THAT terrible mushroom haircut that your mother afflicted upon you or maybe a spur of the moment tattoo that 16-year-old you just had to have because you could; many of us harbour regrets that we made as children, some, however, are far more vexing than others.
Today, Katie Thomas* is haunted with images from her past, but these regrets lay deeper than bad haircuts and poor fashion decisions. Katie is taunted by how she treated people in her schooldays.
‘I think I had just left school and was around 18 when I started to actually think about how I teased people, specifically, three girls. I remember, they were more introverted girls and I always had a lot of friends and was very confident and loud in class. They were quiet girls who always did their schoolwork and truthfully, they were more intelligent than me,’ admits Katie.
Katie denies any physical bullying ever took place but admits to mental abuse such as excluding, name calling and spreading rumours about her victims. ‘I thought that because I didn’t punch anyone or hurt them physically then I wasn’t really a bully and it was all just banter. I didn’t really realise that I was a bully until I was an adult.’
The general conception of bullies draws up images of famous bullies in film and TV such as Back to the Future’s Biff Tannen or Nelson from The Simpsons. In 2017, Ditch the Label’s annual bullying survey concluded that the most frequent forms of bullying, however, were verbal bullying, social exclusion and indirect bullying. The face of bullying can not be categorised.
‘Now I realise how I was a bully. I preyed on innocent people I knew would not fight me back and I feel sick about how I may have made those people feel. I wish I could apologise to those girls but I doubt they would want to hear from me and I can’t blame them. I saw it all as a joke but it’s not banter if the other person isn’t laughing,’ adds Katie.
Although the last decade has seen the introduction of cyber-bullying, Katie believes that society is becoming better at explaining what bullying is. ‘I think people understand that bullying is more about how you can make someone feel inferior to you, and that’s what I did. I ostracised vulnerable people because it made me look better. I loved the power and making people laugh.’
Now a 25-year-old, successful marketing assistant, Katie accepts her past and aims to atone for it. ‘I think kindness is underestimated. It’s so much easier to be nice to people so that’s what I do now. I’ve grown out of that childish mindset of judging people because they are different and now just value people as they are. I think that’s probably what schools should teach more of.’
This week (November 12th-16th), schools around Llanelli and Carmarthenshire partook in a variety of activities such as Odd Socks Day and Cyberbullying workshops to educate children on bullying as part of 2018’s Anti-Bullying Week.
Workshops throughout schools included lessons on the effects bullying has on mental health, what exactly bullying is and how it can appear differently in each specific circumstance and the importance of talking about it if you are a victim of bullying.
Developments such as Anti-Bullying Week educate children on a deeper level to the stereotypical bullying ideologies that Katie’s generation were subject to. There are a host of different resources aiming to help sufferers and society is becoming more aware of mental health problems in children. It seems that we are actively doing more to combat bullying and prejudice behaviour but as Katie says, maybe it is more important to emphasise tolerance and kindness to children from a young age in order to stop bullies forming in the first place.
*Katie Thomas’ name was changed for the purpose of this feature
Resources for anyone wanting more guidance or help on bullying.