Today, bullying is not just a question of ragging in colleges or peer pressure. It has spiraled into something bigger that includes the likes of cyber bullying. Everyone is worried about the situation in educational institutes today. How do we help our children cope with this menace? Is it really such a big deal? – Read on for some answers.
As parents, we are to start school for our little girl sometime this year, and I am thinking of how it was for us, when we were kids. We have both faced bullying at school, and neither of us will ever say we turned out better because of it. There is nothing GOOD or ACCEPTABLE about it at all. It didn’t teach us any life lessons, it didn’t make us stronger, it didn’t make us more proud of our uniqueness. All it did was drain us of energy, fill us with fear and forced us to deal with a problem that shouldn’t have been ours to begin with.
It becomes a very tricky matter when the people in question are little people – children. Doesn’t it? Parents of both the alleged bully and the bullied child call to arms and everybody wants to blame somebody in order to be able to make sense of what is happening. Teachers point towards the home – THAT is where that behavior came into the classroom from. Parents point right back- THAT is where that behavior came home from. Eventually, everybody hates everybody and very little good comes out of it.
We forget that we too have at some point in time taken bullying lightly, or dismissed a child who came to us about it; asking them to suck it up for once, or to not act like a ‘sissy’ or some such.
One truth about the whole scenario is that parents, teachers and everyone else needs to work together to flush this menace out of educational institutions. Everyone needs to grow sensitive, aware and compassionate. Not only do we need to know what bullying is and what it does; we also need to see it from different vantage points to know what impact it can have.
So here is an attempt to bring together different voices on the matter, beginning with an interview from a Teacher-friend of mine.
Ms. IMA KAZMI currently works at a prestigious international School in New Delhi as a secondary school English teacher. She has pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism Honours followed by a Master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Delhi. In addition, she holds a Bachelor of Education degree from the Central Institute of Education, DU, with a specialization in Education for Mental Health. Ima works closely with students with advanced learning needs and is also the secondary school coordinator for education for Gifted and Talented students at school. Over the last three years, she has led training sessions on PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) modules and self-management skills for her students, as well as for teachers both within and outside her school.
Here are her insights on bullying among school children, to gain a general perspective on the matter.
Is there a common pattern of behavior among bullies at school? (any pattern in their personality, history, habits etc, that you can identify in a child who is called a bully)
In most schools, the umbrella term ‘bullying’ encompasses a range of behaviours, including cyber bullying as well as physical, verbal, social or emotional aggression. Many incidents of bullying can be traced to a desire to assert one’s authority over others when an actual or perceived imbalance of power exists. Quite often, we find that students who are personally undergoing acute stress due to familial dysfunctionality, the pressure to perform academically or in co-curricular disciplines or any other form of personal distress, end up being at the heart of such incidents. The build-up of frustration and anxiety seeks an outlet, which often results in external aggression- verbal intimidation, name-calling, inappropriate comments, social exclusion in person or on online platforms, spreading of rumours and occasionally, racist or sexist slurs. However, it has also been noticed that in cases where the act of bullying is perpetrated by a group of students, some of those ‘bullies’ at times are themselves victims of peer pressure- generally students with a less stable sense of self esteem who seek validation by indulging in behavior which may be sanctioned by their ‘group’.
What according to you causes excessive or habitual aggression in a student?
The main issue is that bullying tendencies, if left unchecked, tend to evolve into a repeated pattern of behavior. Habitual aggression usually gets compounded by factors such as the sense of power that the ‘bully’ holds over the ‘victim’. Age, seniority in school, friend circle, exposure to violent behaviour in their life outside school, unresolved need for attention or acceptance from peers, all contribute to excessive or habitual aggression. A school setting where teachers and other caretakers are largely unaware of what happens outside lesson time (let’s say, during lunch break, or on the bus ride home, or on social media) unwittingly becomes a compliant breeding ground for such disruptive behaviour to flourish.
What can parents do about this? How can parents help a child who is transforming into a bully?
The quality of a parent-child relationship shapes the behavior of children in significant ways. This in no way implies that parental neglect is the sole cause behind the emergence of aggressive tendencies, nor does it aim to place the entire onus on parents. But it is important to acknowledge that parents can model positive behaviour by exhibiting traits such as mutual respect and empathy at home, and not giving in to counter-productive culture of harsh punishments. If you feel as a parent that your child is slowly transforming into a school yard bully, then it is imperative that you engage them in an honest conversation where you emphasise the need to respect and value others around them and establish ground rules. If you feel unequipped to deal with the scenario, then do not hesitate to seek external intervention- approaching your child’s form tutor, the school’s pastoral team or the student counselor is a perfectly acceptable option. It also helps to keep in close contact with your child’s teachers as well as the parents of their friends.
How can parents help a child being bullied?
As parents, the first thing that needs to be established is a degree of comfort and frankness so that your child feels no hesitation in approaching you in a moment of crisis. It’s important to keep your cool (even though the knowledge that your child is suffering in some way can be extremely unnerving) so that you do not add to your child’s panic or embarrassment or fear. Try to ascertain all details without being too intrusive and triangulate that information by consulting other stakeholders- teachers, other students or parents. Official channels (meeting with school teachers/counsellor) are a much better way of doing this than through unofficial forums such as whatsapp groups. It is important to let your child feel supported and empowered through open conversations. Ensure that your child is aware of the school’s policy on bullying and knows whom to approach in the case of such an incident. Outside a school setting, your child should always have access to a means of communicating with a responsible adult in case of any untoward occurrence.
What is the role of a teacher in identifying, addressing and preventing bullying?
