As with any other session, i started by engaging in some small talk with the group to ascertain their mood and what their previous nights activities had been. It is common for me to receive negative and sometimes offensive comments as the young people within the course struggle to communicate positively hence their involvement on the course, however as a life skills mentoring tutor i always establish relationships with individuals on each course that feel comfortable speaking openly in front of their peers.
On this particular occasion, the young man with a noticeable limp of whom would normally speak freely refused to participate. Whilst attempting to encourage the student to open up a line of communication, he suddenly burst into a rage and started to use abusive language before using physical force to throw a chair in the direction of the entrance into the room.
One of the problems with working with groups of disaffected young people is that when one or two individuals become the focus of attention the remainder of the group use the slightest of excuses to create havoc. The abusive banter between the group is difficult enough to control, however dealing with individuals that sit on the fringe of the action and continually create surges of negativity can become a real problem.
In many schools classes might consist of one, two or if they are unlucky maybe three very poorly behaved young people amongst a group that in the UK would normally consist of between 25 and 35.
On the Life Skills mentoring course the whole group normally consisting of 20 young people have been identified as persistent bad behaviour offenders. This behaviour will range from having difficulty in complying to the rules of the school to the other end of the spectrum which normally involves a level of violence often fueled by drugs and alcohol.
Once the young man in question had calmed down the session commenced, however some glaring questions needed to be addressed preferably at the close of the session but definitely by the end of the 10 ten day course.
Over the next couple of days i witnessed this individual jump through a range of emotions from what can only be described as depressed to hyper active. It was clear that this young man was experiencing some difficulties but he never allowed anybody enough time to establish what the issues were in order for them to assist him.
I dedicated some serious time to establishing the views and opinions of his teachers, friends and finally his family and from these conversation a clear pattern started to develop.
This individual was a popular, bright young boy as he sailed through his primary education, however at the transition time when he moved into a new school, his parents noticed a significant change in his personality.
Initially both his mother and father put these dramatic changes down to hormonal changes as he was fast developing into a teenager. After all they could not see any other reason as to why their son would suddenly develop a very angry side to his character.
His first parents evening in his new school was a far cry from the previous events his parents had attending in his primary school. They were alarmed to be notified that academically he had fallen to the bottom level of achievement in every class. Several teachers painted a very negative picture of their son siting behaviour issues ranging from shouting at teachers to criminal damage on school property.
Most alarmingly his relationship with his parents, brothers and grandparents had diminished into nothing with constant arguments, violent rages and incidents of theft at home.
Some of his friends described his change in behaviour towards school and his home life was natural as they felt the same anger towards certain things as he did, however a majority of his friends were alarmed at how easily he would change his mood and as a result stopped hanging around with him.
Here was a young boy who in the space of just 12 months had completely alienated himself from his family and most of his friends.
In speaking to some of his teachers is was interesting to hear that the common belief amongst them was that home life for this young man was very poor and this was the reason for his self destructive personality. At this point i was a little perplexed as previous conversations with his family did not elude to his home life being in anyway responsible for his dramatic personality change.
Of course the answers to my many questions could only come from the young boy himself so a major enthuses of the Life Skills mentoring courses was to build enough mutual respect between the two of us that i could ask the questions that previously this boy had ignored.
An important part of the mentoring course is to educate young people in how to record facts around an incident so that it can used as evidence. Through the final days of the course i was pleasantly surprised to be handed a small bundle of reports from the young boy.
Upon further investigation i discovered that many of the reports were duplicates where he had written the same information down on paper several times.
A pattern quickly developed and without asking a single question it was clear that in front of me stood a young boy who had and was experiencing some severe bullying. This small bundle of reports was quite simply his way of asking for help.
Following this break through I took the opportunity to open a discussion and clarify some facts.
It seems 12 months earlier when moving to the upper school he had difficulty making the transition smoothly. After being the amongst the eldest in his previous school he was suddenly thrown into an environment where everything was alien around him. In an instant he was no longer one of the eldest instead he was one of the youngest in a school with a population five times bigger than before.
Like so many of his friends the early days in the new school involved having minor scuffles with older boys. On one occasion a minor scuffle turned into the start of a year long nightmare that would turn his life upside down.
Three older boys had targeted him for a barrage of verbal and physical abuse.
Initially it was easy to ignore the comments thrown in his direction as he thought they would get bored and move onto another individual, however after one particular incident when the group of boys decided to take their bullying tactics to a whole new level he realised that the situation around him was getting out of hand.
Angry at himself for letting the bullying get to such a bad level, he found himself hiding the bruises, cuts and grazes from his family through embarrassment. The longer the situation developed the more reluctant he was to tell his parents or teachers.
After several months of this daily grind on his personality he started to struggle to concentrate on anything else other than the bullying. He fantasied about doing horrible things to the boys as he saw this as the only way out of the situation and the more he thought about these negative thoughts the more he was aware he was treating those around him including his family and friends very badly.
School life became unbearable and he would do anything to be removed from class. Academically he took a nose dive and started falling behind on class work rapidly and the more the teachers tried to communicate with him the more frustrated he got.
At this point of our conversation i realised that we needed to collate as much evidence about these three boys as possible so we could finally put a stop to his ordeal.
He clearly recalled 23 incidents of physical assault and at the time of our conversation was wearing a couple of bruises and a swollen knee from when he was pushed down the stairs.
I decided to ask for his permission to open our conversation to include his parents and teachers, which by this time he agreed to.
It was disturbing to see the unbelievable damage these three boys had done. A happy, enthusiastic young boy had been bullied into becoming a violent, moody and very unhappy individual who spent every minute of every day thinking about ways to get rid of his enemies.
The consequence of this negativity was that he lost the relationships in his life that really mattered.
Thankfully, enough information was gathered to punish and remove these three boys from the school. In fact it became apparent that this horrible group had bullied several other young people over the same period of time. All of those being bullied failed to mention anything and thought they could deal with it themselves.
It will be some time before the young boy restores his confidence back to the levels it was before the ordeal began, but now that the situation has been addressed both the parents and teachers have started to notice a positive difference in his whole approach to daily life both at home and school.
Bullying is a very difficult topic to tackle and can clearly have some dramatic and devastating results on everybody around the victim.
The most disturbing part of this story was that in this particular school the boy had tried on several occasions to tell certain teachers but was swept away with comments like “Grow up and stop being silly”
This situation could have been dealt with much earlier but the listening and communication skills of some teachers is very poor.
Life Skills for Children unfortunately have to deal with similar situations on a weekly basis.
Please do not under estimate the damage bullying can do to an individual.
Further information can be found at www.lifeskillsforchildren.co.uk