First there are the blows. Jostled, hit, bitten, little Ewann had to endure attacks in his elementary school in Lamballe (Côtes-d’Armor) when he was only 6 years old. His classmates are jealous. They can’t stand seeing him “24 hours a day with girls”. Then the physical violence, accompanied by insults. “Fag” is their favorite expression. In middle school, teenage games serve as a pretext. One day when a water bomb is circulating in the courtyard, Ewann’s harassers set themselves a challenge: why not make it explode in his face? No sooner suggested, no sooner done. One insult too many. Supported by a few students, he goes to talk to the principal education advisor about it.
The teenagers in question are summoned to the principal’s office and must complete two hours of community service. “To take revenge, they tried to kill me,” assures Ewann. A girl tried to stab me. I was injured, I was bleeding. She grabbed me by the hood and started hitting me, pushing me to the ground. The supervisor had a lot of trouble separating us. A few days later, the head of school explicitly told my parents that it was up to me to change schools. My parents were stunned. »
Ewann is now 19 years old. He recounts in a calm voice the ferocious treatment he suffered during his childhood and adolescence. Its history meets in all respects the three criteria identified by the Ministry of National Education to define school bullying: the violent nature – physical, verbal or psychological -; the repetition of acts and the isolation of the victim who finds himself unable to defend himself. Teachers, specialists, parents, educators… Many adults are now speaking out about a scourge that is undoubtedly as old as playgrounds, and increased tenfold by social networks. But what do young people say about it? What do they see of the dismay of their comrades? Do they perceive the mechanics at work, sneaky, daily? Do they understand the seriousness of the facts?
“There was nothing bad…”
“I think that real harassment is rare and the number of cases is overestimated,” says Martin, first grade student and class representative since sixth grade. Most of the time it’s just recurring jokes, it’s not that big of a deal. » Élias, 13 years old, in fourth grade, is not far from thinking the same thing: “In primary school, I remember a student who we liked to make fun of because he was weird, he ate insects… Me I also made fun of it, but there was nothing mean. In college, we like to tease each other, too, but it’s not harassment. Last year, there was someone, a dunce, who was a bit excluded… We didn’t see him in class for six months. I don’t think he was being harassed. Well, it’s possible, I don’t know…”
Many teenagers seem a little lost when asked about the subject. To their credit, it often seems difficult – just like for adults – to differentiate between simple teasing and real harassment. From how many occurrences can we speak of repetitive nature? At what point does the victim plunge into total isolation? The answers are not self-evident.
“Last year, a girl experienced something akin to harassment,” says Zoé, 16, in her final year. There was a leader, three or four people followed, repeating the insults… There were not that many but no one dared to intervene in their conversations with the girl in question. Myself, I don’t really see what I could have said… They were talking about nonsense things, if we hadn’t followed everything from the beginning, it was incomprehensible. »
To add to the difficulty, what is perceived as aggression by the targeted young person can appear as banal mockery in the eyes of others. Apolline, 15, has always been hypersensitive. “One day, in CE2, my pens were stolen, so I started crying, and as a result, they made fun of me. Others said I was weird. Sometimes, in the playground, I would start running by myself, I would make up stories to escape reality… Even last year, in third grade, I would sometimes cry in the middle of class and the others would attack me. to me. »
Because the vagueness reigns
Faced with these complex situations, there is a great risk, among middle and high school students not directly affected, of minimizing the phenomenon. This is despite recent high-profile teenage suicides and school awareness sessions in recent years. The teachers themselves do not all approach the subject in the same way, which does not help to know how to react correctly. Zoé cites the example of a head teacher who, informed of an alleged case of harassment, took care to raise the subject in class without mentioning any names and insisted on the need to talk to adults about it, until to be heard. Her fellow philosophy teacher had dramatized by evoking the criminal sanctions incurred by the potential harasser.
