“All Different, All Equal” - how real does this feel for young people bullied for having an unusual appearance?

“All Different, All Equal” – how real does this feel for young people bullied for having an unusual appearance?

  • Antibullying week takes place between 13-17 November and is a coalition of organisations, including Changing Faces, that are united against bullying
  • Changing Faces Disfigurement in the UK report revealed around 50 % of children of school age had experienced bullying because of their appearance
  • Over 24,000 ChildLine counselling sessions took place with children about bullying in 2016/17
  • How do individuals living with an unusual appearance manage being bullied?

The Antibullying Alliance, established by NSPCC, and the national Children’s Bureau will launch its yearly anti-bullying week on the 13th November. This year’s theme is “All Different, All Equal” and aims to raise the profile of bullying and the negative effect it has on the lives of children and young people.

Over 24,000 Childline counselling sessions took place with children about bullying in 2016/17 showing just how widespread the issue is across the UK.

Anyone’s daughter, son, sister or brother could be a potential target for bullying, but is more likely to happen to a young person with a visible difference. Changing Faces Disfigurement in the UK Report reveals that around 50 % of children of school age have experienced bullying because of their appearance.    

How do children and young people with an unusual appearance deal with these experiences at school and how does this impact on their loved ones?

At Changing Faces Yorkshire and The Humber, we spoke to a range of our clients and supporters to find out more.

Kerry, 34, from Sheffield, has a condition called Crouzon, which affects her facial appearance. “I used to get called “frog eyes” at school and was even spat and hit at. Some children said that they didn’t know how I was allowed to be born looking the way I did.”

Allesandra, 14, from Bradwell, has a craniofacial difference and has had mixed experiences at school. “Sometimes in the PE Changing room, people would stare. It felt like they were sayings thing behind my back. I would have preferred it if they had said it to my face.”

allesandra

Emily, 13, from Sheffield, has a cleft lip and palate and experienced bullying when she was younger. “Children used to mimic my nose and I used to feel sad inside. I still get random comments said to me even now.”

EmilyH

Changing Faces Practitioner, Emily Wheeler, explains “School can often be a daunting environment for any child, but this can often be amplified when a child has an unusual appearance. School can frequently be the first time young people receive negative, comments and become aware that they look “different”.”

On the other hand Christopher, 12, who has Alopecia and eczema, finds his school experiences really positive. “My friends have supported me and it’s been fun. It’s a really nice school and the teachers and everybody is nice and welcoming.”

Cat Ross, Changing Faces Yorkshire and The Humber Manager says, “The role of school is crucial in supporting a young person to feel safe and confident that they can talk to a teacher about bullying.”

According to Ditch the Label, the largest anti-bullying support hub in the world, states that 1.5 million young people in the UK in the last year, have experienced bullying, with half of them never telling anybody through fear, embarrassment, or a lack of faith from support systems.

Jane from Mosborough, is Mum to 13 year old Sam, who has a cleft lip and palate. She says “I feel really lucky that Sam is so open and we can deal with things together. There’s also an online system to encourage parents and teacher communication so you can raise concerns in an easy, convenient way.”

Sam

Emily’s Mum, Laura, explains that “As a parent, you are often on the periphery when it comes to school, so you have to make them as resilient as possible, but luckily Emily has had a great year Manager.”

Nigel, Kerry’s father says “I felt support from her schools was sadly lacking in understanding the issues and that they were different to the general teasing comments that most children experience.”

With the work of Ofsted, the Antibullying Alliance and organisations like Changing Faces, schools are starting to receive the right help and education they need to help support young people who are living with a disfigurement. But more work still needs to be done.

Wheeler says “At Changing Faces, we share a range of tools and techniques to help children deal with bullying. We offer social skills training and crucially, empower our clients to cope when challenged by a bully at school. We give children the time to talk openly about their feelings and offer strategies to help manage sometimes difficult and painful emotions.”

“Changing Faces Practitioners also liaise with teachers and pastoral teams to understand more about children living with a visible difference and the support they need at school. We help an individual find particular tools that really work to support them, including attending Changing Faces workshops where individuals can share experiences and tips to help them cope.”

Emily says “I’ve used the mediation app Headspace to help me feel more calm” Her Mum, Laura, also explains that “Emily now goes to a group for teenage girls every week for a couple of hours to talk about the good things about growing up, and the things that suck, which has made a difference.”

“Having close friends and a strong family support can make a huge difference in building a young person’s resilience and self-esteem. Our clients have felt that this help has been one of the main reasons that they are able to face difficult and sometimes scary situations at school,” says Wheeler.

Kerry, now an adult, says “I had a very close group of friends and I felt safe with them. Nobody said a word when I was with them.”

Emily goes on to say “Changing Faces has definitely helped me. I used to get quite worked up about what people said and now I’m better at saying “just let it run past you”.”

“Changing Faces helped me massively” says Allie. “Sometimes it can feel like you are “lost in the woods” and don’t want to carry on. Her advice is to “Find someone who can help you find the way out.”

Other suggestions from Changing Faces young people and supporters is a resounding “Please tell a teacher, or someone you can trust!” As Sam says “Don’t listen to the bullies. Don’t respond to them and tell someone about it.”

There are misunderstandings from society. People just see “difference” and difference has a stigma. People don’t like difference” says Jane.

Hopefully initiatives like Anti-bullying week and increased training and resources for teachers, can help people become more accepting of difference. And bring us closer to the Antibullying Alliance’s theme “All Different, All Equal”.

If you are affected by any of the above, and would like to talk to someone, email Changing Faces at yandh@changingfaces.org.uk or call 0114 2536662.

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