700,000 pupils suffer at hands of bullies every year

Marie-José Gava, author of Halte au harcèlement à l’école

Most bullying - whether verbal, physical or psychological - takes place in collège

Bullying at school is now regarded as a serious issue but while France was late in talking about it nationally – with the first campaign only in 2011 – there are now several measures in place to help parents and children in a government initiative called Non au Harcèlement (‘No to bullying’).

It is difficult to know its extent in schools but a global 2013/2014 study by the World Health Organ­is­ation found 11% of 11-year-old girls and 14% of 11-year-old boys in France said they had been bullied at school at least two or three times a month in the previous couple of months.

For 13-year-olds, the figures were 12% for girls and 13% for boys and, of 15-year-olds, 9% girls and 11% boys.

These ages match the first four years of secondary schooling and it is known that most bullying takes place here, in collège.

Bullying is a repeated act which can be verbal, psychological or physical – and includes mocking, physical attack and threats, spreading rumours and the cold shoulder. With the smartphone’s rise, it includes cyber bullying with har­assment or denigration either directly or via social networking plus impersonation and cyber stalking.

Read more: Grieving father's tragic story is a warning to all

The government estimates 700,000 pupils are bullied a year. It has a website, Facebook page and two telephone helplines with advice for parents, children and professionals. Helplines are anonymous and confidential. One, on 3020 (Mon-Fri, 9.00-20.00, Sat 9.00-18.00) is for bullying at school while 0800 200 000 (Mon-Fri 9.00-19.00) is for internet or cyber bullying.

Marie-José Gava runs Place de la Médiation, a network to help people over workplace intimidation, but she has extended it to schools.

With the editor of Le Figaro education supplement she has written a book to help parents cope, giving advice from psychologists and lawyers plus her mediation experiences.

She says bullying should always be taken seriously: “It can have very serious consequences including lack of confidence, a decrease in quality of schoolwork, it can start a school phobia, lead children to play truant and the ultimate consequence, suicide.”

Parents have to watch for signs and to know when it is more than typical teenager behaviour: “There will be a combination of physical, emotional and behavioural symptoms related to schoolwork, including shutting themselves off in their bedroom, sadness, mem­ory loss, either eating less or too often, difficulty in breathing, stomach aches, lower marks, not wanting to go to school, take the bus or eat in the canteen; wanting to change schools, having few friends, damaged books, clothes or even bruises.

“With psychologist Alexandre Mergui, we have drawn up a test where you note symptoms over six months to give an idea if you have cause for concern. It is also on the Figaro Etudiant website.

“If you are concerned you need to open up a dialogue with your child, and it is not easy to set the right tone.

“It is important not to show you are worried, even if, of course, you are.

“Show you are strong and confident of a solution and there to listen. If you get nowhere do not persist but come back to it another day. It is difficult and you need a great deal of patience.”

Once you know your child is being bullied, Mrs Gava says not to go to sort out the problem yourself with the bully or their parents: “This is vitally important. Instead, help your child work out what to do themselves.

“This may be by them asking a classmate to help, by taking steps to avoid the person or using the advice of another student who was bullied last year and overcame the problem.”

If there is no change or it gets worse, contact the school via a teacher, head, CPE education advisor in a lycée or collège, nurse or parent representative.

The school head has a duty to react to a complaint to prevent bullying.

Mrs Gava says to remain calm: “Go in with a list of facts: dates your child came home with a torn coat, or told you they were abused at school and, if possible, by whom; if it is by internet, take a photo of the offending page. Remain as objective and as unemotional as possible to be taken seriously.

“At the end, agree a future meeting to see if things have improved.”

If you think your child might be the bully, Mrs Gava says you need time to accept that; rather than becoming angry. Talk calmly without being accusing and ask why, but ensure they realise there may be serious sanctions. You may need a professional to help.

There is still a good deal to do to improve awareness so children, teachers and professionals know what to look out for and understand that it exists and must be stopped. She says the issue needs to be talked about in schools.

If your child is unhappy at school, it may help to find an outside-school interest to boost confidence and happiness and show that there is life outside school.

Halte au harcèlement à l’école 
by Marie-José Gava and Sophie de Tarlé 
is published by Larousse

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