As teachers, we spend a considerable amount of time interacting with our students and quite often, end up becoming their first points of contact on an everyday basis in the school setting. We need to ensure that we are approachable and aware of student dynamics, and that we actively reinforce the school’s policy on bullying and other such acts. We must treat all students with respect and dignity and model positive and collaborative approaches to conflict resolution. We must also ensure that our teaching goes beyond the delivery of content, and integrates skills of behavior management, communicative ability and problem resolution.
How does teacher training (through your studies and through your school) equip you to address this issue?
Teacher training courses generally include a component on child psychology and behavior management which familiarizes trainee teachers with theoretical concepts and research regarding the same. There is also a considerable amount of time spent on classroom management strategies and on handling crisis. Besides this, schools are obligated to ensure that their staff is well versed with the child protection policy as well as internal school policies on bullying, discipline, etc.
What is the role of an educational institute in averting bullying?
Formulate a clear policy that comprehensively defines bullying behaviour, ensure that all stakeholders (student, teachers, parents) are aware of the details of this policy, ensure that all teachers and staff are familiar with the wider child protection policy, appoint a counselor who is available during school hours on the premises, install CCTV cameras in vulnerable spots (staircases, bus bay, covered foyers, etc.), develop a PSHE/value education/life skills programme for catering to students of varied age groups that promotes empathy and respect and discourages aggression, review and redress any student and parent complaints with alacrity, promote an ethos where all students, irrespective of race, class, creed, religion, gender, ethnicity, nationality, are treated with dignity.
Do you think early personality development has a role to play in the making of a bully?
Definitely. Children learn and assimilate so many things in their early growth period. If the external environment is full of violent behaviour and other negative stimuli, chances of emulation, both consciously and unconsciously, increase exponentially.
Your message for parents of a school bully?
Your handling of the situation can either lead your child on a downward spiral or help them overcome this and emerge a better person. Work collaboratively to enable them to rise above this rather than resorting to shaming, coercion and other punitive measures.
Your message for the parents of those being bullied?
Make sure that your child feels supported and cared for, without feeding in to fears and furthering their panic. Maintain your composure and seek positive channels to address the bullying.
While that is the crux of what it is all about, here are some views shared by fellow parents to let us understand not only how REAL the problem is, but also how we as parents think it can be remedied.
Shruti Negi feels that, children specially are very susceptible to bullying and have a hard time stopping it. We as parents need to watch out for subtle signs that our child might show when they are being bullied, like avoiding social situations, low self esteem, disturbed sleep etc. How can we help our children?
- Teach them to ignore the bully or stand up to him .
- Ask the child to stay around her/his friends, her/his friends can help her/him stand up to the bully.
- If the bullying is happening at school talk to the teacher or the Principal.
Bullying is not cool! And,we all must stand together to fight it. And, our children need to know we are with them when they go through any such situation.
Rifa Rafiq Juvale is an inspiration for many. Read on to know her story:
I am from Mumbai, I am 22 years old, I have done my schooling and
graduation from Children’s Welfare Centre High School and Clara’s College of Commerce. When I was small, my mom came to know that I was not able to hold a pencil in hand, My mom took me to a therapist and now I am a passionate writer! Also, I can’t travel alone in buses or trains and can’t climb stairs, so in all of my exams till now, my mom has travelled with me, there have been instances, where people see that my mom
travels with me and made fun of me, but my mom, my daddy and my dadi stood besides me like a pillar of strength and even now when I am pursuing my M.Com, they always say follow your heart, study as much as you wish to, you got our back and that is what strives me
to do even better! Had it not been because of them, I would not have started my Instagram page and shared my food and writing
journey with so many wonderful and supportive people out there!
Be confident when you enter a new school or college
It’s okay to not want to go alone to an unknown place and to ask a friend to accompany you.
- Try to socialise with people during the admission process, this way you might have a few friends when you show up on your first day.
- Ask for help, go to your teachers and parents when it happens.
- Do not support or make any form of bullying unseen, revolt.
- Parents can work on training their kids to be more self confident and independent.
- Don’t mock your child’s fears or ignore any instance of bullying. It requires serious attention
Let’s join hands and get going to eradicate this menace.
Shaonli Sengupta shares her story with us. We were 7 girls staying in a 3 bhk as paying guests, during our master’s programme. In those days, I was coming in and out of relationships- a phase. I started to have some trust issues, but this girl gang was a place for me to be myself. Then things turned around, they started judging me and boycotted me. They stopped talking to me, and in public humiliated me with the nastiest language. While they all sat in the same room mocking me and my choices, I sat in a corner struggling to breathe. They even made up stories and spread it as ‘ Aaj Ki Taaza Khabar’. Finally, one of my partners took me to a psychiatrist and after being given medication and some psycho-therapy sessions, things started to look better. But what really helped was that those girls moved out for a 6 month internship, while I stayed in the same house by myself. I don’t remember a night that went without crying back then. But I made new friends in this period. So, when the came back I was a much stronger person and I didn’t run away from them. I faced them.
It gave me some trust issues, I still have some nightmares about those laughing faces, it is tough. I hope this finds a place in your blog and can help someone.
Here our some words on the matter by a dad: Bullying and harassment is a part of every generation’s childhood. Running away won’t solve it. Facing it alone or in a pack might. The fear of can turn more psychological than real. Standing up can give more of a cerebral support. Difficult but achievable.
There you have it, from the teachers,parents, and those who overcame it. This is not the first time parents and teachers came together to talk about this. While the talking and understanding is important, it is also time to work on our talks together.
Every third child is bullied. If you didn’t know this from before, I am sure the series ’13 reasons why’, made for a harsh but much needed wake up call. I can fill pages pages with the statistics and the gore. But like all other giant social problems, this too has a very basic solution- YOU.