The recent issue of cyber-bullying, though a recent phenomenon, should not be viewed in isolation. The grisly death of Hannah Smith through her correspondence with bullies on Ask FM has had the twin-effect of bringing bullying back into the public imagination, whilst simultaneously obscuring what the realities of bullying are. For most victims of bullying, fear and intimidation do not stalk virtual highways but are immediate presences in our life. You can turn the computer off without reprisal but failure to attend school has deleterious consequences. Moreover, virtualised bullying is often an extension of bullying in the classroom, and children/teenagers most susceptible to it are more often than not those who have been bullied before.
It is no surprise therefore that bullying should be the dominant topic when the UK Youth Parliament (UKYP) attends parliament this Friday to debate. Chaired by the speaker of the house John Bercow, 300 eleven to eighteen year olds will argue for the introduction of a zero-tolerance approach to bullying.
The philosophy behind the UKYP’s policy is in the vein participatory democracy movements. They argue that there should be a fundamental shift in the way we conceive and legislate anti-bullying policy. For one, there should be a strict zero-tolerance approach to it. Secondly, and this is the more radical aspect of the UKYP’s campaign, there should be endogenous remedies to bullying. This means the formulation of anti-bullying policies specifically by and for students. Student led, participatory democratic polices, have been extremely effectual in schools. Moreover, as bullying is restricted entirely to the student body, to deracinate them from the process that could alleviate it seems manifestly wrong. Not only are there the individual experiences of bullying that can inform policy but also the fact that there is a collective that defends the individual. By uniting against bullying, no longer will it be a part of the shadow land of school life. Though the debate on bullying will take centre stage, other important issues will be dissected. Notably, the case for widening the voting age to include sixteen-seventeen year olds; if they are old enough to die, they are old enough to vote. Also discussed will be the ineptitude of career guidance, the out-dated curriculum and the perennial problem of high youth unemployment.
In partnership with the UKYP, BBC3’s Free Speech programme has released five videos to give a background and analysis of the matters up for debate, you can also follow discussion via them on Twitter.