Bullying seems to be an ever increasing phenomenon in South African schools. It is not limited by age; cases have been reported involving children as young as two. It causes untold emotional, physical and psychological harm.
As a parent this is probably one of the hardest things to be faced with, someone is harming your child and it goes without saying that your first response will be anger and revenge. If you have discovered that your child is in fact doing the bullying your anger will probably be just as bad. But showing anger is not an option; you cannot allow your personal feelings to get in the way of your child’s best interests, they need help in both cases and your paramount concern should be how to go about getting it.
What Is Bullying
Bullying takes on many forms but the most common amongst children are verbal and physical abuse. This means that the child is either being physically attacked or that verbal or emotional tactics are being used. This is usually a re-occurring problem and will probably get worse as the situation progresses. The victims are usually too ashamed or downtrodden to report the abuse, and the bullies will probably go out of their way to avoid witnesses. This makes it very difficult to spot and often goes on for a while before anyone notices.
One of the biggest problems with bullying is the parents. If a parent ignores the act, either their child being bullied or their child doing the bullying, they are taking one of the worst possible actions. If a teacher approaches a parent about their child bullying others it is imperative to take note. Do not think that the teacher is “picking” on your child. The teacher has no reason to call a parent in and lie about bullying. It just does not happen. Whilst we encourage parents to remain on the side of their child, there are limits. If stories constantly arise, there is a problem and ignoring it or not confronting the issue will just make it worse in the long run for you and yor child. We strongly suggest that if someone approaches you about your child being a bully, breathe, take a step back and look at the situation from a different perspective. Be critical and remain objective. If it turns out your child is bullying other children make sure you help to put a stop to it immediately.
If your child approaches you and says, he/she is being bullied instead of thinking, “my child’s a weakling” or a “sissy” listen to them. Find out what the child means by “being bullied”, and try and ascertain the extent of the bullying. If it is a mild case of bullying, your child needs to learn how to stand up for himself then give some indication as to how to do that. Do not tell your child “bully back” or “walk away from it”. Either of these instances will not help the situation in any way or form.
The Affects Of Bullying
Bullying can be directly connected to depression, problems in the home environment, anti-social behaviour and academic deterioration. It is a vicious and harmful cycle and needs to be addressed. Children need to feel safe, when their safety is compromised they can no longer enjoy their childhood; many children list bullying as a real threat to their safety and thus to a happy childhood.
The most severe affect of bullying is suicide or violent acts of retaliation. Think of all of the school shootings and stabbings that take place regularly, these can be directly related to bullying. One young girl who attended a local, upmarket school in Johannesburg has repeatedly tried to commit suicide ending up in hospital for the third time recently. Parents often remove their children from the school where the bullying is taking place, but this may be a short term answer only and will not fix the psychological affects that the bullying has caused.
The families of the young victims are just as hurt by severe bullying. Parents feel helpless and siblings suffer as they are often teased for being related to the victim. The victim may also have severe emotional outbursts which will ultimately affect family life. Victims may blame parents for not noticing what was going on earlier and helping them. Distrust becomes a big issue and needs to be rebuilt.
Bullies may also cause severe problems at home. They are obviously very angry and have chosen to express this by being hurtful to others. It is unlikely that this will stop at school. Siblings, parents and pets may also suffer at the hands of a child who has lost the ability to see how wrong their behaviour is. They are crying out for help and if they are not heard they will make life difficult until someone takes notice.
School life is also tainted by bullying. Teachers sometimes take on the role of bullies and can cause distress for children who are being threatened with failure, bad marks or public humiliation. It is also often the case that if bullying by learners or teachers is reported it is overlooked and palmed off as ‘naughtiness’ or ‘an over reaction’. Bullying represents a minefield for schools; it is harmful to their reputation and may affect their standing in the community. At the end of the day they are meant to be a place of safety for young people, and as such should always do their very best to prevent and stop any victimisation.
Why Kids Bully
- They need to be in control of a situation or person in order to feel good about themselves
- They want to punish someone that they are jealous of
- They think that threats and violence will get them what they want; this is often a learned behaviour and may be a pattern in their home
- They have issues with anger and cannot control their emotions
- They are exposed to violence regularly either at home, on TV or amongst their peers
- They have low self-esteem and need to belittle others to feel better about themselves
- They always get what they want and get angry when they don’t
- They may be bullied at home or by peers and want to get revenge
- They may be the victim of sexual, physical or emotional abuse, and are imitating this behaviour
- They may have seen someone that they look up to being a bully, this could include a sibling, friend, uncle or even a parent, and want to imitate them
- Bullying makes them feel powerful
How To Spot Bullying
If your child demonstrates the following actions, they may be the victim of bullying:
- Unwillingness to go to school, extra murals or social events such as birthday parties
- Damage to your child or their possessions. For example cuts and bruises, broken stationery or torn clothing
- Lost items of clothes, toys or tuck money
- Anti-social behaviour or wanting to be alone all the time
- Academic under achievement, lower marks and failures
- An increase or decrease of appetite and sleeping
- Acting depressed and down. This is especially noticeable if the child was once cheerful and happy
- Attempting to take their own life. This is very severe and may only occur once bullying has been going on for a very long time.
