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The chavs, skangers, culchies and D4s - why our teens must see beyond labels

Nerds, jocks, cheerleaders, goths, preps... I've always got a smug feeling whenever I've heard about those stupid groups of kids in US high schools.

I thought in Ireland kids had the confidence to be themselves.

So I got a shock when I read new research from Trinity College shows our school kids falling into similar groups. And the more mainstream groups bully the alternative ones.

The 'chavs', aggressive kids from an underclass background, do a lot of the bullying, as do the 'D4s', middle-class rugger-buggers.

Moshers and rockers, fans of heavy metal music, are likely to be bullied as are the black-clad goths.

And God love the poor old emotionally sensitive emos...

As soon as my own high school kid came home and got comfortable, I put it to him straight: did he use these terms?

No, he said, he'd never used any of them. Grand, I think, but my kid is still talking.

He doesn't use those terms. He uses different ones.

He doesn't say chav, he says skanger. He has also heard the flattering term 'chipper scum'.



paddy

They don't use the term D4 in his school. But that's because, he explains: "We'd be laughing at ourselves."

Instead, they laugh at 'culchies'. Like the kids they played in a match at the weekend who were from outside Dublin. And one kid was called Paddy! I mean, Paddy!

"What's wrong with being called Paddy?" I asked.

"It's such a culchie name," my son replied.

I began to get a sick feeling. And I regret to say my greatest fear was not for the feelings of Paddy. It was for the head of my D4 son if he meets Paddy or one of his friends in an alley on a dark night.

The Trinity College research shows you're more likely to be bullied if you fall into a group with a label, than if you go it alone. You become a target, like 20-year-old Sophie Lancaster who was beaten to death for being a goth in the UK in 2007.

Her mother, Sylvia Lancaster, works to educate young people not to hate each other for belonging to another group.

She is in Ireland this week for Anti-Bullying Week and she addresses a seminar in Trinity College at 1pm on Thursday entitled 'Stop -- words can hurt.'



identity

It's probably completely natural for kids to identify with groups. When I was growing up every cul-de-sac had its resident gang.

My kids have pitched battles with the kids from across the park who happen to play for a different football club.

But mass media and the internet allow groups to go national and international.

That means it's easy to categorise kids at a glance.

It makes kids a target for other kids who know nothing about them, just because of the way they look.

In the US, the groups are stronger in bigger high schools, like in that 1985 film, The Breakfast Club.

I suppose it's because the kids feel lost and are desperate for an identity.

I bet the groups are stronger too when home life doesn't give kids enough security.

As parents we should question our kids every time they come out with something insulting about kids who are different from themselves.

And it's vital that teachers are aware of 'alterophobia' -- hatred of others who are not like you -- before it leads to serious bullying.



courage

I hope they unite to fight these limiting labels.

I'd really hate to see them killing the courage of the kid who dares to be different.

And more than anything, I'd hate to see them killing a kid.