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Inside the mind of a school bully

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James Tran
James Tran is studying education at the Australian Catholic University and hopes to encourage young people affected by bullying. PHOTO: Patrick J Lee

In the lead-up to the National Day for Action Against Bullying and Violence on March 15, 22-year-old James Tran took The Catholic Weekly into the mindset of a bully.

The parishioner of Mary Immaculate Parish at Bossley Park was bullied through primary school and when he entered high school decided to make sure he would “never be put in that position again”.

Related article: Schools head: Support anti-bullying day

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He quickly gained status as a trouble-maker and rebel which he felt afforded him protection but his bullying habit led him down “a very dark path” of substance abuse after he began a law degree.

“From picking on a kid here and there it became a need to get in trouble, to get a high from bullying and the attention it got me from my peers,” he explains.

James Tran
James Tran as a kindergarten student. He says he was ostracised as the boy with no English-speaking skills or knowledge of Australian culture. PHOTO: Supplied

“I was cool, I was untouchable.”

The first turning point came in Year 11 after he threatened to kill a teacher during an argument.

His Year 11 co-ordinator was able to reach through to him and he decided to focus on the HSC, later achieving a top 10 position at his school, Patrician Brothers College Fairfield, in each of his subjects.

But upon entering university, he again struggled and turned to substance use.

Mr Tran’s experience is aligned with research showing that students who are both targets of bullying and engage in bullying behaviour are at the greatest risk for mental health and behaviour problems compared with students who only bully or are only bullied, and that young people who bully have a 25 percent chance of having a criminal record by the age of 30.

After a dark period of extreme risk-taking behaviour, which could have got Mr Tran into serious trouble, he sought drug and alcohol counselling and turned his life around.

In recent months a growing faith has influenced his decision to serve young people as a Catholic high school teacher.

James Tran
James Tran (centre) with young members of the Ryde-Gladesville Catholic Parish following a talk he gave about his experiences as a bullying victim and perpetrator earlier this month. PHOTO: Patrick J Lee

He has already shared his message of hope with young people as a motivational speaker including through ReachOut Australia, a Federal government-funded mental health organisation for young people and their parents.

“Ultimately I was blessed because I had parents who loved me,” he says, while his grandmother transmitted the faith to him from a young age.

He believes many anti-bullying campaigns are less effective than they could be because they focus primarily on stories of the victims and neglect to consider ways to reform the perpetrators.

James Tran said although he played a role of the rebel at school, he still benefited from the charism of his alma mater, Patrician Brothers College at Fairfield. PHOTO: Patrick J Lee

“At the crux of it, the victim and the bully are two young kids that are seeking love,” he said.

“If you give love to the victim then the victim will feel like they are safe. If you give love to the bully, the bully will ultimately feel transformed.”

Related article: Bullying: How to spot the signs and what you need to know

Psychologist Justin Coulson agrees that the best way to do reduce bullying behaviour is to teach children how to empathise with others and help them to develop strong emotional intelligence.

“They can then begin to identify the right way to act,” he says.

The theme of this year’s National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence is ‘Bullying. No Way! Take action every day’.

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