Beth Elder, a sixteen-year-old student from Fife, is overcoming a lifetime of school bullying by giving back to other students who find themselves in the same position. Beth and her family live in the Kingdom, and until recently, she attended one of the local high schools where she was a long-time victim of bullying.
“I’ve been bullied my whole life – it’s been the norm for me,” Beth said. “I would walk into classrooms and people would laugh at me. I got filmed all the time on people’s phones. People would throw stuff at me and make me feel like I was a freak because I dressed differently than other people.”
Speaking out to help others
Beth, who chose not to name her school, spoke out to help others like her know there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
“I think it’s really important for people to realise bullying is still an ongoing issue,” she said. “A lot of people think you’re just getting name-called but it’s so much more than that. You’re getting your dignity completely taken away from you and you don’t really know where to turn.”
She continued: “The more people that know about this issue, the more help that will be out there for them.”
Lack of a supportive system within school
When she was being bullied, Beth and her family turned to her school and headteacher for help, but she felt there was nothing in place to help her.
“I didn’t have a support system where I could just go and ask for help. I tried to ask for help so many times, but I was shut down,” she said. “They’d say they couldn’t do anything about it if it was off school property at lunchtimes.”
Essentially, she said the school was always pushing the blame and responsibility elsewhere.
“I don’t think my parents really knew what to do either,” Beth explained. “Bullying has been around for so long no one really knows what to do about it now.”
Beth’s experience isn’t abnormal – she believes bullying is a widespread, ongoing problem that many young people in Fife are facing. She has decided to give back to other students who are going through the same experience.
Beth aims to be a support system for young people
“I’ve left school and I’m full time at college and I think because I’ve left I’ve seen how much of an impact the bullying had on me,” she said. “Now I want to be a support system for young people who don’t have one.”
She is currently trying to work with young people directly, as well as help shape local school anti-bullying policy. She has already worked with one high school on its policies and worked closely with her local MSP Shirley-Ann Somerville (SNP for Dunfermline) to discuss bullying issues across Fife.
“I’m sending out letters to schools in Fife letting them know what I’m doing and what my plan is and hopefully I’ll be able to go in and work with certain individuals that have been in my situation and tie it into their lessons that they’ve been learning on anti-bullying,” Beth explained. “We need a better support system in schools.”
MP impressed by Beth’s strength
Ms Somerville said she had been “hugely impressed” by Beth’s strength and courage to speak up for others and make a difference.
“Deciding to speak out about the bullying she experienced at school can’t have been easy but she is determined to try and prevent others going through a similar ordeal,” Ms Somerville said.
“Schools across Fife would be wise to take some time to hear Beth’s story and find out how they could improve their own anti-bullying policies. Engaging constructively with young people can be extremely rewarding and I believe it would really help inform their decision-making processes moving forward.”
While Fife Council cannot comment on individual situations, Shelagh McLean, Head of Education and Children’s Services, said that the mental health and wellbeing of young people in all Fife’s schools is a priority for the council. “We are fortunate to have a wide range of partners working in schools across Fife to support young people and families,” Ms McLean said.
“We also have policies and procedures in place to deal with bullying and have invested significantly in interventions to support young people. Young people themselves are involved in creating these policies and helping schools be welcoming places for everyone.
She continued: “When relationships break down, every situation needs to be assessed on an individual basis and we look at how best we can support the young people and families involved, bringing in specialist support where that’s appropriate. We would encourage any young person or their families to let a trusted adult in school know if they are struggling with any bullying or mental health issues.”