Bullying in schools


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.

4 thoughts on “Bullying in schools

  • December 7, 2016 at 11:57 am

    Picking up on this now, two years later, because in the past week there have been further bad bullying incidents at DSG in Grahamstown. The victims, not the perpetrators, have been expelled from the school. As someone closely connected with the school, my own observation is that the school leadership is entirely without moral compass, and will do whatever it believes necessary in order to protect the school’s cash-flow and the jobs of the management. If that means siding with bullies (and their often bullying parents) then that is what happens. And one must not forget serious incidents of bullying of girls by staff, which have been swept under the carpet or simply ignored.

  • September 29, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    children of the age 13-18 are well aware of what they are doing and there is NEVER an excuse for bullying. we allow this type of behaviour to continue and we then give all the bullies everywhere permission to behave like this. this behavior inpacts on the victims for the rest of their lives, many a suicde as taken place because of bullying. i feel for the victims. SHAME ON the people who are allowing this and making as if it is not important. had one of my children been accused of bulliny and i found out about it, you can be assured that i would deal with them. how as parents do we allow this behavior, it is wrong. Dallas

    • September 30, 2014 at 12:11 pm

      Unfortunately at DSG Grahamstown the parents of perpetrators (perpetrators incude the ringleaders who initiate the behaviour, pupils who succumb to peer pressure in their desperation to fit in and pupils who have been negatively influenced against the victim by a senior peer) are blissfully unaware of their daughters’ behaviour and have no idea what role their daughters’ played in the victims’ distress as most of the parents of perpetrators are not informed by DSG Grahamstown and its staff of what happens at the school and the conduct of their children.

  • September 28, 2014 at 6:10 am

    The spreading of rumours and enforcement of social isolation as described in this article is happening all too frequently at DSG Grahamstown. I would like to take the opportunity of commenting to this article on bullying and expose what is happening. I recently read in an article in the dispatch newspaper where Shelley Frayne and Paul Edey tore into the conduct of parents, pupils and public role models. She complained that the “popular crowd” at school set standards for high levels of social aggression and abusive behaviour towards girls whom they perceived to be of a lower status.” It was also mentioned in this speech that “pupils are becoming “extremely materialistic and demanding.” It needs to be mentioned, however, that Shelley Frayne’s words when she made this speech are a far cry from the reality of her actions. I believe it is necessary, just like Shelley Frayne tore into the conduct of parents and pupils, to tear into the conduct of DSG Grahamstown and its staff. There have been a number of cases over recent years (not genuine homesick cases and girls who decide boarding school is not for them) where girls have been a victim of the very behaviour (including social aggression, abusive behaviour, labelling, spreading of rumours and enforcement of social isolation, destruction of another’s property and in some cases physical bullying) described in this speech and who were forced to leave the school due to the emotional distress (and accompanying physical symptoms) that they suffered. Though the incidents of bullying vary from one case to the next, the experience at DSG Grahamstown for the victims and their families are the same. The victims’ rights to security, dignity and education at DSG are infringed, no moral value is upheld by the school and no stand is taken against the perpetrators guilty of the behaviour described. The victims’ parents’ concerns and attempts to sort the problem out are not taken seriously and nothing gets done about it. Parents’ polite and professional attempts to get support for their child are brushed off or ignored by DSG and some of its staff. Only when it is too late does Shelley Frayne swing into action with damage control in her attempts to avoid legal action and/or protect the reputation of the school. If there was a way for parents to take legal action without causing any further distress for their child, parents would not hesitate to go ahead with it. “Frayne says that pupils are increasingly unwilling to be accountable for their education and actions.” This should be no surprise as Frayne protects the perpetrators of the behaviour described from the consequences of their actions, claiming (amongst other reasons) that they are too young (from the age of 13 to 18) to understand the impact that their behaviour has on others! Offences are either denied, not investigated or made out to be unintentional. A common thread among the cases is a pupil being labelled a “snitch” (amongst other bullying incidents) and persecuted by her peers as a result. A victim’s fear of further retaliation from a perpetrator as described by the author in this article is not unfounded. “Snitching” should be encouraged in a boarding school environment as a preventative measure against socially aggressive behaviour and strong action taken against pupils who persecute another learner for this. No effective action is taken by Shelley Frayne against pupils who are guilty of this offence and this behaviour is repeated year after year! In addition to that, Frayne will go to great lengths in her attempts to make out that it was a weakness on the part of the victim that resulted in her having to leave the school. The pupils who are forced out of the school (as a result of the behaviour described in this article and by Frayne herself after it is too late to fix the problem) are the polar opposite of the demanding, materialistic and socially aggressive pupils that she describes in this speech. If Frayne really felt as strongly as she claims about the conduct of the demanding, materialistic and socially aggressive pupils, she would do more to protect the rights of the victims but instead she does the opposite and protects the perpetrators. If appropriate consequences were meted out to those guilty of the behaviour that she describes, these pupils would be forced to be accountable for their actions. Frayne’s excuse when a child leaves the school is that “bullying happens everywhere” and that the perpetrators behaviour is “age appropriate.” It should therefore be no surprise that the social aggression, abusive behaviour and moral decay at DSG continues while other schools do not tolerate the rights of others being infringed and intervene timeously when bullying takes place. It is my sincere hope that someone, who has a child who is neither materialistic nor demanding and has enough moral fibre that social aggression would never be a consideration for them, reads this comment and thinks twice before considering DSG as a school and avoids the stress, upheaval and trauma that such an ordeal causes for the victims and their family.


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