Time to stand up. The day my son got bullied.

This is a tough one. It’s personal and I’m a bit fired up, so apologies in advance if this gets a little strident.

This morning, around 6.45 my seven year old son George was getting changed for his sports camp when he quietly told me he was being bullied at the school holiday sports camp. He sat on my knees and told me that a couple of boys had been teasing him and saying how they hated the Sydney Swans, his favourite team. They pushed him around and tripped his sister over while they were playing soccer. He wasn’t overly upset, it was me who felt more gutted; I guess it’s what every parent fears. You’re told about it but you really don’t know how to respond. I asked if the camp staff had been told. “Yep” he responded. “I’m not really that worried about it dad” he told me – but I still felt sick. “Who do they go for?” I asked him as if this was going to reveal all. Well it did, sort of. “Collingwood”. “Of course”.

Predictably I rolled my eyes but  I felt really confused  and conflicted – do I want him to dob, to fight, to run, to speak up, to cower? I had no idea.

So I went for a walk and still couldn’t quite figure out what to do. Every parent must face this dilemma. There’s no text book.  And then I got home. I walked up the hallway and the kids had my answer for me.

Both of them. Sitting there having breakfast, head to toe in their Swans gear. They hadn’t worn Swans gear all week, there was no reason to wear it today and when I asked them both why, they just shrugged as kids do and said they just felt like it.

They had stood up and said “we are proud and we won’t cower and we are together”. I know it sounds all too bloody sentimental but I hugged them and told them how proud I was. They didn’t have a clue what I was on about.

But then I got to thinking about an issue that has been bubbling under the surface of the media and marketing industries for a couple of years that needs to be addressed. And today is the day. A couple of people have said their piece but not enough serious action has taken place.

I’m talking about anonymous postings and comments on websites and blogs where people harass, bully and potentially defame people through a veil of internet-enabled anonymity.

It’s disgusting. It’s bullying and it has to be stopped. And the industry in which I work – media and marketing, is one of the worst culprits. And it really angers me.

The culture on the fringes of the media and marketing industries to shit on each other is hideous and embarrassing, and honestly bizarre – what has led to this culture I do not know.  Yesterday I spoke with two separate groups of graduates hoping to make their way in our industry and I felt compelled to apologise for this type of behaviour that they must see each day.

We want good, decent, brave, adventurous, curious minds in this industry – we don’t want people cowering in a corner fearing that if they stuff up they will be publically humiliated on an industry website.

The fact is that the enablers – the websites and newsletters themselves, have to be called to account and made to realise that their laissez-faire attitude to the people making comments on their articles, is perpetuating behaviour that ought never be encouraged.

They have the opportunity to cut off the oxygen of these people and despite their protestations to the contrary, they choose not to because I can only assume that they like the attention and the hits.

Well that’s just not good enough. So now I’m going to speak my mind about one of the main culprits, mUmBRELLA, as one of its friends, not foes.

For those not aware, mUmBRELLA is a widely read website and daily newsletter that covers all the activities of the media and marketing industries. It is well written and produced by decent people with solid knowledge, contacts and journalistic style. They are not bad people at all; in fact a couple are friends. mUmBRELLA, on the whole, serves our industry well. It has given a voice to all levels of the industry, it has given us a place to gather and chat and it has organised many fine events where I have spoken and engaged. mUmBRELLA and its people have been really good to me and my business and even awarded us their inaugural PR Agency of the Year. So I like them, I’m NOT embittered and I have no grudge to bear. I am just frustrated, angry and fed-up. The good work they do is being diminished by their inaction on this important issue.

Put simply, on the issue of anonymous posting and online bullying, they ARE being negligent and they HAVE to do better.

As Chair of the Public Relations Council, I can tell you that our members are appalled by the way mUmBRELLA (and admittedly a few other sites) allow trolls and serial abusers to post comments that are just plain mean. There is no defence of public interest and we have been told by lawyers that all it will take is one victim to “have a go” at them, legally speaking, to realise, the hard way, that it has to stop. They will be caught out and held liable for the comments on their site. That’s just the law, and they should know that.

But it shouldn’t take that. Sites like mUmBRELLA should take a stand because they are leaders and because bullying, whether in the playground or online is despicable and should never be tolerated.

And we, the silent majority, need to do what we can from our end. Every single one of us must take a stand, I’m not sure exactly how, but for starters surely we ought to say we are fed up, we aren’t willing to take it anymore. We will not give the trolls and the bullies the time of day.

