Bullying and your child

Prof Eldrie Gouws (Ph.D, Psychology of Education)

For most children the beginning of a new school year is filled with expectation and excitement, but for some, going back to school is stressful and a humiliating experience as countless children fall victim to bullying, harassment and abuse at schools. Research found that 57% of South African school children claim to have been bullied at school.

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What is school bullying?

Bullying in school occurs when one student or a group of students intentionally hurt another student. Bullying has two key components: repeated harmful acts and an imbalance of power. It involves repeated physical, verbal or psychological attacks or intimidation directed against a victim who cannot properly defend him- or herself because of size or strength, or because the victim is outnumbered or less psychologically resilient.

Bullying can occur between peers at school, in the community, or in social groups. There are even cases of teachers bullying students.

Who is the bully?

  • The bully (or bullies) may have self-esteem issues and would only feel better about themselves by picking on someone who is weaker and less powerful.
  • The bully/bullies may develop a herd mentality and pick on a child who does not conform to what they view as normal.
  • Children bully other children so as to be seen as “cool” and avoid being bullied themselves.
  • In some cases, bullies are being abused at home and they take out their anger on one or more children they deem most likely to “take it” and not stand up for themselves. They might also bully children from healthy homes out of their envy for their normal and happy lives.

Types of school bullying

  • Verbal: excessive and malicious teasing, insulting remarks, name calling, embarrassing jokes and revealing intimate information, cursing, crude and inappropriate sexual comments, threats and taunting.
  • Physical: hitting, tripping, kicking, pushing and shoving.
  • Social: ignoring a certain person, casting them out of a group, making them feel left out, spreading rumours about them and telling other kids not to be friends with them.
  • Cyber bullying: is when a child, is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones. It is usually not a one-time communication act but extends over a period of time. The emergence of cyber bullying as a new form of bullying needs to be noted as a distinct phenomenon impacting on the lives of many young people, families and communities.

Researchers note that there are differences in school bullying patterns between boys and girls. Boys tend to be more physical while girls are verbal and use social bullying methods to hurt others. This passive-aggressive type of bullying may be harder for adults to detect.

Consequences of Bullying

  • Victims of bullying suffer consequences beyond embarrassment.
  • Some victims experience psychological and/or physical distress.
  • They are frequently absent and cannot concentrate on schoolwork.
  • Threaten students’ physical and emotional safety.
  • They generally have a low self-esteem.
  • Their victimization can lead to depression that can last for years after the victimization.
  • Children stayed at home to avoid being bullied.
  • Some children who are bullied experienced poorer health, more frequently contemplated suicide, and suffered from depression, social dysfunction, anxiety, and insomnia.

How do you know your child is a victim of bullying?

A child may display the following signs:

  • Withdrawal, loss of appetite or having trouble sleeping;
  • Poor self-esteem;
  • Having suicidal thoughts or attempts to commit suicide;
  • A sudden decrease in academic performance;
  • Fear of going to school, riding the bus/taxi, walking to school, or taking part in organized activities with peers;
  • Frequent complaints of headaches and stomach-aches.

Guidelines to parents to prevent bullying

The best way to address bullying is to stop it before it starts.

  • Listen to children. If someone tells you bullying is taking place, take action.
  • Seek counselling for your child if he/she shows signs of being bullied.
  • Teach your children to report bullying safely yet immediately.
  • Ask open-ended questions about their relationships with their teachers and their peers.
  • Let children know you are there to support them and you will do all you can to help them feel safe.
  • Reassure children who are being bullied that bullying is not their fault.
  • If someone is exhibiting bullying behaviour, let that person talk about his or her experiences, and offer support in a non-judgmental way.
  • Be a positive role model. Set a good example.
  • Take a leadership position in preventing bullying by developing and implementing a bullying-prevention initiative at home. Set consequences. Make bullying unacceptable.
  • Monitor cell phone and Internet usage of children.
  • If you are worried that your child might be being bullied, you should discuss your concerns with the school.

Advice to children who are bullied

  • Tell your parents or teachers.
  • When bullied, stay calm and don't fight back.
  • Avoid vulnerable situations. Walk to school earlier or later in the day, or walk with siblings or friends.
  • Don't be alone in hallways, restrooms or empty classrooms.
  • Never give out or share personal information online, including your name, the names of friends or family, your address, phone number and school name. Personal info also includes pictures of yourself and your email address. Never tell anyone your passwords.
  • Don’t reply to messages from cyberbullies.
  • Don’t erase or delete messages from cyberbullies but keep them as evidence.

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