One in every three children is a victim of school bullying. Is yours?
All children experience some form of school bullying as they move through school and/or college or even at home before they enter adulthood. So how should parents and educators deal with this growing menace?
Case #1: Radha (name changed), 12, was often patronised for being a quota student and manhandled by her strict convent school seniors. Her worst nightmare soon became a reality when she was cornered in the school bathroom and bullied for being poor and unhygienic. She and her family were called names; and to top it all, she was forced to lick her seniors’ shoes. A few days later, Radha committed suicide.
Case #2: Imtiaz (name changed), 10, was constantly mocked and mimicked by his own classmates for being dyslexic. After a few months of bearing this intolerable behaviour by his classmates, Imtiaz's parents filed a complaint against them. As a result, he was dismissed from his school for not being able to ‘fit in.’ Imtiaz is now home-schooled.
Case #3: Mohit (name changed), 13, was cornered by a group of classmates in the washroom who committed illegal sexual acts on him including touching his private parts. He was teased for being thin and weak, and because he was ‘too shy.’ After filing a compliant against the bullies, he faced even more intimidation. In fact, bullying impacted him so much so that he had stopped talking to family, friends, exhibited indifferent attitude and his school grades dropped significantly. Mohit was recently diagnosed with a Type-A cluster personality disorder.
Radha, Imtiaz and Mohit are among a third of all students aged between 12 and 18, who reported having been bullied at school globally. This statistic was first listed by the US-based National Center for Education Statistics in 2007. Sadly, these numbers have only escalated in India over the last couple of years.
“School bullying has become a menace in India and many cases have been identified and reported. Recall the incident that involved a Sikh child who was been bullied because of his turban, or the Kolkata-boy who was locked up in the school bathroom, or the case of a video made in a Delhi school,” says Kamna Yadav, clinical psychologist at ePsyClinic.com, Delhi.
What is school bullying?
Bullying is an intentional aggressive behavior towards another individual involving an imbalance of power. Yadav adds, “It is repeated over time and can take many forms such as verbal bullying (teasing, name-calling), physical bullying (hitting or punching), sexual bullying (vulgar gestures, uninvited touching, sexual propositions) emotional bullying (hurtful gestures, exclusion from the group or class) and cyber-bullying (negative messages via e-mail or text messaging).” Children who share common traits form a group and target others who are different or can be easily bullied such as, children who are thin or fat, short or tall are easy target.
Anuja Kapur, a Delhi-based psychologist and socialist says, “Bullying is a global issue and it is the most common abuse exercised by kids because of the varied behavioural characteristics.” She identifies the following four major behavioral characteristics associated with bullying:
- Intentional: Children can hurt other children by accident; but school bullying is always intentional and meant to cause some sort of harm, either physical or verbal. “This behaviour persists even after the victim has asked the bully to stop,” says Kapur.
- Repetitive: School bullying occurs repeatedly as seen in many cases. Bullies often target children who they know will not do anything about the behaviour, so they can continue this act for as long as they like.
- Hurtful: Bullying is a negative behaviour that may include physical or verbal harm. It can also greatly affect the psychology of the one who may be bullied.
- Imbalance of power: If two children hold an equal amount of power, one cannot bully the other. This imbalance of power can come from different sources, including age, size, strength, and social status.
Freyaz Shroff, Head of Operations World Wide, KurNiv Success Solutions and KurNiv Kids, Mumbai, says “If you consider these behavioral characteristics of bullying, you will notice that many parents and teachers resort to ‘bullying’ children. For instance, if a teacher shames a student for not finishing his homework, he establishes his authority and creates an imbalance of power. This then gives license to other children in the class to humiliate this student.”
Similarly, parents who yell at their children, use a sarcastic tone of voice and in a repeated manner lower the child’s self-esteem are also bullying the child. “Observation of such behavior can either cause a child to feel that it is okay to be bullied or that it is okay to bully,” says Shroff.
Continue reading to know how a child develops the traits of a bully
How does one become a bully?
Why are children involved in acts that harm other kids? Why do they bully? The answer lies in the fact that they themselves have been bullied and they are more likely to have serious physical or mental health problems. “Exposure to violent behavior at home, media, lack of social values, parental monitoring, bad role model act as contributing factors,” says Yadav.
Let’s understand that children have developing and fragile mindsets. Whatever the child notices becomes a dominant part of their learning map and that is implicitly found in their behaviour. Both bullies and the children being bullied develop negative patterns.
“Bullies tend to have broken relationships, ineffective communication and unhealthy emotional patterns, which leads to estranged relationships with their children and spouses. The children being bullied tend to suffer more physically into adulthood. They are more likely to smoke regularly, suffer from ill-health and in extreme cases may also suffer from psychological disorders,” says Shroff.
How does bullying affect children?
Unfortunately, the outcome of bullying isn't temporary and its effects can be seen throughout the victim's life. “The long-lasting psychological impact of bullying stems directly from short-term impacts that children experience as the result of being consistently bullied,” says Kapur. She lists the following side-effects of this loathsome act.
