YOU CAN SIT WITH ME May Be the Anti-bullying Campaign We Need to Stop the Senseless Loss of Victims of Bullying
I remember the day clearly as if it was yesterday.
I was 12 years old and it was orientation day for high school. The private school I attended had a primary and high school at the same campus. I knew most of the kids in my year heading to high school the following year, which made entering grade eight a little less daunting.
But it was still terrifying because it was high school! I’d be back to the bottom of the school ladder chain yet again.
At my orientation day, the kids that already attended the primary school were paired off with new kids who hadn’t attended the school. I was paired with a girl who ended up being my best friend. We were bridesmaids at each other’s weddings so our pairing was a good one and possibly meant to be.
During the orientation, one of the new attending girls was left wandering the high school campus by herself. I immediately felt compassion for her. Where had her partner gone? Who was her partner?
I asked her to come and join me and my orientation-buddy-future-best-friend and the moment this girl talked, I realised why she had been abandoned.
I’m ashamed to say that I wished I hadn’t reached out to her because she was different. Very different in the way she spoke. In the way she came across.
That girl ended up being a bit of a loner through the years of high school and I share that little memory with you (shamefully) for two reasons. Number one is because at 12 I had my first experience (which I can remember) of instantly making a decision to not be someone’s friend. The second was, I knew the moment that I met her that she would be a target for bullies at my school.
The reality is no one is immune from bullying. Not one person. The moment you do or say something that is different to someone else, it can be reason enough for bullying to start. You can simply be ‘just not liked’ to cop bullying.
Last year we heard the heartbreaking news of the Kelly family losing another son as a result of being the victim of hate.
Stuart Kelly, the younger brother of Thomas Kelly who was killed by a single punch in Sydney’s Kings Cross in 2012, took his own life after being bullied with hate mail and trolled online.
Soon after Thomas died, the Kelly family launched a foundation to campaign for tougher rules around alcohol-fuelled violence. They also initiated the lock-out laws to clubs to ensure what happened to their son and brother would not happen to anybody else.
But not everybody agreed with the campaign. Friends of Stuart claim he was a victim of abuse from bullies who were against the controversial lock-out laws in Sydney.
Sadly the bullying took a toll on Stuart who ended his life, leaving his family and friends devastated by the loss.
Stuart’s father, Ralph Kelly, posted a message to his Facebook page which said, ‘The most painful goodbyes are the ones that are never said and never explained,’ he wrote.
Bullying is something we’ve all had some sort of experience with. Whether we’ve been the victim, the by-stander or horrifyingly, the initiator, it’s a social issue that is a learned behavior.
That’s why we need anti-bullying policies at schools. I also believe we need to go one step further and empower kids to find a safe place or person when they feel lonely or under threat.
The ‘YOU CAN SIT WITH ME’ campaign is all about promoting kindness amongst kids and to initiate anti-bullying at schools. The campaign is the brain child of Sophie Whitehouse, who has had over 25 years of teaching experience. She has worked with children around the world in various ages, races, religions and educational needs. She became aware and deeply concerned about children suffering from anxiety, depression and loneliness as a result of being isolated. And that isolation can be the perfect target for bullies.
“Even though education is moving forward, we seem to have that same problem where children feel anxious, they worry about going to school, and when they’re at school they sometimes feel isolated and that they don’t have anyone to sit with or play with,” Whitehouse says. “I noticed that problem isn’t really moving forward, so I decided I needed to do something about it, and that’s how it [the You Can Sit With Me campaign] was born.”
The statistics around bullying are startling – as recorded in 2015, 50% of young people have been bullied by another person, with 30% admitting they do it at least once a week. Over 70% of those bullied have been physically attacked, with 69% admitting they had witnessed someone else being bullied. Over 60% have experienced cyber bullying. It seems you can’t get away from the bullying when it’s done in person or online.
There are no safe-havens from bullying. Unless YOU CAN SIT WITH ME is initiated at your school or club.
The campaign is simple. Children nominate themselves to be YOU CAN SIT WITH ME ambassadors, where they wear an identifiable (bright yellow) $2 wristband. If a child feels lonely or isolated, they can find someone wearing the wristband and immediately feel safe by sitting with that person. No questions asked.
The campaign is different to other anti-bullying initiatives like Friendship Benches as the child doesn’t feel even more isolated and alone if they sit on a bench, waiting for someone to sit next to them.
A portion of the profit from the sale of the wristbands are donated to The Australian Literacy and Numeracy foundation which also is a partner of the campaign.
Guidance is sent to children who opt to wear the wristbands so they know what is involved.
Ms Whitehouse explains, “They are to understand that at no time are they to counsel a child who comes and sits next to them,” says Whitehouse. “At no time are they to go and sort out the bullying issue in the playground. They are just too simply say hi and ask if they are okay, sit and listen, involve them, or take the child to an adult for help.”
Initiatives like this need to be incorporated in all schools and clubs because bullying doesn’t discriminate and sadly, the behavior and it’s effects on victims are long felt once children grow to be teens and young adults.
To order YOU CAN SIT WITH ME wristbands and get more information, head here.
Let’s do what we can to stop bullying. Our children’s lives depend on it.
Our condolences go out to the Kelly family as they grieve the loss of Stuart.