Who’s affected by bullying?
Recently front page headlines of a leading national daily screamed – “School Bullies caught on cell…”
It’s unlikely that any school is absolutely free from bullying behaviour. The prevalence of bullying is overwhelming. Researchers concluded that at least 25 percent of all children are affected by bullying at some point during their school years, and many of these children miss significant number of school days each year owing to fear of being bullied. Chronic victims of bullying report physical and mental health problems, may develop depression or low self-esteem, may bring weapons to school, and may contemplate suicide more often than their non-bullied peers. Bullying can create a climate of fear and anxiety, not only for the direct victims, but for the bystanders as well. This negative climate may limit students’ opportunity for a safe, healthy learning environment: I have been observing this for the last few years in my practice around Delhi NCR.
As a clinical psychologist, I have been working for the last few years with victims as well as bullies. Bullying affects victims from simple avoidance, anxiety to suicide. Whereas bullies do no better in their life, they become hyper sensitive and quick-tempered in later stages of their life. The domination they showed off when they were young as strong, don’t care attitude doesn’t help them to concentrate on studies at hand, results in losing focus and are not able to build their future. The outcome – mediocre individuals, unhappy, aggressive, abusive towards family members and sometimes indulging in criminal activities. As parents they pass on the same behaviour to their children as well.
Once a Grade 6 child started vomiting just before going to school and stayed back home. The next day he went to school and came back with high fever. The parents consulted a doctor, and the child remained absent from school for a couple of days. Then he started having nightmares and did not want to go to school. The parents thought that he was not well so they kept him home. Later, he flatly refused to go to school saying he would jump off the school building if forced to go to school. When explored it was clear that he had lost confidence and self esteem which resulted in developing extreme social anxiety. It took three years to help this child to gain ground.
In every bullying activity we lose two or more children. Victims struggle to build their lives as best they can, but bullies bring in more complications in society. They become more aggressive and indisciplined resulting in their children learning the same behaviours and turning to be new bullies causing unending vicious behaviour with increased aggression in society. These children are not able to learn coping strategies from their parents as they demonstrate the same bullying behaviour in front of their children. What these children see in their parents is repeated exactly in the same way with their friends and children who are younger to them in other places.
Bullying, as defined by Olweus, occurs when a student is repeatedly harmed, psychologically and/or physically, by another student or a group of students. Bullies are typically physically, psychologically, or socially stronger than the children they bully. It is important to realize that bullying may present itself in different forms, including, but not limited to, physical assault or aggression, verbal and/or physical threats, intentional exclusion from a group, spreading rumours, menacing gestures, or repeated name calling, etc.
It is clear that bullying is a significant problem that affects many children and deserves the attention of both educators and parents. The best strategy to address the problem of bullying is prevention. Creating a comprehensive plan for coping with this issue is of utmost importance to educators. School personnel can do their part by imposing strict policies against bullying and implementing school-wide prevention programmes.
HOW INSTITUTIONS CAN DEAL WITH BULLYING:
There is a need to understand that all bullying behaviour cannot be stopped or prevented. But institutions can take considerable steps in prevention as much as possible.
- Find out bullying hot spots in your school (wash rooms, remote corridors, parking places, school buses, play grounds, etc.) Need to keep cameras all over these places without compromising privacy.
- Put up posters that convey that only weak students bully and strong students protect. The language used should be simple with meaningful pictures.
- Keep bully boxes at secure places (where the victims can write and drop chits, as sometimes children don’t like to talk about this to anybody).
- Never reprimand the bully in front of other children. (this can lead to more complicated problems)
- Station supervisors or class representatives or teachers at hot spots at specific times (early morning – just before classes start and after school is over). These activities occur more at these times.
- Announce a Zero Tolerance Anti Bullying Policy and consistently implement it. This consistency often acts as a deterrent for bullying behaviour.
- Have life skills training for the students on negotiation, problem solving skills, empathy, dealing with anger etc. (older students must be involved in this to teach younger children. This drastically reduces any maladaptive behaviour).
- Develop and conduct anger management programmes for the children who indulge in bullying behaviour.
John Victor is a Senior Clinical Psychologist, formerly with VIMHANS as faculty & Consultant. He has trained all the counselors of MSF India, CANSUPPORT and SPARSH in association with MSD (Merck Pharmaceuticals) in Basic Counseling Skills, conducted workshops on Fear and Love for Maths, Living with Teachers’ Stress etc, worked with the staff of MSF Kashmir (Médecins Sans Frontières) in dealing with their professional burnout at the time of severe conflict in 2011. He has also conducted a series of public awareness programmes at IHC on topics like ‘Violence & Aggression in Children’ and ‘Personality Re-Engineering’. Currently, he is associated with SANOFI in conducting Conscious Parenting Workshops all over India.