Horror of tiny bully brigades

By John Harvey

EASTERN Cape educators and parents are deeply concerned that children as young as four years old are actively bullying their peers.

Not only have principals of pre-primary schools in the province conceded that the “bullying age” has dropped considerably, but they have also cited reasons for why it is taking place.

Parents have also revealed that some parents are even encouraging their young children to target and treat weaker boys and girls badly to reinforce their “power” over them.

Weekend Post also established that:

* Children as young as four are forming cliques to gang up on weaker individuals

* Cases have been reported where bullies make a habit of stabbing targeted peers with scissors

* Pre-schoolers mimic the behaviour of their fathers who have “successfully” gone through life as bullies

* Girls exhibit “diva” behaviour from Grade R (five years old), in which they bully other girls for not having a popular item that makes them “in”

* Young children who watch cartoons depicting violence often use the images to fuel their abusive behaviour towards others

* Urban Eastern Cape pre-schoolers gang up on those who come from the rural areas to mock their accents.

The disclosures come in the wake of the horror murder of  Grade 10 pupil Nkululeko Ndlovu in Vosloorus on Monday November 19. Ndlovu and his gang had allegedly been tormenting his 18-year-old killer for months. The teenager’s death has drawn widespread celebration in the small Vosloorus community, whose members feel that justice was done.

It has also thrust bullying into the spotlight across the country.

Hanliette Marsh, principal of  Newton Park Educare and Pre-Primary in Port Elizabeth, said in her 13 years of teaching she had definitely seen an increase in bullying among younger children, some as young as 3½. She felt that the school had managed to stamp out the scourge.

“One of the reasons is that life is moving so fast and kids understand so much these days. What happens is that their parents are so busy at work that no attention is paid to them, so they take their frustrations out on a weaker individual,” Marsh said.

“Even more worrying though, are the cliques that are being formed at this young age. I have seen cases where the older kids will gang up on a younger boy. The girls are especially problematic though, because they are real little divas in Grade R.”

Another problem is that some parents encourage their kids to be bullies to show who is the more powerful child. They think they are teaching them to stand up for themselves.”

Marsh said  a system was in place at the school that ensured bullying was nipped in the bud.

Parent Suzanne Smith felt forced to remove her child from his school because of bullying. “He was being bullied all the time, and was even stabbed with things like scissors and pens because he was a such a sensitive child,” said Smith, who now home schools her children.

“I think bullying is taking place from a young age because of the aggressive society we live in. The problem is that the discipline there is, is being done in the wrong way. It is all very aggressive.”

In East London, Education Station educare owner Karen Ferreira said that  children at her Saxilby school – 95% Xhosa-speaking – teased those who were “rural”.

She said this behaviour probably emanated from class conscious parents, and that bullying and teasing occurred among the Grade R children in the last months before they went into Grade 1.

“The popular girls tend to form cliques and tease others about their ‘broken English’.”

Ferreira said children were even teased about the cars their parents drove and about having food like eggs in their lunchboxes.

“And if girls shave their heads, they are teased terribly.”

Linkside Pre-Primary School principal Sharon Westcott, whose school has also  managed to put a stop to bullying by adopting a zero- tolerance policy, was nonetheless acutely aware that four-year-olds in the province were engaged in bullying. 

“Television has a large part to play in the behaviour of these children. They cannot distinguish between fantasy and reality and exhibit violent behaviour to their peers, who they believe to be weaker,” Westcott said.
“Generally, we find that boys who are bullies do so because their father is also a bully.”
Bullying of any nature in public and independent schools is prohibited by  the South African Schools Act (1996) and its subsequent amendments, and is a breach of pupils’ constitutional rights.

Most pre-primary schools belong to the  Independent Schools Association of South Africa (Isasa), and organisation that prohibits bullying in any form.

This is a shortened version of an article that appeared in the print edition of the Weekend Post on Saturday, November 24, 2012.

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