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‘Banter turned sour and became bullying. It was relentless’

For Anti-Bullying Week, three pupils at Epsom College, Surrey, open up on their own tough experiences of bullying and low self-esteem. Epsom assistant head Helen Keevil explains how they use the Dove Self-Esteem Project resources to deal with even the toughest of situations.

‘Boys were hostile in group chat’

‘We had a group chat for our rugby team. There was one guy in the team who was mad about rugby and that’s all he talked about. He would make jokes that weren’t very funny and struggled to make friends. The team was very tightly knit, and he was often excluded from the events. He started to talk more on the chat, trying to get a bit closer to the rest of the boys, but some of them reacted in a hostile way. They wrote horrible messages, mocking him and some threats were even sent. He became very sad and didn’t come to school for a few days.
A group of us realised that he was going through a hard time, so we spoke to him. We advised him to let his parents know too. He told his dad and his dad read the messages. His dad was in shock as he had no idea that such things were happening to his son. He contacted the parents of the students on the group chat and the headmaster of that school.
The boys that had sent the horrific messages were called in to the headmaster’s office and were sanctioned. We all learned from that experience that face-to-face chat is far more honest and powerful than mean words sent behind a screen. His confidence was shattered, yet we stuck up for him and supported him through hard times.’

‘When banter became bullying’

‘Me and my school friends were at an Xbox party. One of my friends has a strong American accent and we often make a joke here or there when he pronounces words differently such as ‘bath’ or ‘grass’.
This time however a few of my friends took it too far. The ‘banter’ turned sour and became ‘bullying’. It was relentless.
I kept quiet the whole time, not joining in but also not stopping the others. I didn’t want to be that person who stepped in to finish it, because I knew then the bullying would be directed towards me instead. After some time, he left the party, and the bullies started laughing and talking about what just happened.
I felt so guilty for not doing anything to help. I spoke to him face-to-face the following day and learned a clear lesson in life, I need to be an upstander rather than an innocent bystander both on and offline.’

‘I found social settings scary’

‘Upon entering a new secondary school in an unfamiliar environment, I struggled to fit in and to socialise with new people. I found social settings scary, and often kept to myself. I was fearful of entering any big rooms, scared of doing something perceived as wrong or getting laughed at.
All of this changed when my tutor and matron reached out to me. They could see me struggling and sat me down, talking to me about settling into a new environment. They talked about how they went through similar experiences and coping strategies.
This helped to change my attitude towards school and social situations. I now look forward to seeing friends in house or passing by them in the corridors. The pastoral support changed my life, and made me a much more confident character, allowing me to take life by the scruff of the neck and give it a real go. In peer mentoring I’m looking forward to helping younger pupils settle in as I remember how it felt.’

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Helen Keevil, assistant head at Epsom College:
‘I’ve found the Dove Self-Esteem Project resources so useful with all year groups. We’ve focused on year 10 and 11, when social media influence is their number one hang-up. Writing a list of ‘perfect’ appearance ideals then tearing them up and chucking them in the bin has been so therapeutic. We’ve managed to shift the discussion focus towards what makes each person unique.
Writing wall displays during mental health week on celebrating pupils’ qualities rather than their looks was inspiring, and as the senior peer mentors prepare for their Anti-Bullying Week campaign, they’ve decided to focus on challenging negative language in terms of someone’s looks & clothes.
Their assembly will be directed towards the junior pupils whilst displaying the eye-catching posters they’ve made around campus and on TV screens. The activities on ‘decoding media messages’ has really made them think twice about what they’re viewing in terms of fake news and unrealistic comparisons.’
Parent Zone is working with the Dove Self-Esteem Project to help boost UK pupils' body confidence through its PSHE Association-approved in-school workshops.