As the world marks International Anti-Bullying Week, Marchelle Abrahams asks the experts how parents can look out for the signs.
Celita Jenecker, 17, was tormented by her bullies for three years. As a result she had anxiety attacks and even tried to commit suicide.
“The bullying started in Grade 8, but things escalated in Grades 9 and 10. All my 42 classmates made my school days a living hell,” she said.
“They abused me emotionally. They would say I am ugly and tell me they hate me. I believed everything they told me. Most of the time I did not want to go to school because I knew I couldn’t concentrate.”
Fortunately, she’s taken her power back, and now the matric pupil is hoping to inspire other victims of bullying by raising awareness in her Mitchells Plain community.
Celita’s story is nothing new, but it certainly is not the last.
As the world marks International Anti-Bullying Week (November 13-19), the latest stats paint a grim picture. Just recently Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga claimed South African pupils are “the most bullied kids in the world”.
“Studies say kids who are bullied don’t perform well in school because they are depressed, they have low self-esteem and they are just generally unhappy,” Motshekga added.
As parents, we are always mindful of how our children react or behave in certain situations. But how can you tell if they are the victims of bullying if they are too afraid to tell you?
Online counselling project manager at Childline, Bhavna Lutchman, says there are tell-tale signs, including your child coming home with torn clothing, sore with injuries, and with no adequate explanation.
He or she may be reluctant to go to school or play with peers. The bullying may even start to affect their school work. There’s also the matter of their self-esteem taking a hit, “with them becoming increasingly withdrawn and isolated”.
The child also appears to be reluctant to participate in activities at school.
“Bullies are children with problems and often children who bully are being bullied or hurt themselves, feel powerless and have poor self-esteem,” adds Lutchman. “Bullying is often a way of trying to feel in control, and it can become a pattern of behaviour that lasts a lifetime.”
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) have developed a three-step plan for parents with children who are victims of bullying.
Make sure that the issue is bullying and not routine childhood conflict
If you suspect your child may be a target of bullying, you may want to try these approaches to find out for sure.
Ask and listen:
- Did someone hurt you on purpose?
- Is the other person bigger than you or scary to you?
- Did the child know you were being hurt?
Watch for signs, such as:
- Suddenly wanting to be driven to school instead of taking the bus.
- Unexplained stomach aches or headaches.
- Changes in sleep routines or temperament.
Teach direct and indirect techniques for dealing with bullies
You may want to encourage your child to:
- Avoid situations where bullying occurs.
- Hang out with classmates, friends, peers, or siblings.
- Tell the child who is bullying to stop.
- Do something the bully does not expect or want: yell, blow a whistle, laugh.
- Encourage group involvement.
- Children who interact with peers are less likely to be bullied.
You may want to help your child to:
- Join an after-school programme or activity.
- Develop a hobby that allows interaction with others.
Talk with teachers and administrators
- Notify them of the situation in writing - schools are obliged to respond to bullying.
- Then discuss ways the school can help such as by developing a bullying awareness programme.
- Join the PTA and raise awareness of bullying as an issue.