Choose respect over bullying

Written by: Martha Evans | Published:
Respect: Martha Evans, director, Anti-Bullying Alliance

We must make clear that bullying is a behaviour choice. As such, how can we encourage children to choose respect and play their part in preventing bullying? Martha Evans introduces the themes for Anti-Bullying Week 2018

Each year at the Anti-Bullying Alliance we engage with teenagers during Anti-Bullying Week. There often seems to be a barrier to them responding: they can think that they are too old to talk meaningfully about bullying.

So, what can teachers do to reignite the conversation with teenagers?

We asked children and young people what they thought and we heard time and again that the way we talk about bullying is often “babyish”.

It is true that we can spend a lot of time talking to very young children about bullying, telling them that we need to “all be friends” and “be kind”.

These are good points and very important, but what if people just don’t like each other, or disagree with each other – as older children often do?

Following a consultation, more than 800 children, teachers and members of the Anti-Bullying Alliance, told us that a top priority for them was showing that bullying is a behaviour choice and that children and young people can set a positive example by opting to respect each other at school, in their homes and communities, and online.

During the consultation we asked respondents to consider the definition of respect. They suggested: “Due regard for the feelings, wishes, or rights of others.”

Can we help engagement with older children to encourage them to respect people who they disagree with or dislike? That’s why this year we are asking children and schools to choose respect over bullying as the theme for Anti-Bullying Week 2018.

We aim to support schools and other settings to help children and young people, school staff, parents and other professionals who work with children to understand:

  • The definition of respect.
  • That bullying is a behaviour choice.
  • That we can respectfully disagree – we don’t have to be best friends or always agree with each other, but we do have to respect each other.
  • That we all need to choose to respect each other both face-to-face and online.

We asked young people what they thought of the idea. One person said: “Whenever you bully someone you’re the person not choosing respect.”

Another added: “No-one can force you to bully – it’s your choice.”

We also asked teachers who gave an equally positive response: “It fits well within school values and would create a positive campaign.”

Another said: “The pupils we asked loved it! They thought it was a mature response.”

A “mature response”, that’s what we need. The ability to say to children: “You don’t all have to be best friends and you might not agree with each other, but it is never a reason to be nasty to someone, socially exclude them, bully them or not treat them with respect.”

Perhaps this way of talking about bullying with help us to engage with all children, including those already in secondary schools and perhaps even colleges.

But we haven’t forgotten about the younger children. We will continue the success of Odd Socks Day for Anti-Bullying Week with the support of our patron Andy Day (of CBeebies and popular children’s rock band Andy and the Odd Socks) who will encourage schools to wear odd socks to celebrate the first day of Anti-Bullying Week (November 12) and celebrate what makes us all unique.

Anti-Bullying Week means so much to so many and it can sometimes be hard to make it apply to all ages, but we hope with this year’s theme and the cross-curricular lesson activities that will be available from September we can make this year bigger and better.

We hope that this year we can tell students that bullying is a behaviour choice and that there is another way. We can choose respect and allow everyone to feel safe and secure in school. 

  • Martha Evans is the director of the Anti-Bullying Alliance.

Further information

  • The Anti-Bullying Alliance coordinates the annual Anti-Bullying Week – a campaign that is adopted in more than 70 per cent of England’s schools.
  • Anti-Bullying Week this year will run from November 12 to 16. You can find out more at or via #AntiBullyingWeek or @ABAonline on Twitter and Facebook.


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