- Depression, anxiety, feelings of loneliness and isolation: Depression and anxiety extend into their adult lives where they develop chronic, sometimes lifelong health problems. These issues make eating, sleeping, working, exercising and engaging in interesting hobbies more difficult. “They also make it more difficult to make and keep relationships, whether with friends or romantic partners,” says Kapur.
- Low self-esteem: Bullying damages the victim’s ability to view themselves as desirable, capable and effective individuals resulting in the inability to trust themselves as capable individuals. “This can have major repercussions on work, relationships and other trying life situations that require persistence and grit to overcome or succeed,” says Kapur.
- Lack quality friendships at school: They also have difficulty trusting fellow classmates and have reduced occupational opportunities. “Such children may also have a tendency to be loners. They may make fewer positive choices and act less often in defence of their own happiness, owing mostly to the childhood bullying.
- Higher risk of suicide: There are cases where children suffered from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and it sometimes pushed them to develop suicidal tendencies.
- Increased risk of substance abuse: Use and abuse of alcohol and tobacco can wreak havoc on bodies; and depression and anxiety can cause long-lasting problems with relationships, work and happiness.
- Lower academic outcomes: Skipping school or dropping out can also affect success in life.
So in an event of your child facing constant bullying what should you do?
Continue reading to know how to help your children if they are victims of school bullying
Role of educators
It’s a menace which many children experience and one that needs immediate redressal. Thus, it is important for caregivers, guardians, parents, authorities, counselors and psychologists to notice signs of bullying and act soon. "Instead of assuming that the child will deal with it on its own, parents must come forward and offer help," says Yadav.
Sumit Vohra, founder and CEO of Admissionnursery.com, Delhi, and a father of two girls says, “Bullying is sadly not taken very seriously by school authorities in India. As a parent, I have noticed many so-called ‘rich kids’ bullying children from economically weaker backgrounds.”
He adds that when such incidents are reported by the victims or their parents, schools either ignore them or let the bullies go after a warning. “This greatly affects the psyche of the one who is bullied. Parents and educators need to jointly tackle this menace,” says Vohra.
Ambrish Saxena, educator and director, Vivekananda Institute of Professional Students, Delhi, agrees. "Bullying is undoubtedly a menace in schools in India. I have noticed that affected students remain under pressure of being manhandled. They are scared of taking independent decisions. It results in their weak personality and lack of initiative."
Saxena adds that educators must keep an eye in the class to make sure that no student is allowed to rise as a bully. “It must be ensured that equal opportunities are available to all the students. Also, students who may not be that good in studies or other activities should be given extra care. Constant vigil and mentoring by teachers can reduce this problem significantly,” he says.
Early this year, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) directed all its affiliated schools to form an anti-bullying committee. This was done after the agency saw a footfall of cases of physical and cyber-bullying of students. CBSE has also recommended strict action against anyone found bullying. This ranges from a written warning to even rustication of the student.
Impact of positive parenting
With extended families giving way to nuclear families and in the absence of grandparents at home to love and lead the children, the responsibility of checking a bully falls squarely on the parents. “There are several things that as a parent one can do to help turn around the situation. For instance, talking or sharing and spending time as a family,” says Kapur.
She adds that parents must keep a tab on the behavior of the child. “If the child is permanently sad or worried, if you notice torn school or play clothes, if you notice telltale bruises, if the child misses school quite often, if the child avoids the school bus, if you notice an increasing demand for more pocket money or if you notice frequent complaints of headaches and stomach aches; be careful, because these are are the usual smoke signals to detect that the child is haunted by a bullying instance,” says Kapur.
Experts list the following 7 tips for guardians, parents and educators to tackle this issue:
- Parents and teachers should consider bullying as a contributory factor when children present repeatedly with sore throats, colds and coughs, nausea, appetite problems, or are worried about going to school.
- Be empathetic towards children and ensure that children who are bullied receive the counseling support they need at the right time.
- Parents should strengthen their communication with children so that bullying comes up in conversations, especially when children are younger. They should feel comfortable telling about their fears and these conversations can be a part of a broader conversation about respecting other people’s opinions and differences.
- Believe your child when they tell you that they are being harassed or bullied.
- Parents should be more vigilant to these warning signs if their child falls in the high-risk groups more likely to be bullied. These include kids who are obese or have disabilities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
- In schools, teachers and counselors should make sure that they make the children feel comfortable to speak up if they witness someone being bullied.
- Bullying needs to be addressed swiftly and the consequences should include recommendation for counseling for the bullies too. Many bullies have often faced problem of their own and talking about it could help them not displace their pain on others.
“From my personal account with bully victims, it shows how bullying can spread when left untreated. Thus, we should stop dismissing bullying as a harmless, inevitable, part of growing up,” says Yadav.
Clearly, there is a significant need to change our mindset and to acknowledge it as a serious problem for both parties, the victim and those involved in an act of bullying, as the effects are long-lasting and significant. “Some interventions and policies are already available in schools but new tools and implementation of those policies are needed to help professionals identify, monitor and deal with the ill-effects of school bullying,” says Yadav.
The challenge we now face is committing the time and resource to these interventions and policies in order to put an end to bullying.
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