Then, of course, we have to start to work on effective ways to reduce its occurrence. It might not be easy but we have to give it a real shot. Twitter is being effectively coerced into more responsible behaviour and all other media should be treated similarly.

As we walked out to the car this morning I looked at his kit and said to George; “Are you sure?” And he just nodded. Nothing needed to be said. The innocent child knew the right thing to do. It’s time we grown-ups followed his lead. It’s time we all pulled on our Swans jerseys and stood tall.

For more info: www.stopbullying.gov

40 thoughts on “Time to stand up. The day my son got bullied.

  1. It is actually a nice and helpful piece of information.
    I am happy that you just shared this useful info with us. Please stay us informed
    like this. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Hey Stu, great piece. I have two small kids and so far so good with the bullying issue, although they are at Montessori where everything is a little mellower. Not sure about the future but they are 5 and 3.5 so they too are fortunate to be able to rely on each other or perhaps I will be the embarrassed parent of bulliers? Who knows…

  3. Touches a raw nerve Stu as I’ve got two little whipper snappers whom I fear this for, but a little morsel of blogging sunshine, plus all of the quality replies from people with real names gives you confidence that you can genuinely talk to people about this.

  4. Hi Stu – as an (I hope!) honorable Collingwood supporter I am feeling for George and love the way they have both stood up to the bullies. Chloe a stick thin 9 year old got told she was fat and had to watch her weight – body image issues at 9 Is NOT ok.

    I will always put my name to a comment or post and yep that moment of hesitation before hitting post where you wonder who might have a crack.

    I’m with you – the anonymous crap fed out by people in our industry needs to stop. Anything I can do I’m with you.

    Cheers, Ange
    Oh and yes we are former business partners, now competitors of a sort and always mates in case anyone was wondering!

    • Thanks Ange you can rest comfortably knowing your alone as the only pies fan I’ve ever liked…. See you in a few weeks and thanks for offer of help with anonymous stuff, we have made some progress already I reckon but we will pursue pursue

  5. Thanks Stuart – a very serious issue in society today. I’m part of a charity group – Life Education Victoria. We provide mobile learning centres to primary schools around Australia. Unfortunately we have had to add bullying as part of the program given the huge issue it is today. You are 100% correct when you state that we need to speak out.

    To all your followers if you have children who are at school and they do not have the LE as part of your school program, please check out the web-site and make contact, its available in all states.

    Cheers,
    FP

    http://www.lifeeducation.org.au/victoria

    Life Education Victoria (LEV) is a community-based, independent organisation at the front line of positive and preventative drug and health education. Approximately 200,000 children and 18,000 families take part in the preschool, primary and secondary programs each year. Helping young people make informed decisions about drugs and their health is at the heart of the program, which is driven by the popular Life Education mascot Harold the giraffe.

  6. Hey Stu, We had a massive bullying problem at one of the private schools in the Hunter Valley. It got so bad that it became physical and my boy was coming home with bruises. It wasn’t until this happened that he told us about it.
    I was getting angry with him coming home with his shoes overly scuffed and having to replace them after one term. I thought he wasn’t looking after them. His lunch box was having to be replaced fortnightly. He said nothing.
    Then when my wife and I saw the bruises and asked what they were from he broke down and told us he was being picked on at school. The show damage was them stamping on his feet all the time and they stole his lunchbox and kicked it around before he could get his lunch out. Of course, by this time it was ruined. He was sneaking his pocket money to school to get lunch even though mum had made it for him.
    The school did nothing at first. Then we demanded action and their way of dealing with it was to get the three bullies in the same room as my little bloke and ask what was going on. He was to scared to say too much so they guessed it was resolved.
    Three weeks later putting him in the shower, he had a massive grab mark on the top of his thigh where they held him down while rubbing dirt in his face because he told someone about the bullying. We pulled him out of the “Exclusive Hunter Valley” private school along with his brother and sent them locally.
    They sent me a bill because I didn’t give them a terms notice. I told them to go to hell and they are lucky I am not pressing charges.
    They did nothing about it and we didn’t even get an apology.
    He is now happy at his other school, but I am sure it is always on his mind.

  7. Thank-you for this post. I head up a relatively new agency here in Sydney. Frankly I am shocked at the nasty comments that continue to litter the industry websites. I spent 9 years in the UK working in marketing, and never encountered this behavior. It must stop.

