falling prey to the “bystander effect” according to Limerick man Pat Forde who works in the area of child protection.

Pat who is an experienced martial arts instructor has been working with children for over 12 years and the protection of children from bullying is something, he says, he has always been passionate about.

As a result of the increase in online bullying, Pat is now hosting workshops in schools throughout the county and city focusing particularly on bullying through social media.

“It’s out there what people can do in terms of blocking people on Facebook but I think the one point that a lot of people miss is somebody doesn’t go online and write something about someone else – tease them or slag them off - unless they feel so safe and secure in doing it,” Pat explained.

“They think that everybody is going to accept it – that their immediate friends are going to accept it. It’s almost like an extension of the whole bystander effect – people stand by, they don’t say anything about it, they tolerate the behaviour and they will still mix and be part of the same group of people.”

While he acknowledges that some children, and indeed adults, are going to be afraid to take a stand against the bully, Pat says there are other ways that people can show the bully that their behaviour is unacceptable.

He encourages the children not to be part of the group in which the bully or bullies operate.

“Go and be friends with somebody else. Don’t openly give the person who is bullying, your support. Unfortunately, because people tolerate it, it continues,” he said.

Cyber bullying, Pat feels, is “particularly cruel and nasty because there is nowhere really that you can hide from it.”

As a result of the growing number of tragedies which have stemmed from online bullying - including the deaths of two teenage girls by suicide, Pat feels there is much more awareness now of the seriousness of the issue.

“People are definitely becoming more aware of it and people’s tolerance of it is definitely diminishing,” said Pat who earlier this month featured on the RTE series, Bullyproof.

In an effort to help one 17-year-old boy whose bullying experience led him to the brink of suicide, series presenter David Coleman brought him to meet Pat who is the chief instructor with Munster Martial Arts. Viewers saw Pat give the young man some practical tips on how he might tackle bullying situations should they arise in the future.

Pat who is from Rhebogue is the first person in the Republic of Ireland to have attended specialist training in the UK with Kidscape – a charity programme which provides individuals and organisations with practical skills and resources necessary to keep children safe from harm.

He now regularly goes into schools across the county and city where he tutors students, staff and indeed parents on how to tackle the problem of bullying.

“When I started doing this a couple of years ago, the teachers might have a chat with you to see what it was about. If you were lucky you might have got an hour with a group of kids, whereas now when I work with schools, typically they will give me whatever resources I want,” Pat explained.

“For instance, this week in one school I spent a day and a half working with all the students in the school. I had approximately 80 parents turn up to a parents’ talk last night in the school.

“I go back and work with the staff and give the staff some of the benefits of the training I have done because at the end of the day, the parents and staff are the people who are going to have to reinforce what I do with the kids long after I’m gone.”

For parents, he says, it’s important that they encourage their children to broaden their social circle and get involved in something they are passionate about, and that they accept their child’s limitations.

“I think it’s important that parents realise that not every child is going to be the next big star and not to be too critical of their performances,” said Pat.

“It’s not all about finding the next big sports star or the next big superstar. It’s about helping young people build up their friendship circle so if there is one or two people in school who are particularly nasty or who they don’t want to be involved with, then they have got other people they can go to,” he concludes.

For further details contact Pat on 087 2366866.