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A large percentage of SA schoolchildren are bullied by other pupils, and some by teachers, writes Simon Weaver.


Bullying is a very destructive behaviour that leaves victims feeling defenceless, insecure, depressed and unsafe at school. It slowly kills the character of the child by decreasing self-esteem and results in him not realising his true potential.

If bullying is not dealt with, it can easily build up to a point where victims become so depressed and angry that they resort to desperate measures to deal with the situation.

They may commit suicide or angrily lash out at someone else.

Bullying in South African schools is becoming more of a focus for school authorities as the media becomes aware of the many

atrocities that take place against defenceless children.

A 2010 survey by Dr Lynette Jacobs of 690 secondary school pupils found that:

* 83.6 percent indicated that bullying took place at their school.

* 78.8 percent indicated that their belongings were stolen at school.

* 76.1 percent felt powerless at school.

* 58 percent indicated that other pupils mocked, insulted and humiliated them.

* 40.9 percent indicated that a staff member mocked, insulted, or humiliated them.

* 40.3 percent were seized and shoved on purpose.

Researchers at consumer insights company Pondering Panda, who did a survey of 5 183 pupils

and their parents, said the following: “The relatively high incidence of bullying shows that there is a real problem in many schools, and this clearly needs to be tackled head-on.”

What is most important is that any type of bullying needs to be taken very seriously.

We all get very angry and upset when we hear about cases of bullying.

Our first reaction is to seek retribution on the bullies and to want to really hurt them.

School authorities are expected to deal harshly with any form of bullying by expelling the culprits.

However, every bullying incident is riddled with complexities.

First, it is important to define what is meant by “bullying”. We all have various perceptions of this, which are dependent on our own experiences.

Academics and researchers also have very different views. For example, Tattum and Tattum (1992) have a very general definition:

“Bullying is the wilful, conscious desire to hurt another and put him/her under stress.”

This definition implies that any hurtful behaviour can be viewed as bullying. At the other end of the spectrum, school consultant on bullying, Professor Ken Rigby, defines bullying as involving a desire to hurt another person, a hurtful action, an abuse of power with a power imbalance, (typically) repetitive, evident enjoyment by the aggressor and a sense of being oppressed on the part of the victim.

Another aspect which further complicates the issue is that many children perceive they are being bullied when they are, in fact, involved in conflict.

When schools start focusing on bullying, the children initially see any conflict or hurtful behaviour as bullying and the authorities are inundated with accusations of bullying, with people expecting harsh punishments being meted out to

the aggressors.

Another complicating factor has to do with the actual naming of the “bully”. As soon as someone is named a bully, regardless of

whether the incident has been investigated, he/she is immediately judged and condemned.

The word itself conjures all sorts of negative feelings towards the person and implies the person is abusive and evil. The “bully”

label is very difficult to shed and can follow that person for a long time after the incident, and in some cases results in the so-called bully becoming the victim.

Another complicating factor has to do with how we perceive situations that could be construed as bullying.

Often boys who are accused of bullying will indicate that they really did not intend to hurt the victim and that they were just “having fun”. What is seen as fun and games by a big matric boy can be seen very differently by a little Grade 8 boy.

With all these complexities associated with bullying, it becomes very difficult to deal with the situations

that arise. However, bullying is a curse that destroys potential and kills children’s characters, and needs to be dealt with in a comprehensive manner. I believe the most effective strategy to use comes from the social scientists James Wilson and George Kelling, called

Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows.

Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside.

The idea is to take care of the small things and then the big things will not happen. This approach was very effectively used in

New York to fight crime.

This is the strategy we should be using in schools to combat bullying.

By taking care of the small incidents and the small issues, we will then have fewer big cases of bullying to deal with.

Schools need to develop a culture that upholds respect and understanding of others and where

all are encouraged and supported, regardless of who they are and how different they may be.

It would be far more constructive to talk about “unkind” behaviour rather than bullying. An act of unkindness is easy to see and feel and it is these acts that often lead to later episodes of bullying.

So, if we can address unkindness we will assist in alleviating the bullying in our schools.

Political theorist and philosopher Edmund Burke said, “Evil flourishes when good men do nothing”.

Those who stand by and watch unkindness and bullying could do a great deal to stop this type of behaviour.

Bullies usually indulge in bullying behaviour to derive some benefit from picking on their victims.

Generally, they aim to impress those around them.

The way those watching an incident of bullying respond can influence the way the bully behaves in his quest to impress others through his abuse of power. Because of this, bystanders wield a great deal of power in a bullying scenario.

Furthermore, if the whole school can work on better relationships between all role-players, the children will be happier, safer and

more secure.

This will ultimately result in pupils learning more and becoming fully actualised adults who will then be able to make a worthwhile contribution to society and raise well-adjusted children of their own.


How to deal with incidents at school

* Promote a ‘hurt-free’ environment by accentuating the school’s values of respect, integrity, compassion.

* Use themes to drive certain issues.

* Establish a ‘hurt-free’ school by communicating the rights and responsibilities of the children.

* Teach staff, children and parents about hurtful behaviour and bullying.

* Conduct an annual survey to monitor and assess the degree of the problem at the school. This will show

how widespread the problem is.

* Develop tutor groups where children can have a voice in a smaller group and discuss these issues.

* Promote better bystander behaviour so that children act in a positive way when they see unkind,

or hurtful, behaviour.

* Develop ways of dealing with bullying and unkind behaviour when it occurs. It is important to use the

‘no-blame approach’which serves to investigate each issue with all those concerned and to resolve it in a

constructive way.

* Eliminate ‘institutionalised bullying’ like initiations and privileges that can be used to abuse others.

* Provide children with the means of communicating their problems and issues without ridicule. This may

be by the use of an anonymous e-mail address or a box.

* Life skills classes need to be devoted to dealing with this type of behaviour. The aim would be to educate and empower potential victims and bystanders.

* Talk about bullying in assemblies.

* Create a huge push to develop kindness and respect between all at school.

* Instead of talking about bullying talk about ‘unkind behaviour’.

* Set up friendship corners and zones where children can play.

* Develop a philosophy of ‘be kind, be kind, be kind’.

* Reward kind and positive behaviour.

* Always ensure a sense of an adult presence, as bullying occurs where there is poor supervision.

* Recruit staff who are kind to children and are good role models.

* Encourage journals for the children to express themselves.

* Keep the children occupied and busy, as bullying takes place when there is not enough to do.

* Provide an outside listener.Get people from outside the school to listen to children who feel they want

to talk about issues.

* Implement a ‘black box’ for those children who feel they cannot tell others about their problems face-to-



* Weaver is the headmaster of Cordwalles Preparatory School in Pietermaritzburg.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

The Mercury