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Bullying, restorative justice and teenage girls

November 13, 2012

As a dad myself, I know how easily you can fall into having unpleasant thoughts about the bully who has upset your child, but as a teacher I don’t want the bully to be punished; I want them to change their behaviour. This is not always what the parent of the bullied child wants to hear and it can be a real challenge.

One particular incident springs to mind, although it happened some years ago. I was faced with an ongoing love–hate relationship between two of my year nine girls. Eventually, having realised that my diplomacy and arbitration skills were perhaps less refined than Kofi Annan’s, I called for the back-up of a member of staff who was our resident expert in restorative justice meetings and had previously worked for a youth offending team.

Rather than just passing it over, I asked to stay involved in the process to learn more about the restorative justice approach. I learned that restorative justice meetings take a long time. Having the parents/carers from both ‘sides’ in the same room, at the same time, takes a great deal of skill and even more patience. Least of all because it’s sometimes necessary to remind the adults how THEY need to behave!

At the end of what felt like a very long hour with the warring parties, the girls reached a mutual understanding of the impact they were having on each other and signed up to an ongoing resolution process. We all parted the room as ‘friends’ and my colleagues and I congratulated ourselves on a job well done, only to find the two dads squaring up to each other in the car park – about to sort things out their way.

Risking life and limb to get between them I caught a glimpse of the most ironic sight I’ve ever seen in all my time dealing with bullying – the two girls with their arms around each other crying and shouting at their dads to stop. I wouldn’t advise it as an approach but I suppose the outcome is what really mattered.

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