FOR many children, school is a war zone where they experience some form of physical or verbal abuse by fellow pupils.
The issue has had a great deal of media attention over the last few years and a number of anti-bullying campaigns have begun throughout South African schools.
Bullying is a worldwide problem and only one form of school violence. There is a misperception amongst many people that bullying is just a part of a child’s development and the child will outgrow these behaviours. This is why many children keep quiet about abuse and many educators fail to respond.
What is particularly scary is that it can have negative lifelong social, emotional, psychological and educational consequences, both for perpetrators and for their victims.
Bullying is comprised of direct behaviours such as teasing, taunting, threatening, hitting and stealing, initiated by one or more perpetrators against a victim.
Boys and girls generally use different methods to bully fellow pupils. However, while direct physical assault seems to decrease with age, verbal abuse appears to remain constant.
School type, size, settings – whether rural or urban – do not seem to be distinguishing factors.
While boys are likely to engage in “direct bullying” in a physical manner, girls take to spreading rumours or enforcing “social isolation”. Whether the bullying is direct or indirect, the key component here is that this intimidation occurs repeatedly over time to create an on-going pattern of harassment and abuse.
Both perpetrators and their victims suffer long-term consequences in later life. Victims tend to suffer from depression and low self-esteem. In my opinion, it is a myth that bullies are insecure underneath their bravado. Research indicates that their self-esteem is generally average or above average.
Many of the victims are too afraid to discuss the abuse with either a parent or teacher. The fear of retaliation on the part of the perpetrator is just too great! If the abuse is serious or if it has taken place over a long time, many hide it from their parents for fear of upsetting them. In my opinion, it is much easier for pupils to talk to their peers.
As a result, educators and parents often don’t know that someone is being bullied. It is crucial for pupils to be supervised – particularly in the playground and in the hallways.
Educators need to be encouraged to promote an atmosphere of caring by instituting an anti-bullying campaign at their school. Educators, pupils and parents should be involved in compiling and implementing the programme and the main aims of the programme should be to: raise awareness, improve peer relationships, encourage pupils to disclose abuse and to stand up against bullies, develop rules to prevent bullying, decide on disciplinary steps.
There is a reason why the new Children’s Act 38 of 2005 includes “bullying by another child” as a form of abuse. We need to start taking this issue more seriously!
Moms and Dads, are your children being bullied? Look out for these warning signs which MAY indicate that they are: coming home with cuts and bruises, torn clothes, asking for stolen possessions to be replaced, “losing” lunch money, falling out with previously good friends, being moody and bad tempered, being quiet and withdrawn, wanting to avoid leaving the house, aggression with siblings, decline in school work and symptoms of anxiety or depression.
Rose Downer is a registered senior social worker and may be contacted on 082-667-5567.