Most of the time, young people therefore often play the role of distant observers. Few say they were witnesses. But vagueness also reigns on the side of the harasser, who may have the firm desire to harm his victim, without however being aware of the scope of his actions. His intention is first of all to “have fun” by making himself interesting and “powerful” in the eyes of his friends.
With social networks, harassment has taken on another dimension. The victims no longer have any respite. In the evening, on weekends, on vacation… Do the photos, messages exchanged and thrown in public put more alert on young people when a friend finds themselves targeted? Zoé reflects, remembers a case last year: “In first grade, a girl was isolated in class. Never in person, only on the class WhatsApp group. Two boys made fun of her repeatedly, there was a stated desire to humiliate him, it was perhaps harassment.” The victims do not ask themselves these questions.
Lucile* has not forgotten what she suffered on Instagram. “On two occasions, in third and second grade, a girl posted a “story” with a photo of our group of friends, scribbling my face and writing a pretty nasty text against me. I told my parents about it and the girl was summoned with me to the deputy director of the college. At the meeting, I was so ashamed that I did not dare take out my phone and show what she had posted that was defamatory. She walked away. is drawn with a simple verbal warning. At the end of the second year, last year, a girl and a boy in my class posted on Instagram: “Finally! Two months of vacation, we won’t see the little precious one again every days.” The comment was liked by several people in my class. It hurt me a lot.”
* The first name has been changed.
Saviors with outstretched hands
Lucile had the good idea to inform her parents. But very often, victims close in on themselves, which also explains why other teenagers have difficulty detecting the extent of the problem. “Neither the supervisors, nor the teachers, nor the principal education advisors (CPE), no one knew what was happening to me,” says Gaëtan, 25 years old today, nicknamed “bouboule” from sixth to third grade. . Everything happened in the courtyard. In class, my harassers kept to themselves, they were careful not to get caught by the teachers. When I went home, I kept my parents out of all this. I wanted to preserve my cocoon. » Fortunately, in the midst of harassers, passive witnesses and those who see nothing, mediators sometimes emerge, “saviors” who know how to reach out in critical moments.
Gaëtan was able to count on his group of friends. “They defended me. When, tired, I no longer had the strength to respond, they came armed with their sense of repartee and educated them, in a way, in place of their parents: “You have no right to do that. say”, “do you know the difference between good and bad?” All this without violence, with a lot of pedagogy. I am very grateful to them. » The influence phenomenon sometimes lasts a long time. Its effects, even more. Years later, Gaëtan still feels guilty. “I, who was “the fat one on duty”, have lost a lot of weight in recent years, and that’s good.
At the time, I told myself: if I eat this, I will gain weight and they will be right to attack me. Even today, I suffer from eating disorders. I often feel hungry and feel guilty. » Convinced of the need to testify on this painful subject, he regularly posts videos on social networks and has published a book. As for Apolline, she notes that her experience of harassment makes her more sensitive to what the people around her feel. She welcomes the fact that “empathy courses” – an initiative launched by the Minister of National Education – will soon be offered. And is delighted to have been elected “ecodelegate” of her class. “Maybe the days of being considered ‘weird’ are behind me. »
The control plan under study
An interministerial plan against school bullying was presented on September 27. Among the avenues considered:
- Banning social media cyber-bullying students. This measure raises questions of technical feasibility. It is being discussed in Parliament as part of the bill aimed at securing and regulating the digital space.
- Systematic confiscation of cell phones of the perpetrator of serious cyberharassment.
- Setting up empathy courses “from the early years”, drawing inspiration from the example of Denmark.
- A self-assessment questionnaire offered to all students from CE2 . It was developed with the help of experts such as Marcel Rufo, child psychiatrist, columnist for Pilgrim .
- The creation of specialized “brigades” in the rectorates.
- Strengthening the pHARe program (program to combat bullying at school), tested in 2019 and generalized in 2022, which provides for the creation of teams of student “ambassadors” and resource staff in each establishment.
- Two hours of awareness raising each year on the subject on the occasion of the national day to combat this scourge, every first Thursday after the All Saints’ Day holidays – November 9 this year.