University of Tasmania
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Once you do your bit, what happens then?' : A narrative study of parents' experiences of reporting bullying to schools

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posted on 2023-05-28, 09:15 authored by Karen Herne
School bullying is well recognised as a significant factor in adverse health, education and social outcomes for young people. Although parents are frequently represented as having an important role to play in the prevention of school bullying, very little research on the topic has been undertaken from the perspectives of parents themselves. Consequently, the experiences of parents who report incidents of bullying to schools are not well understood. This study draws on narrative research methodologies to explore how parents make sense of their experiences of reporting bullying to schools. In particular, the study is underpinned by a 'storied resource' perspective which emphasises the shared cultural resources that people use to construct stories of personal experience. Further, the study is informed by dialogical approaches to research which seek understanding of the social world by engaging with, rather than reducing, complexity. In-depth narrative interviews were conducted with 18 parents of children in Years 5-8 in Tasmania, Australia, about their experiences of reporting bullying of their child to a school. Analysis of the interviews took a layered approach to allow for deep engagement with the particularities of each parent's story while also attending to connections and discontinuities across the stories as a whole. First, a re-telling of the stories through a series of vignettes focussed on key themes and events in each parent's story. Next, Arthur Frank's (1995) typology of illness narratives (restitution, chaos and quest), was used as a device to explore the shared cultural resources that parents drew on to narrate their experiences of reporting bullying, and the implications this has for the types of agency they claimed for themselves as they did so. This analysis revealed strong resonances between parents' personal stories of reporting bullying and the core narratives which Frank identifies as underlying most personal stories of illness. In such stories illness is commonly represented as a threat to the storyteller's sense of self. Similarly, in this study parents represented the bullying of their child as a threat not only to the safety and wellbeing of their child but also to their own moral identity as a parent. For these parents, the bullying their child experienced at school was seen as a significant threat to their capacity to carry out their most basic parental duty to protect their child from harm. While previous research has emphasised the sense of powerlessness which is often felt by parents whose children have been bullied, in this study parents commonly represented themselves as active agents in bringing an end to the bullying of their child. Although some parents described how they had been able to achieve this by working collaboratively with their child's school, the majority described how they had struggled to have their reports of bullying taken seriously by the school. These parents feared that with no effective action from the school the bullying would continue unabated with potentially serious consequences for their child's future health and wellbeing. In addition, parents described how the lack of acknowledgement they received from the school served to undermine their confidence in themselves as a parent. However, only one parent told a story in which there was no respite from the sense of powerlessness evoked by this situation. For the most part, parents described how these fears and frustrations had acted as a catalyst for them to take further action to resolve the bullying, including: taking a more assertive stance with the school, contacting authorities beyond the school, talking directly to the perpetrators of the bullying or to their parents and, in a number of instances, removing their child from the school. In this way these parents' stories resonated most strongly with heroic aspects of the quest narrative as they described how they had had risen to the challenges posed by the bullying of their child. At the same time there was a great deal of complexity in how parents narrated these experiences. Each parent's account contained multiple storylines and shifting subject positions as they narrated different phases of their reporting experiences, and many of their stories traversed all three narrative types described by Frank. While the majority of parents who took part in this study told how they had taken primary responsibility for ensuring that the bullying of their child ceased there was also a strong impulse in their stories towards working more collaboratively with schools and other parents to respond to incidents of bullying. The significance of this study lies in its contribution to rich understandings of how parents make sense of their experiences of reporting bullying to schools. Further significance lies in its use of narrative research methodologies to highlight the capacity of stories to shape these experiences. By attending to the nuances in how parents narrate these experiences, and marking the moments when their stories shift from one narrative type to another, this study provides important insight into the complex ways in which parents are both constrained and enabled by broad cultural narratives about the roles and responsibilities of parents. It is argued that such understandings are crucial to the development of more collaborative relations between parents and schools with respect to bullying.


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  • Unpublished

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Copyright 2018 the author Chapter 3 appears to be, in part thev equivalent of an author's original manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Critical studies in education on 11 December 2014, available online:[10.1080/17508487.2014.988635

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