- Constant complaints of pain or illness; this could be attention seeking or genuine injury. A child will want to bring attention to the pain that they are feeling and this may manifest itself in constant complaints.
If your child demonstrates the following, they may be a bully:
- Fascination with pain and suffering
- Laughs when they see pain and suffering on TV or amongst their peers
- Inflicts physical or emotional pain on siblings or peers
- Causes harm to pets or other defenceless creatures and does not show any real remorse for this
- Is rude and disrespectful to parents, teachers and other of authority figures
- Seems to illicit fear in peers and ‘friends’
- Is the ‘ring leader’ of a group; this is not always true, but bullies are often popular and ‘hero-worshipped’ by their peers
- Arrogance or a ‘no-one can touch me’ attitude
What To Do
Once you have established that bullying is going on there are a few things that you can do to prevent and stop it:
- Communicate. When it comes to children communication is key. Talk to them about bullying; what it is, why it happens and how to deal with it. Make sure that they are aware that you know something is going on and that you won’t judge them for it. It must also be made clear that they are the victim and not in the wrong in this situation. If they are the bully make sure they realise that what they are doing is wrong and that they need to tell you why. Also keep lines of communication open with them, let them know that they can talk to you about anything at any time without you getting angry or upset. If they tell you something that upsets you or makes you angry stay calm and vent your frustrations when your child is out of ear shot. You do not want them to feel guilty or responsible for what you are going through on top of their own problems.
- Listen. Do not jump in before your child has finished talking, they cannot give you the full story if you do not let them finish it. It may be hard to bare and you may want to ask questions, but only talk when your child is finished. It is also important to take what is being said seriously and not to brush it off as ‘nothing’; this could be extremely harmful as it indicates that you don’t care.
- Report. Take your concerns to all relevant people; teachers, counsellors, parents and the school. If the school does not take action keep at it until they do. Make sure that the bully and victim are dealt with in the correct way. The school has an obligation to make sure that both of the parties are safe and must get involved in order to ensure that future bullying is prevented. The parents of the bully should also be informed and if possible a meeting should be set up between both sets of parents in order to find an acceptable solution to the problem. Counsellors also need to be brought in to counsel both parties and their parents.
- Support. Make sure that your child knows that they are supported and nobody blames them for their problems. If they are the bully, make sure that they know that even though their behaviour is disappointing, you will stand behind them as they try to fix it. A lack of support for either party will result in the problem becoming far bigger.
- Protect. Make sure that your child is safe from future physical harm. If this means moving them from one school to another then so be it. A lack of security in their school environment is dangerous and may result in severe repercussions. Every child should feel safe and happy at home and at school. But changing schools is not the only solution. You will still have to work through the emotional issues with your child; after all, it could happen again at the new school.
- Teach. Show your child how to talk about and express their feelings. Every child will have a preferred outlet, if they like to write stories or draw to express their feelings and experiences, let them do this. This will allow them to show their feelings constructively rather than by taking them out on others. Be sure to get them to explain these expressions so that you know what you are dealing with. Also teach your children to stand up for themselves, but not to retaliate as this may make the situation worse. They must learn to be assertive, not aggressive.
- Set An Example. Watch what goes on at home. If you and your partner constantly shout at one another or at your children you could be creating bullies or victims. Children learn from your behaviour and if their home environment is unsettled or aggressive they will learn to either cower in the face of bullies, or to bully others. Also make sure that your children are not exposed to violent TV shows, games or movies as this might heighten their aggression.
As a parent it is important to remember that you are not to blame for bullying. It is not your job to protect your child each and every hour of the day; in fact this might very well make the situation worse for your entire family. No parent or family is perfect and you cannot control what happens to your child when they are not in your care. The best you can do is be vigilant, take note of behavioural changes, monitor them, talk to your children and most of all be there for them. You can’t be everything to everyone in this situation but you can get your child the help that they need to overcome this tough situation.