'I truly thank ZAP for what it did for me'
At the start of secondary school, Ross had the carefree life that all parents wish for. He was healthy, social and passionate about a number of activities; he played multiple instruments and loved games and sport. Basketball was his absolute favourite.
Ross described his life as "simple, easy going and enjoyable". But then things took an unexpected turn for the worse, when Ross became a target of bullying.
"The bullying never stopped, it just went on and on. The bullies took my friends away from me so that I was all alone. They threatened them and told them to stay away from me, and if they saw me with anyone they would call them names. Eventually I had no one at all to talk to. I was frightened to go out and was worried all the time."
The relentlessness of the bullies meant that Ross's friendships changed dramatically for the worse. Malicious rumours began to be spread around the school, and Ross couldn't help but feel that everyone hated him. He went from having a network of great friends, to being completely ignored.
The bullying even started to affect his physical health, which resulted in Ross being diagnosed with chronic fatigue. This put him in a lot of pain, and meant that walking even the smallest of distances was a struggle. Eventually it became so bad that he couldn't attend school at all. He described this experience as "a very long and dark time".
It was during this period that Ross's mum found Kidscape, and introduced him to our ZAP programme. ZAP is a one day workshop for bullied young people aged 9-16 and their parents or carers. It is an informed, practical day that offers young people a range of strategies that will help them to deal with bullying situations safely and assertively, and gives parents an opportunity to gain expert knowledge of how to effectively support their child.
Ross admits that he was nervous about attending at first, as he didn't know exactly what to expect. But once he arrived he soon changed his mind, and has since used the strategies he learnt to prevent certain bullying scenarios repeating themselves.
"ZAP has boosted my confidence and changed my life around. I now attend the activities that I want to go to, and I feel much more confident in my school work and going out. I truly thank ZAP for what it did for me."
For many young people like Ross, ZAP marks an integral point in their journey to moving past bullying. But although our programme is extremely effective, a one-day intervention on its own is not a miracle solution. Practising the assertiveness strategies learnt at ZAP and using these to raise confidence and self-esteem in the long term is extremely important.
To help families maintain this progress, we offer ZAP Plus, a residential weekend trip for young people aged 13-16 who have previously attended a ZAP one-day workshop. Held at Stowe school in Buckinghamshire, young attendees are able to further enhance their assertiveness and confidence skills, express themselves through creative activities and make new like-minded friends.
Ross attended ZAP Plus in 2014, and has since kept in touch with Kidscape to share his positive progress. He is now attending a hospital school and is its student representative. He is doing well in his preparations for his GCSEs and is enjoying himself once again. On reflecting on the hard journey he has faced, Ross acknowledges that the experience has brought his family closer together, and he feels that they understand each other much better as an outcome.
But like many young people who experience bullying, one question still remains.
"To this day I still ask the question: why? Why me, out of the hundreds of people who are at my school? I wasn't that different. I was just another face in the crowd."
Unfortunately, young people get bullied for many, often conflicting, reasons. Bullies will often use any kind of difference - whether this is real or perceived - to make a young person think it is their fault. Targets of bullying could change every day to suit the desire of others, but often their bully will just find something else to pick on. It's for this reason that building confidence, high self-esteem and learning how to be assertive are such important tools for preventing and tackling bullying; an approach that forms the basis of our teachings at ZAP.
If you know a child aged 9-16 who could benefit from learning these skills, make an application today. You can read more about our ZAP anti-bullying and assertiveness workshops here.