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New app gives victims of abuse a support line

Kids
The effects of school bullying can last a lifetime and early childhood intervention may help tackle it, writes Marchelle Abrahams.

Countless studies undertaken have shown the psychological effects bullying has on those involved. But what about the physical damage?

A study led by the University of Pittsburgh recently found that being bullied at school could affect you for life. The study sought to focus on the impact on physical health as well as mental health and found that victims are less likely to succeed and more likely to suffer stress as adults.

And it’s not just those being bullied – it also found that the antagonist remains more aggressive and hostile in their early thirties.

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BULLY MENTALITY: Being bullied at school could affect you for life. Picture: shaw af.mil

A review published in the journal Pediatrics also found a link between bullying and physical problems brought on by trauma. These manifested itself in the form of headaches and stomach cramps.

Child rights advocate Joan van Niekerk agrees: “Severe stress resulting from bullying at home, school or other settings (eg sports club) can affect sleep, appetite and this impacts on physical wellness and development.”

Van Niekerk has also observed that “there is both a direct and indirect impact on physical and mental and emotional health; and on a child’s ability to develop appropriate social relationships.”

This carries onto adulthood with Van Niekerk saying she has seen adults who have been affected by bullying.

“Often bullied children as they grow develop bullying behaviour themselves and this pattern follows into adulthood. This is why it is so important for helping responses to include both the victim and the bully,” she says.

The numbers don’t lie: according to the results of a 2014 survey, about 58 percent of South African school children were victims of bullying.

But we don’t need stats to show that our nation is in the grip of a bullying scourge.

If anything, the study shows that intervention has to be done on a school level.

Marc Hardwick, director of The Guardian Group child investigation company in Durban, has come up with an ingenious way of reporting abuse at schools via anonymous channels.

The Guardian Schools app, the first of its kind in the world, was specifically created for schools to give children a safe, instant and anonymous tool to report abuse. “This is extremely important to us, as the power of this app is ensuring the anonymity of the reporter,” Hardwick told the Daily News.

How it works:

Schools sign up for the app and pay a monthly fee of R500, but it will be available for free to pupils at the school, who download the app from either the Play Store or Apple App Store.

This enables them to report on issues that they or their friends are experiencing.

The system is set up to make sure that only a predefined staff member can access reports that were made about abuse or bullying.

When a report is submitted, it goes to the e-mail of the predefined staff members, telling them to log into the system to access details of the report “and take the necessary action to safeguard the child”.

The staff member can ask for further information if necessary from the person making the report, but will never know his or her identity.

Shake if in trouble

Another free app called Shake For Help was designed for Android smartphones.

After downloading the app, a child can set the shake signature by shaking the device the way they would if they were in trouble.

If a matching shake is detected, Shake For Help will alert the child’s emergency contacts which could include parents, caregivers, etc.

The app will also transmit the child’s exact location and other important information.

Forms of bullying:

Bullying is a huge problem in South African schools, by both pupils and educators, says child rights activist Joan van Niekerk. These can take the forms of:

Hazing: An initiation process which sadly affects the most vulnerable children as it is usually practised by higher grades on children entering the school in the lower grades. But sometimes this gets completely out of hand. The “victims” are usually sworn to secrecy – and may be so frightened and intimidated that they will not even inform a parent.

Sexual bullying: Often boys on girls (or boys), where there is touching – or worse – without consent, and pressure again not to tell.

Physical bullying: This is sometimes easier to deal with as injuries are often noticed by parents or caregivers when the child returns from school.

Verbal bullying: Name-calling and demeaning comments.

Important info:

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