  8. Good piece Stuart.
    Like many posters, I too have a couple of boys. My eldest, now 12, copped relentless bullying for an extended period by two different groups of boys, who sometimes teamed up. It was gut wrenching to see the impact on his confidence and general disposition. Particularly so after ongoing discussions with the school and the parents in question saw no resolution. Only after I said I would move schools did we get some attention and action – the parents were considered “influential” in my local community.
    I learnt through all this you get clever bullies and the straight-up variety. The clever are sly. They know when to do it and know how to wriggle, duck and dive to sidestep personal responsibility and accountability.
    There are parallels here on the industry issue of bullying and trolling. In the end it comes down to the personal ethos of the publisher. You get exactly the content and tone you aim for. There’s no grey area on that. I don’t have a problem with comments – and editorial – that are not gushing or supportive, as long as they are considered and, in the end, constructive I guess. But what’s so weird in this age of digital “transparency” is that both open and anonymous bitch and bile is thriving.
    I’m no angel but the industry needs to decide what it wants. And continue to state it publicly and prove through personal action how they engage and with whom.
    Well done for kicking off a very important yet cyclical debate.
    Paul.

  9. Hey Stu,

    Great post, from an industry perspective, but also as a parent. Gave me goose bumps, as someone who was bullied at school (WASP school, kid with black curly hair, olive skin and smelly sandwiches to boot) know what it is like. I don’t know your kids,but I admire them both.

  10. HI Stu, How are you going? Both my kids were bullied badly (is there ever a mild variety) in some ways at our local school. We had to move them in the end as it got their self esteem to a real low. They are now thriving in a better environment and are becoming wonderful people that keep their heads up high. Tom is at Scots and Zara at Ascham would love to catch up in Sydney now we are there more often.
    regards
    Sam

  11. Hi Stu
    I very rarely comment, or post as it feels as though the medium is simply littered / dominated by trolls. Your post however has absolutely struck a chord – both as a father of 9 & 7 year old, and as a regular mUmbrella reader.
    Hats off to your kids – that’s great play. And respect to you for in whatever parental way, you’ve played a part in their actions.
    As far as mUmbrella is concerned I applaud your comments and perspective and I’m glad to see that Tim has replied and flagged that in fact they do screen the posts.
    I have serious doubts as to how rigorous this screening is. Perhaps its just the weight of comments that they have to filter that means so many get through which seem to revolve around some anonymous saying “That’s shit” or various variations on it.
    Its gotten to the point where I find as a sliding scale the more venomous the comment the more likely the direct opposite is the case.
    I recently was meeting with an agency and in researching the person I was to meet uncovered a number of mUmbrella articles about the agency’s launch etc – with each post there was trolls that accompanied it – nothing of benefit – nothing adding to the ‘conversation’ – presumably one of the ones that slipped through the mUmbrella troll net – but here they are still getting oxygen years after the article was first published.
    A bully with a long-tail.
    Tim perhaps rather than letting these remarks sit forever linked to the article or post after a certain period the comments are automatically switched off from the article – why allow years later that remark still getting the time of day?
    I’m glad you two are going to get together for a beverage or two – if there’s anything that comes of it – or any part that I can play in shifting this bullying dynamic please let me know – I’d love to do more than just be a post in this conversation,
    cheers
    Angus

  12. Sounds like he’s dealing with it well. Hope it sorts itself out. (Personally I don’t care where Buddy goes, but then I don’t care much about the AFL.)

  13. G’day Stuart,

    More strength to your arm my friend. My two youngest are 9 & 11, and like you as a man who proud of his kids, loves them like crazy and wants them to grow up as free thinkers, men of courage for their value system…I too am troubled.

    I was partially educated in my early years by the Little Sisters of No Mercy. The bullying often came from the nuns and occasional school yard stuff. I turned out to be encouraged by my parents to be a free thinker, and hold firm to my beliefs…as long as they were solid and could withstand challenging on an intellectual basis.

    That love and support that you are giving to your nippers, that I got from my parents and hopefully am passing on to the littlest Taggert’s, will serve them well.

    Subject well raised and in a typical Gregor manner you are approaching it head on, asking no quarter, and giving none as well.

    Good luck with your projects,

    Gerry.

  14. Hi Stuart, having moved to a new country with my beautiful 8 year old daughter and being worried on a daily basis about how she will cope, your piece has hit close to home. I worried everyday she would have no friends to turn to, to seek comfort, other than her best friend, me, if she was bullied, or she was lonely or she felt she didn’t/couldn’t fit in etc. However, the resilience she has shown and the shear tenacity to make it work constantly astounds me. I agree we should take a lesson from the little people in our life, who through their young eyes are eternal optimists.

