The issue of bullying in schools has reared its ugly head once again – bullying never went away, it usually just goes unreported. As a parent, I am disturbed.
Watching the news on the recent case of bullying at a *local school, my husband commented that it wasn’t a clear-cut case of bullying. They boys were playful – rough play no doubt, and at a classmate’s expense. He said if it were a real case of bullying, why didn’t anyone else in the class intervene, and also the ‘victim’ didn’t seem too harassed. Perhaps it is because we have seen and heard worse cases of bullying from friends and other online videos. I didn’t agree with this observation and naturally a discussion ensued.
Bullying is more than just physical violence
I talked to my sons about the incident and the boys too felt it was not a case of bullying. What they went on to tell me got me feeling more unsettled. They said this sort of behaviour is nothing compared to the way boys pick on each other in school, and they hit and kick too, but it is nothing personal. Just spur of the moment fun. Of course I didn’t agree and had another discussion.
Over the years, I have read and heard much about bullying. Bullying is really a power struggle between two people. The bully is someone who is trying to assert his or her power over another, who is usually more alone, isolated or quieter. There are different motivations for bullying but we have to remember that BOTH the victim and the bully need help.
My point to my sons and my husband is that as long as a person feels he/she is being picked on, and they feel helpless, afraid or vulnerable, they are victims of bullying. Bullying is not defined by how violent the act is or if the taunting is serious, frequent or occasional.
We need to have a zero tolerance towards unkindness towards another. This way, incidents do not have to escalate before victims or bullies get the attention and help they need. Of course the responses from intervening adults have to depend on the severity of the incidents. Appropriate action must be taken, but action must be taken, and swiftly too before too much harm is done to the victim and the bullying behaviour does not become “normal” for the bully.
Recent conversations with friends about our children’s encounters with bullying raised some issues that as adults, we need to think about.
Real-life cases in our schools today
In one incident, a popular school here decided that the best and most effective action was to counsel the victim, to ‘toughen’ the child up so that taunts by a certain group of students will not hurt as much. The principal and teacher involved told the parent that this is common and it is difficult to change the behaviour of the other “bullying” students who keep picking on the child.
Another friend had a similar encounter and the principal told her honestly that there was little they can do to stop the bullies. The school has tried to counsel the bullies, and also spoken to their parents. But because the parents of the bullies did not think / feel that their children were wrong, the bullies did not stop their taunts, and hate messages went online. The parents of the bullies felt that these are just normal teenage behaviour.
In both instances, I am glad that the “victims” (one in primary school, the other a secondary student) have supportive parents who noticed that their children are not having a good time in school, and managed to get their children to talk about what was happening. They counselled their children, spoke to them every single day after school, reaffirmed their children that they are not alone, that their family is here for them and one even sought help from a psychotherapist.
When it is happening in your classroom and school
To the principals and teachers who feel there is nothing they can do to stop the bullies or mean kids / teens from their bad behaviour, I feel they are a let down to the students in school. It is your job to ensure each and every child feels safe. It is important to help the “victim” to toughen up, but the bullies need help too.
Not doing anything or giving up on trying is as good as branding the “bullies” as hopeless individuals who cannot be helped to become better. I hope there are resources beyond the school that the principals and teachers can turn to. Perhaps they too are overwhelmed and not equipped enough to handle the more challenging students with uncooperative parents.
To the parents of bullies
For parents of bullies who feel that there is nothing wrong with their child/teen taunting or terrorising another student, it is time to step up and realise your child needs help. There is no shame in admitting their bad or inappropriate behaviour. Your child/teen are human and they err too. It is not always a reflection of you or a failing in your parenting. As parents, we all know that we try to teach our children the right way but they are individuals. They will test boundaries and sometimes stray. Yes, it is disappointing, heartbreaking and even embarrassing admitting that your child has chosen to be unkind and to hurt someone. But it is worse when we perpetuate the behaviour by not helping them.
As parents, we need to know why our children (teens included) made the decision to pick on another person, and took the actions that caused hurt / harm. As parents, it is our duty to understand and help them. If you feel it is beyond you, and you are at your wits end, get help. Our children are our responsibility, let them not have to fend for themselves and find their own way, especially when it is apparent that they are not making the right choices and not doing right. Remember that often, bullies are crying out for attention and are hurting too. As a parent, don’t you want to know why and how can you help your child feel better?
When your child has been bullied
If your child is being bullied, be supportive, be patient – they may be too ashamed, upset or afraid to talk and do whatever it takes to help them open up so they can deal with the issue. Do this with the help of professional counsellors if you are unable to.
As a parent, you also need to work with the school to alert them to the problem, so your child knows it is not all right for them to be bullied in school. Above all, you are your child’s pillar of support and it is critical that your child does not feel helpless or hopeless. Help them grow from this incident so that they are stronger moving forward – stronger not just with internal strategies but also knowing they never have to face life and its challenges alone because they have you, they have family and there are professionals who can help.
*I’m not mentioning the name of the school because it unnecessarily drags the school into the spotlight when what we should focus on is the bullying behaviour. This incident is not an isolated case. Sadly, I’m certain such bullying, and worse ones, happen in many classrooms today.
Donna is the current Parenting Strategist at Focus on The Family. With a strong background in Sociology, Journalism and Public Relations, she produces content that engages, encourages and informs. When not writing or parenting, Donna also finds satisfaction in learning about, and helping children with learning difficulties cope better in school.