The uncomfortable B-word

bullying

Bullying behaviour is prevalent throughout the world and it transcends socio-economic, racial/ethnic, and cultural lines. Over the last decade or so; there is growing awareness of the problem of bullying. Nevertheless it still remains a prevalent and serious problem in today’s schools. It has both short term and long term consequences.

What is bullying? 
Despite the variability in its definition, bullying is generally considered a specific type of aggression in which:
(1) The behaviour is intended to harm or disturb, and
(2) The behaviour occurs repeatedly over time, and
(3) There is an imbalance of power, with a more powerful person or group attacking a less powerful one

What are the different forms of bullying?
Bullying may take several forms, including physical, verbal, relational, or cyber bullying. The imbalance of power between victim and perpetrator may be physical or psychological.

Physical bullying may be the most easily observed form of aggression, such as hitting or tripping.
Verbal bullying involves spoken acts that are actively directed at the victim by the perpetrator, such as slander or intimidation through name-calling and threats.
Relational bullying is a less typical and more subtle form of aggression that intends to harm by damaging the victim’s relationships with others or impairing the victim’s ability to maintain a social reputation and usual relationships among peers. This may involve spreading rumours about the victim and socially excluding the victim; sometimes also called psychological bullying.
Cyber bullying is a relatively new form of bullying that uses computer technology and the Internet, including cell phones and social networking sites, to spread rumours, intimidate directly, or damage the social reputation of the victim.
What are the common contexts in which bullying occur?
– The reasons for being bullied, reported most often by students include physical appearance, race, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation

– Most bullying takes place in school most commonly in the classroom, outside on the playgrounds, and on the school bus.

– Cyber bullying occurs on cell phones and online.

A few pointers that a child could be affected by bullying and possible aftereffects:

– Does not maintain eye contact
– Unexplained bruises or other injuries: Tries to hide them with longer clothing. May not let anyone touch them
– Locks up in the room and weep
– Recurrent complaints of physical symptoms such as stomach-aches or headaches with no apparent cause
– Shows anger at younger siblings and other family members without provocation
– Reluctant to go on school outings, on the school bus
– Complains of nightmares or does not want to sleep alone
– Bedwetting at night
– Sudden drop in scholastic performance
– Wants to join self-defence or karate classes without showing any inclination for the same previously. May start carrying a weapon for self-defence
– Is suddenly disinterested in previously favoured activities
– Resorts to stealing money to pay off the bully
– Some of the other consequences could be expression of death wishes, self-harm, anxiety, depression, poor appetite, insomnia and a poor relationship with parents.

We must however keep in mind that these symptoms are not absolute, and vary from child to child on a spectrum but the presence of these signs do warrant gentle probing for bullying and other possible problems at school.
One of the most dreaded long term consequences of repeated bullying is that the child can gradually externalize it by turning from a victim to a bully himself. Thus an early intervention is of paramount importance and this must compulsorily be an integrated team approach with networking of parents, teachers, and the school administration.

What can parents do?
– Only about 20 to 30% of students who are bullied notify adults about the bullying. This is an alarming statistic that should strongly resonate with all of us and is also reflective of where change is most necessary.

– Key message is to listen to the child, to validate how they feel, to not overreact, to not blame the child for not being strong enough or for not neutralizing the bully. This non-judgemental approach can help calm him and you can then work on a resolution together.
– Share with the teacher what your child has told you; describe any teasing or bullying you may have witnessed yourself. Ask the teacher if she sees similar behaviour at school, and enlist her help in finding ways to solve the problem. If she hasn’t seen any instances of teasing, ask that she keep an eye out for the behaviour you described. Be sure to make a follow-up appointment to discuss how things are going.
• If the problem persists, or the teacher ignores your concerns then ask to meet with the school counsellor directly and the school principal.

What can teachers do?
A large nationwide study in the United States found that 70.4% of school staff has seen bullying. 41% witness bullying once a week or more and that when bystanders intervene, bullying stops within 10 seconds 57% of the time. Therefore the single most important thing any teacher can do to prevent bullying is to be proactive at the class and individual level. They should not assume that if they can’t see anything, then bullying isn’t happening.

Teaching students about what is culturally and socially acceptable behaviour, and calling them out when their language or behaviour in the classroom isn’t appropriate, is fundamental to developing a safe and supportive class climate.
Teachers must lead by example in modelling relationship skills. This applies not only to students, but to other staff and everyone in the school community. Children need to see what relationships based on mutual respect look like. We all are responsible for what children are learning and how they are behaving.
Paying attention to those who are isolated or vulnerable in some way is an important aspect of monitoring the class environment. Students surrounded by friends and peers who will support them are less likely to fall victim to bullying.