  15. Well said Stu, I think there needs to be a bit more integrity in the way we view each of our industry colleagues as it goes towards the way we view our industry as a whole. All I can say is you have obviously raised amazing kids. Well done. Annalise

    • They’re not amazing kids, they’re just kids and they know how to deal with a lot more than we credit them with. Its a tired cliche but we can learn a lot from them. See you soon

  16. Its a situation that has disturbed me for years and have been on the receiving end of it a couple of times. Perhaps one answer is when we see it happen post the stop bullying link in the conversation. At least it might make people think

  17. Love the blog Stu. Its a huge issue. My sister runs self esteem courses for schools such as PLC to combat bullying in a positive way. Does not seem your kids need it though. Cant ask for more than that.

  18. Hi Stuart,

    You’re right in much of what you say, and wrong in some of it.

    First, I should point out, that Mumbrella’s comments are closely moderated, more so than you perhaps seem to realise. These days, I’d say that less than half of submitted comments get published on any given day, so you are being a tad unfair to suggest we’re taking no action on the issue. Where somebody is negative about a piece of work and doesn’t give a reason, it often won’t get published.

    Where we believe something is defamatory or potentially so, we simply do not publish it. You’re mistaken if you think otherwise. It’s a decision we take many times a day.

    You can find our community guidelines here: http://mumbrella.com.au/about/community-guidelines

    To date we’ve published about 125,000 comments, the majority of them anonymous, the majority of them adding something to the debate.

    Where we disagree, I think, is whether people should be allowed to say anything negative without being publically identified.

    But I tend to think that the logical conclusion of your argument is that all negative comments should be banned if they are anonymous. I’m not sure I agree. There are often solid reasons why somebody isn’t free to comment, and in many cases, the debate would be poorer for the lack of it.

    You say you shouldn’t be afraid of having your stuff ups written about. That’s worthy of thinking about some more. Are you really arguing that when people get things wrong they shouldn’t be called out? I’d have to disagree with you on that.

    Where comment is most robust is about creative work. In the majority of cases, this is where agencies have themselves press released this work, in the knowledge that it will be commented upon on Mumbrella and elsewhere. But even if not, I’d argue that anything in the public domain should not be off limits for discussion.

    I think you mischaracterise the nature of some of those comments. Our policy is to not allow personal attacks. You can say: “I think this work is rubbish because…” You can’t say “Person X is a scumbag…” (By the way, we may get it wrong from time to time – where that’s pointed out to us, we always take another look and take down where necessary.) In reality, I think you’ll struggle to find the personal attacks you seem to think exist.

    All of that said, we want to adhere to best practice where it exists. We were among the first publishers of our type to join the Press Council. When the Communications Council (parent body to the PR Council) approached me about the issue a couple of years back I offered to sit down with my fellow trade press editors to see if we could agree a code of behaviour. The meeting was postponed at short notice and never rearranged.

    One further point. Yes, I often get depressed by the tone. At times it’s far worse than other professions I’ve edited for and other parts of the world I’ve edited in.

    Please remember that these comments come from somebody. I’m sure some of them work at the member agencies which you represent as chairman of the PRC and the wider Communications Council – the IP addresses certainly suggest so. We could do with asking what makes this industry behave in such a way and how we change such behaviour without simply censoring everybody regardless of what they want to say. This is how people working for your members actually behave.

    But let’s discuss it some more. I’m still up for that conversation.

    Cheers,

    Tim – Mumbrella

    • Thanks for the note mate, really appreciate it. Lets get together and get that code of behaviour chat back on the table. I will be in touch with some dates. Also I’m not against negative comments, thats fair game, but I do have a problem with the whole cult of anonymity, I just think people should be made more accountable for what they say on ALL online forums. I still read mumbrella most days because it does a lot of good work, and keeps me really well informed, but we need to continually strive to improve and this is an area I reckon that could be made better with your help. Trust me, there’s plenty of areas Liquid Ideas could improve, that’s for sure. This discussion probably requires a gin . . .

  19. Maybe the two Collingwood supporters had inside knowledge that Buddy was heading to the Swans. I hope young George waved that in front of them today.
    I hate anonymous comments – what’s the point. It’s a cowardly act. At the very least come up with a funny name like Hugh Jorgan…
    Nice blog Stu.

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