Meet Ethan. He is eight years of age. Ethan is clever and loving with a strong personality to boot. He is well liked amongst his class mates and as a rule, rarely misses a day of school. Ethan is tall for his age, with bright blue eyes, a few freckles on his cheeks and nose and vibrant ginger hair.
Ethan had been experiencing name calling towards the colour of his hair. I know many people with ginger, red, auburn coloured hair, can relate to the types of names that I’m referring to.
Our first tactic was to help Ethan laugh these names off. A deflective way of showing bullies that they wouldn’t get a reaction from him. But of course, there is only so much any child will tolerate until a reaction is given. And if I’m honest, deep down, we never felt that teaching Ethan to “laugh it off” was fair. Why should he? Bullies tend to look for a minority, somebody different.
Often Ethan would recite incidents to me, where another child had persistently called him names directed towards his hair colour. I would always comfort Ethan and let him know just how loved he was. It is important to make time to listen to your child. You are their protector, their confidant. We as parents are supposed to have all the answers in a Childs eyes. But sadly we don’t have a magic wand.
The school always acted and disciplined the bullies, but the name calling only ever seemed to lay dormant. As one child stopped calling Ethan names, it seemed another one started. Why is it acceptable to taunt for a hair colour? It seems society hasn’t evolved and Ginger hair is an easy target still in 2015. We knew there would always be another incident where Ethan was called hurtful names towards the colour of his hair.
It took a physical incident which led me to say “No More.” Ethan’s hat was taken from him and trodden into the dirt and his sunglasses taken from his face and bent.
A Childs pain is magnified for a parent. We, as parents feel their upset, tenfold. I knew it was time to attempt to make a change. Not a change to Ethan’s hair colour, that would be silly. I only want to encourage him to love himself and his hair, not adapt to “fit into” society. We should always embrace being ourselves. Love what we were given. At NO POINT is bullying acceptable. So our journey began.
I had my hair dyed ginger. I had heard of another lady doing the same for her son when he was bullied for the same reasons as Ethan, so I did the same. I remember Ethan coming out of the school gates to greet me and saying “Oh wow Mummy, you’re the same as me.” It seemed such a small act had already helped. It boosted his confidence to know I wanted to be like him. It showed him that his hair colour was desirable.
My next move was to try and encourage others to sit up and listen. It’s all too easy to sit back and point a finger at any schools policies on bullying. Surely it’s about time that society took responsibility and parents instilled their children to be kinder in their precious years of childhood? Schools cannot police what is to come from a Childs mouth. They can only outline clear boundaries and consequences to the children’s actions.
I took to social media with Ethan’s story using the #antibullying #getEdtotheschool. I was extremely focused on turning a negative into a positive. I wanted to get a clear message out there, that ginger hair was cool and bullying towards it has to be stopped. What better way than to link Ed Sheeran into the campaign and ask him to play at my son’s school. A loud and clear message to all- that people with Ginger hair are amazing. Ed is an iconic Ginger at the moment. A great role model for young people and more to the point, he too has been bullied himself.
I received many messages along the way from other parents and teens, telling me their experiences of being bullied for having ginger hair. Some truly horrific stories- much worse than Ethan’s experience. These messages made me feel a mixture of gratitude, sorrow and determination.
Just a couple of days into my campaign, it seemed to hit a nerve and warrant a debate. I did many radio interviews; often the argument was that name calling is ‘character building’. I think that’s a real shallow argument and just the minority were missing the bigger picture. Should we just roll over and accept bullying is part of growing up? No!
Next stop was ITV’s Good Morning Britain. The positive response was amazing. It seemed many others had experienced bullying towards the colour of their hair and they too were confused as to why this still exists in today’s world.
Ethan has since been allowed to watch the interview and been carefully explained to what I am trying to achieve. I sheltered him from my campaign at first, given the bigger picture wasn’t just about him and to throw him into a media limelight. I am very fortunate Ethan is of a strong character and the bullies have not succeeded in beating down a confident and spirited child. He is proud of me, as I am him and understands the wider principle. Attempts at getting Ed Sheeran to visit the school won’t solve any issues, but what it would do is send a message loud and clear that ginger is cool to all those who choose to bully towards a hair colour.
I have encountered many stories from others, sadly some of those young beautiful read heads who were bullied, aren’t here today to see this campaign. Know that they are my driving force and combined determination, as a parent, to continue to try and make a change.
“Whenever one person stands up and says ‘wait a minute, this is wrong,’ it helps other people to do the same.”
My advice to parents:
1. Listen to your child. Make a conscious effort to make time to talk. We are our children’s confidants and protectors.
2. Reassure your child that they are loved and encourage them to embrace who they are.
3. Check out Anti-Bullying Ambassadors training. Both parents and children can become ambassadors. This programme gives clear advice and action plans on how to be proactive on bullying within your child’s school. www.antibullyingpro.com/training
4. Look at confidence building activities in your area for your child. Often a new hobby or sport can help your child create new friends and new positive focus.
5. List any concerns you may have on paper. It’s much easier to remember if you have a log.
6. Communicate with the school. Often schools aren’t aware of issues and cannot help to address them unless they know. Be clear with the school on your expectations and how you wish to see any issues resolved.
Since writing this blog, Ethan attended one of our Anti-Bullying Ambassador training events with his mum and is now a fully fledged Anti-Bullying Ambassador.