The notion that children and teenagers hide any special talent or skill in order to avoid being bullied is one of the most horrible concepts I can imagine. For me special skills need to be celebrated and explored, not hidden in fear.
Although I can appreciate the horrors of bullying, there is a limit to that for me since for whatever reason, I was neither bullied nor a bully. My particular talent (playing blues guitar and singing blues songs) took off when I was about 14, outside of the aegis of my regular lessons on the piano, and I doubt that anyone in the school knew that by the age of 15 I had a regular slot in a local folk club (always playing in the first half so I could get home in time for the family curfew on what was known as a “school night).
But I do recall taking one of my daughters to evening dance classes – she was not particularly talented in dance (although she was in music) but she wanted to go, so I took her.
Although I never saw a class in progress I saw the young people coming out of the classes, including three boys aged about 13, among the much, much larger number of girls, and I had the thought, as a parent, “I wonder if they get teased at school – or if school even knows that they are following this interest.”
Which I suppose suggests that I have had an awareness of the potential of the problem for a long time, but not really focussed on it enough. And if that is the story for me, maybe it is for many others.
What is so horrifying is the scale of the “success” of bullying in stopping young people following their interest and talent. A recent survey says that nearly half of UK children have played down a talent because of bullying fears. They survey was of 1,042 children aged 11 to 16.
More than a quarter of those polled for England’s anti-bullying week said they had quit an activity they enjoy for the same reasons. One in 10 said they had played down their ability in science. And just as awful nearly one in five girls said they deliberately underachieved in maths skills to avoid being bullied.
11% of children have stopped singing because of the fears, 8% said they had stopped doing drama and 9% dancing while 8% have quit a sport because of bullying fears.
These figures fit in with a survey that suggested two-thirds of parents had witnessed bullying and intimidation on the sports field.
Ross Hendry, chair of the Anti-Bullying said, “It’s unacceptable that rather than celebrate their talent, they feel that they have to hide their gifts, purposely underachieve in crucial subjects and miss out on things they enjoy because of bullying.”