Bullying ‘a major problem in schools’

Published May 28, 2015


Bullying is a global phenomenon prevalent across cultures and creeds, irrespective of social standing or age.

It is particularly common among schoolchildren and negatively affects the physical, emotional, psychological and social well-being of countless victims. In extreme instances, victims harbour suicidal thoughts.

A 2013 Pondering Panda survey of 5 314 pupils, teachers and family members found that 36 percent of the respondents described bullying as one of the biggest problems at school, compared with 28 percent the previous year. Forty percent of 13 and 14-year-olds identified bullying as a major problem, compared with 32 percent of respondents aged between 15 and 17.

The survey found that both genders were equally affected.

“It is absolutely essential to protect children from bullying as not only does it have an immediate negative impact on a child’s mental, physical, emotional and social well-being, but these influences may have lasting negative effects and may transcend into adulthood.

“The effects of bullying may also become severe, thus leading to possible mental health difficulties such as depression, anxiety and panic disorders, substance abuse and even suicide ideation,” says Melina Georgiou, an educational psychologist affiliated to Akeso Psychiatric clinics.

As bullying mostly occurred at school – in transit between school and home, on the school grounds and particularly during breaks, schools should become active participants in rooting it out to protect the dignity and the human rights of everyone, she said.

“Bullying can be under-stood as the real or perceived imbalance of power and continuous harassment and/or intimidation of an individual through aggravated verbal and/or non-verbal behaviour.

Children who are bullied usually struggle to appropriately defend themselves and effectively cope with the situation,” she explains.

Bullying may take on varying forms: it may be physical (hitting, scratching, punching), verbal (teasing, swearing, name-calling), emotional (social isolation and/or humiliation, spreading rumours, rude and inappropriate gestures) or in cyber space by means of abusive or threatening text messages or e-mails, rumours sent by e-mail or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, video’s, websites or fake profiles.

A type of sexual bullying also happens in schools, for example where boys gang up against less developed classmates, taunting and even groping them.

Bullies seem to target individuals they perceive as “different”, in terms of looks, weight, accent, clothing or interests.

“Furthermore, disabilities seem to make some children appear as easy targets. Bullies also tend to zoom in on children who are young or small in stature, those who display quick emotional responses such as getting upset or crying easily, who struggle academically or are not sporty and who appear socially anxious, quiet or shy,” Georgiou adds.

Georgiou said there were diverse reasons as to why children sought to pick on and bully others.

Instigators identified in studies included previous trauma such as neglect, maltreatment or bullying; lack of consistent involvement or nurturance from parents; harsh, physical discipline or punishment at home, including emotional, physical or sexual abuse; lack of boundaries, supervision or intervention by parents, guardians, teachers and other adults; victimisation by older siblings, cousins or other immediate or extended family members and parents exhibiting violent or bullying behaviour to others.

Not all children who are bullied exhibit typical warning signs, but parents should be aware of changes in their child’s behaviour and patterns of behaviour not typical of the child.

These could be unexplainable injuries (physical marks, cuts, bruises and scrapes); lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, money or toys; frequent physical illnesses, such as headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness to get out of school and changes in eating habits.

Victims could have difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares. Furthermore their grades declined; they lost interest in school work, friends and social situations; they became sad, moody, angry, anxious, withdrawn, evasive or depressed; with feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem.

As bullying threatened pupils’ physical, mental and emotional safety at school and negatively impacted their ability to learn, schools should curb the occurrence of bullying by assessing bullying activity, actively engaging parents and pupils and establishing a staff committee to plan, implement and evaluate a bullying prevention program.

Teachers should have the school’s rules and policies on bullying at their fingertips and needed to be equipped to intervene.

Bullying prevention material could also be included in the curriculum and school activities.

“Parents who discover their children are bullied, should act immediately and go directly to the school principal.

Bullying concerns should be heard – and addressed – at the highest level. Schools should have an uncompromising stance against bullying and act swiftly and decisively against the culprits. This is the only way to clearly demonstrate that bullying will under no circumstances be tolerated,” Georgiou said.

Daily News Reporter

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