We can’t afford to be complacent about bullying

Bullying has no place in our society. It is not a rite of passage as a child grows up. Currently, around eight young Australians take their own lives every week and bullying and cyber bullying play their vile part in these shocking figures.

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Around one-in-four young people in Australia – or around 910,000 children – can expect to be bullied while at school. But it doesn’t end at the school gate. Social media and mobile devices means they can be subjected to it all day, every day. It follows our children into their homes, and into their bedrooms.

" We have felt the heartbreak of families… and the role bullying played to compound their distress and pain.”

We know what this costs our young people, their families and our communities. We’ve seen the psychological and physical impacts.  It affects children and adults from across all social and economic groups. 

Some children recover, many do not. We have felt the heartbreak of families dealing with the death of vulnerable young people who have taken their lives and the role bullying played to compound their distress and pain.

Economic cost

National children’s charity, the Alannah & Madeline Foundation, recently commissioned consulting firm PwC Australia to undertake research into the economic cost of bullying in Australian schools to see in dollar terms how this burdens us as a community. We wanted to know the true cost of childhood bullying beyond the very real cost to the individual.

The study reveals that bullying costs the Australian taxpayer $A525 million every school year. This includes millions spent on primary and acute health and mental health services, police involvement, senior school staff members’ time spent on dealing with bullying and the cost of caring for students missing school because of it.

But the report also showed that the psychological and physical impact of bullying reach well beyond the classroom years. The consequences make it very difficult for victims to live their lives to their full potential. And these, too, cost Australian society financially.

The economic costs experienced over two decades beyond the school years are estimated at almost $A1.8 billion.

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Pic: Lesley Podesta Source: Provided

Suicide, mental health issues, obesity, eating disorders and the lack of educational attainment from leaving school early not only impact individuals and their families, but governments also pay an enormous price, a cost ultimately born by taxpayers.

The analysis breaks it down. Loss of educational attainment costs families $A506 million. Adult mental health issues costs government $A150 million.

Continued bullying behavior (those who bully at school are 3.7 time more likely to instigate family violence) costs individuals and families $A412 million, governments $A332 million and other stakeholders $A198 million over a 20 year period.


We now know the significant impacts of bullying on individuals, families and our communities. We understand the problem and we have the evidence of what is required to prevent bullying and cyber bullying from occurring. And we know that long term change needs a sustained commitment. All we if are left to do is act.

The Alannah & Madeline Foundation argues for the adoption of the National Centre Against Bullying’s  evidence based, multi-faceted approach that involves the victim/s, those who bully, parents/carers, the police, ISP providers and schools.

We know that a whole-of-school approach, involving all members of the school community works. Schools have successfully embedded prevention frameworks, delivered across the school curriculum and which start from the first day of school.

Their teachers’ behaviours are consistent with the values they advocate. They need to be role models and intervene when they see bullying, cyber abuse, harassment and sexual, racist or other forms of aggression.

Successful anti bullying schools involve parents and the school community because when they are engaged, values attitudes and behaviours are reinforced. Messages are more likely to be taken up. By investing in our schools we will make the biggest difference.

We can’t leave it up to school entirely though. We all have a role to play, including government, business and community leaders. How we act, how we treat others all contributes to the culture in which our children are raised.

We can’t afford to be complacent about bullying. The costs – from suicide to family violence – are too high.

Lesley Podesta is CEO at the Alannah & Madeline Foundation

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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