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Change starts with us - Helena Dalli

No, bullying should not be accepted as part of growing up. If we were to ignore all the harm and evil human beings are capable of to hurt others, no good fight would have been fought and won and there would be no ongoing struggles to right the wrong of inflicting pain and making lives a misery.

Kristina Chetcuti though, concedes defeat and her advice to bullied 10-year-olds is to get a grip and deal with it.

She seems to believe that their ordeal will lead to stronger adults and that, therefore, it pays back if one is bullied, somehow.

Wrong. Even if this were true with some individuals, bullying always robs children of their well-being and energies that ought to be spent on the natural process of growing up.

I really doubt though whether Chetcuti would have argued this way had the children in question not been those of the Prime Minister. Would the author have trivialised the situation in the manner she did? I don’t think so.

Because I don’t think she is so medieval in her outlook as to really believe that bullying does children good. If it were so, where would one stop then? Should we tell victims of domestic violence, for instance, to deal with it as part of their family life too?

A study on bullying by Lereya, Copeland, Costello and Wolke, ‘Adult mental health consequences of peer bullying and maltreatment in childhood: two cohorts in two countries’ (Lancet Psychiatry [2015)]) concludes that being bullied in childhood and adolescence has similar and, in some cases, worse long-term adverse effects on young adults’ mental health than being maltreated during childhood.

Since when is freedom of speecha licence to condone bullies and bullying?

To say that children must not be bullied, regardless of their personal characteristics or family background, is an understatement to me but not to everyone, it seems.

Children should be free to express themselves and be seen with the knowledge that they are safe from aggression and nastiness. Besides, bullying was never and will never be a normal or acceptable part of growing up. Those who believe otherwise must have been spared the devastation that bullying brings to children’s lives. I’m glad for them. This said, it is more than irresponsible to insinuate that when children are in the public eye then they have to lump it and accept the bullying.

It’s also rich then to make such statements in the name of freedom of speech as Chetcuti stated in a tweet to Kurt Farrugia.

Since when is freedom of speech a licence to condone bullies and bullying?

Since when is it acceptable to tell the parents of bullies that it’s ok that their children are bullies, that their victims only need to get a grip and that it will pass as they grow older? Or that it is alright for parents to encourage the bullying themselves such as when they invite all the pupils in the class for their child’s birthday party, excluding the daughters of the Prime Minister.

Bullying leaves scars on people as scientific and anecdotal evidence by victims show us. It also breaches children’s right to education, free from violence. And while there are those who survive to tell their stories, there are a few who do not live to tell it. One death is one too many. There is a strong correlation between victims of bullying and the suicide rate in teenagers.

So when Chetcuti advises children to just get on with it and move on, some bullied children do not survive to move on much.

There can be no spin on what was written black on white. Also, freedom of speech does not mean that responsibility ceased to be an important foundation for public commentary.

Change starts with us, if we are complacent and accepting of these negative realities, we will never change them.

Helena Dalli is Minister for European Affairs and Equality.

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