Paddy Gower Has Issues: Students pull out their phones rather than help 11yo beaten up at Napier school

This was one of Newshub's top stories of 2023. It was originally published on June 7.  

Warning: This story contains images and content that is disturbing

A young Napier girl has been bullied so badly that she's had to leave school.

The 11-year-old was beaten up at her intermediate school in March while a group of students watched, filming the incident rather than stopping the vicious attack.

Now the girl is forced to see the attack over again as it circulated across social media.

At the end of the school day on March 21, a Napier Intermediate School student - who we are not naming - was beaten up by one of her peers.

"We were just that just by the gate and they were holding me the whole time and started punching me [with] the other hand," she said.

"[She] kept punching me about 10 times in the head and kicked me in the head about three times and I was on the ground and trying to kick my legs and stuff."

The girl said the attack was filmed by another girl who was laughing and saying "I think I got it".

"I think she just wanted to show everybody," the girl said.

The girl said the attack was filmed by another girl who was laughing.
The girl said the attack was filmed by another girl who was laughing. Photo credit: Paddy Gower Has Issues

But bullying is no longer confined to school.

The video of the girl being beaten up has been circulated across social media and is sent to her personally around once a week. The comments on the video are nasty, including remarks such as "nobody likes you" and "I'll f**k you up".

Parents never used to see their kids get bullied, but with fights being filmed and shared, that's all changed.

"[I felt] a little bit of disbelief, but I think my first emotion was worried about her and then anger," the girl's mum said.

"I couldn't watch the whole thing because it was just so upsetting. I mean I just started crying pretty much. I was just…. yeah, really hard watch, a really hard watch."

More kids have phones now than ever, with 66 percent of 11-year-old New Zealanders having one and by the time they're 14, 95 percent of their peers will have one.

"The first thing people do whether it's negative or positive or bad or good, is pull out the phone and video it," the girl's mum said. 

"It's just so common and almost becomes just the normal thing to do, especially with children.

"But the bullying, there has to be consequences and there doesn't seem to be any and that's why the kids continue."

The woman has taken her daughter out of school and enrolled her somewhere else. But that doesn't stop the 11-year-old from fearing she will be beaten up again.

"I know it will happen to me again because there are a lot of girls that want to beat me up," she said.

The 11-year-old was beaten up at her intermediate school.
The 11-year-old was beaten up at her intermediate school. Photo credit: Paddy Gower Has Issues

Napier Intermediate School Principal Tim Van Zyl had only been on the job for less than a month when he saw the video.

He said it was disappointing the students took their phones out and recorded the attack - rather than stop it.

"I spoke to some of the students afterwards, and I said, why the phone? And it was just that natural reaction because they don't know what to do in that situation," Van Zyl said. 

"I said, well, why didn't somebody say, like, stop it or shout or scream or, you know… One of the students said back to me, she says, 'I never even thought of that. The first thing I thought was just to grab my phone and film it'."

The attacker was suspended and then the board eventually excluded her from school. Other girls who were part of the attacker's group are still at the school.

Napier Intermediate School is trying to help students with the online world by running a cyber safety week. Students coming into school also have to hand their phones over to teachers.

Van Zyl also brought police officers in to talk about keeping their children safe online.

"Be a parent. You know. That's our role as parents. We have to be the big person in the situation. And I'm not saying be mean. What I am saying is have that discussion with your child," he said.

"They're struggling with it. They're all admitting it, that they're struggling with it and we need to help them. We can't ignore it. 

"As parents, I'm a parent as well, but I've also got 400 other kids that I'm a parent to during the day time. We're trying our best and we also need you to help us too."

The parents were shocked, even terrified to learn what their children are doing on their phones.

"It was pretty concerning," one parent said.

"I think the thing that hits home is you just think your kids wouldn't do that. But geez, they probably are," another parent said.

Van Zyl said the biggest thing pointed out at the session was at the end of the day they are "just kids".

"These are young adolescents trying to deal with very, very complex situations in their lives and often they just can't be kids. I mean, that really that's what they want to do at this age," he said. 

"When I was their age, at this age, I was out on the street playing tennis on the road and I had to go home when the streetlights came on and it was time to go home, you know, didn't have all these other things that were influencing us. You know, we were able to be kids, and I'm sure you were, too.

"Yeah, but kids today can't be kids. It's difficult for them."

Research finds screen time is altering kids' brains

Auckland University senior research fellow in the faculty of medical and health sciences Dr Samantha Marsh has spent over a decade investigating the effects of screens on teenagers.

As part of one study, she interviewed hundreds of families, finding concerning results

"We heard a lot of stories about kids hitting their parents in the face when they tried to take their cell phone away from them. And one mom reported that her son peed himself instead of getting up, they wouldn't leave his gaming console," Dr Marsh said.

In America, even more, concerning things have been found. Researchers studied the brains of thousands of kids from the age of nine to when they turned 11. They used MRI imaging and found too much screen time was literally changing their brains

"They looked at the MRI scans and they saw a pattern of changes to the brain and that pattern of change is very similar to one that they've identified previously in adults who started drinking at a young age," Dr Marsh said.

"They were showing the changes in the actual black grey matter and things… and the actual structure of the brain."

She said when we get notifications on a phone we get a little dopamine spike and over time, that sort of thing happens in the reward centre of the brain, meaning we want to do that behaviour again. 

That reward goes higher and higher and then you have to come down at some point, which is why we're seeing addictive-like behaviours, Dr Marsh said.

"So then you put these in the hands of a child at school when they're meant to be learning, which is pretty boring for most kids most of the time, and we expect them to be able to switch off," Dr Marsh said.

"Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to that cycle that I was just talking about, they've got more receptors in their rewards section of the brain for dope mean they're more likely that you're going to find it harder to stop."

Dr Marsh said a ban on cell phones in school would be a great gift to kids because it would free them up to have some time during the day when they don't have all that messaging coming in. It would also force them to interact with each other.

"I believe a ban on phones would be a huge game changer," she said.

Where to find help and support: 

Stream Paddy Gower Has Issues in full on ThreeNow.