In October 2015, Cape Town teen Charné Roberts hanged herself in a toilet after she was bullied. US teen Brandy Vela sent her siblings a shocking SMS just hours before she put a gun to her chest and pulled the trigger in front of her parents and grandparents – she’d had enough of abuse from her cyber bullies.
The stories go on and on...
Ryan Duncan Prithraj would come home from school every day sad and irritated. Bullies called him ugly names and taunted him because of his weight. His dad Vicky only learnt years later that he was subjected to the ongoing abuse throughout his schooling.
Years later, Ryan used the power of those negative provocations and turned it into something positive. He passed matric with nine As and a 95.6 percent aggregate. And, because of his outstanding achievements, the UCT student got a White House invitation to former US president Barack Obama’s second inauguration.
Fresh out of high school, Ryan then heard that his sister Sarah was going through the same torment as he did. This is when the two of them came up with the idea of the Bully Boogie Challenge board game. “We took the concept of Snakes & Ladders and Monopoly and fused them”, he says.
Ryan explains that they are piloting the use of the game as a supplementary tool to combating bullying in many schools around the country. There has been a positive response, with the departments of Education in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape endorsing it.
Radio and TV presenter Terence Pillay has been a staunch supporter of anti-bullying campaigns over the years. “Bullying is fast becoming one of the biggest challenges that we face and the results for children who are being bullied can be grim,” he says.
He has observed that many times children are too scared to say anything, and it’s for this reason that up to 85 percent of bullying goes on undeterred.
Child rights specialist Joan van Niekerk says bullying can take a variety of forms, from physical to verbal: “Some children refuse to go to school when the bullying is severe and it creates anticipatory anxiety.”
Van Niekerk believes schools need to implement an anti-bullying policy that is drawn up with engagement from educators, parents and the children themselves. The policy should be “distributed to every child on enrolment at that school and also displayed as a poster in foyers and classrooms”.
But bullying doesn’t only occur in the classroom and on the playground. “With today’s modern and sophisticated phones, cyber bullying is quite pervasive,” she says.
She goes on to say that it can take the form of sexual bullying where a couple may have taken intimate photos of each other; the relationship breaks up and then there is the threat of or actual distribution of the photos to friends.
We often treat a bullied child with concern and empathy. But what about the bully? “Bullies usually have a history of being bullied and bullying another child deals with their sense of disempowerment and anger,” says Van Niekerk. “They need to be evaluated in terms of contributors to their behaviour and offered help.”
Pillay believes that parents of bullies need to get real and “ask yourself, are my children a product of who I am, what I believe and what I stand for”?
Many times when children are being bullied, a parent’s response is usually “go hit him back”.
Vicky points out that many times parents contribute to the problem: “The longer you put the child on the wrong footing, you have them scared.”
Children are taught to suck it in and deal with it.
Van Niekerk couldn’t agree more, saying that it’s not the way to go “as it underscores physical, sexual, verbal and emotional bullying/violence as a solution to the problem. In fact, it exacerbates it.
“One cannot deal with any form of violence with violence and then expect behaviour to change.” These children need to be equipped with life skills to manage their emotions and effect their behaviour has on others.
“Sadly, life skills get very little attention, especially in high schools, where other subjects are seen as more vital.”
While researching this article, I contacted a 16-year-old high school girl who agreed to tell her story. On completion of it, she reluctantly declined, saying that the emotional pain of recalling her experiences would be too much for her.
Her story is not unique. Thousands of children go through it every day. How do we deal with it?
“We need well trained life skills teachers who are specialised in their subject matter and who actually do skills training and not just teaching the theory. They also need to regard themselves (as should all educators really) as role models to the children they are teaching,” concludes Van Niekerk.
* Visit the Bully Boogie Challenge website: bullyboogie.co.za