Building a cohesive group in the class and moulding the school environment to make sure all students have the opportunity to forge friendships. This means adopting a class philosophy of there being “no bystanders” in the class where bullying is everyone’s problem and everyone is part of the solution; of not laying blame, but of enabling the individuals concerned to independently, and with the teachers’ support, manage any conflict, find solutions and determine ways of co-existing; sharing concern for others, through an approach that supports the child who bullies and the child who is targeted.

What teachers should not do?
– To tell the student to solve the problem themselves, that the bullying wouldn’t happen if they acted differently or ignored what was going on, or tell the student to stop tattling. One of the most common phrases I have come across is children complaining of teachers dismissing bullying as “boys will be boys “and “it is just for fun” fundas.
– Punitive punishments to bullies must also be avoided. Making students stand in shame outside the classroom or beating them are sometimes employed. These acts however are in itself self-defeating and callous. Many times, bullies realise that they weren’t actually thinking about the effects their words and actions would have. Once empathy dawns, so does realisation. The consequences should include recommendation for counselling for the bullies. Many bullies have themselves faced traumatic childhood experiences of their own. Some of these difficulties may be physical and/or verbal abuse, violent episodes at home, parental separation, and other disturbing experiences. As a result of these factors, these individuals displace their pain on others. In most cases, children don’t even know the meaning of the words they say out loud. Sensitization is quintessential in this regard.

What can the schools do?
School-based bullying prevention programs decrease bullying by up to 25%. School ecology is particularly important, administrators’ and school health professionals’ perceptions of and reactions to bullying play a vital role in shaping how students behave. Schools should have multiple avenues for reporting bullying that don’t stigmatise children, and a central recording system for incidents. Staffs also need on-going training in intervention and sensitization to the red flag signs in bullied children. To introduce proactive strategies that can help prevent bullying, schools need to think about the whole school environment, including the classroom and playground. Schools should promote adults as good role models, and provide an “open door” policy for parents or carers. Other strategies can include using assemblies to underpin a clear, anti-bullying message or to develop the school council as an effective reporting system. The curriculum can also be used to embed anti-bullying work, while in the playground, schools can train lunchtime and playtime supervisors.

The fine line between labelling and mislabelling: 

Bullying can be the worst thing  for many children. It can have a hideous and long-lasting impact on a person’s life. But it needs to be identified correctly.  Everything is not Bullying and children must be educated enough to avoid wrongly using the “B” word for every anti-social behaviour they might encounter at school. Media pieces often mistakenly use the word “bullying” to describe events such as one-time physical fights, online arguments, or incidents between adults. Journalists and other media administrators can serve the public better by representing the state of the science as transparently as possible.

What are the laws in India against bullying?
In India there is no separate legislation to deal with bullying at school level. However in 2015 HRD ministry directed CBSE schools to form anti-ragging committees at school level also putting severe punishments to students indulging in bullying and the punishment may vary to rustication in rarest of rare cases. There should be notice boards warning students from involving in ragging or bullying. Similarly, UGC has laid guidelines to all the colleges across the country to follow anti-ragging rules in their respective universities and the universities which do not abide by such rules would be bring to task and even UGC could forfeit their recognition. The government of India enacted special regulation to curb bullying at higher education institutions – “UGC Regulations on Curbing the Menace of Ragging in Higher Education Institutions, 2009”. A student may also have criminal liability under different sections of the criminal procedure code of India if applicable.

PS-Bullies can become victims and victims can become bullies. It’s the system that remains static in the background and it’s this system that has to change. Bullying is often a learned behaviour and is therefore preventable especially if we use education and sensitization to combat it. Then and only then can we truly bully-proof a child.

Suicide, the mistake you won’t live to regret

shutterstock_274239770-1000x480

“On the night of October 7th, 2005, the lives of Peter D’Souza and Elizabeth D’Souza were changed forever when they discovered that their thirteen year old son, Kevin had committed suicide by hanging.

Traumatized by the horrific and tragic situation they’d been thrown into, the parents of Kevin searched desperately for answers as to why their son would feel so lost, that he felt suicide was his only option.

Kevin had been described as a lovely child, who was able to always make people smile. Why such a sweet and happy seeming child would commit suicide, was a huge mystery to all.

And here’s the truth, the bitter narration which will leave you all in a bitter taste. Kevin was a victim of intense bullying from his schoolmates leading him to confess a fear of going back to school. His parents advocated the seemingly-reasonable approach of talking to the principal, an idea opposed by Kevin who feared it would make matters worse. However, unbeknownst to his parents, the bullying continued. Comments were made about his sexuality and even his close friends joined in telling others he was no less than a joker. It was ultimately too much for Kevin to bear and he killed himself at the tender age of thirteen”.

“There was yet another case of a young teenage girl taking out her life being a victim of cyber bullying. She was found hanging in her bedroom by her sister with the legs dangling and the ghastly eyes open, the teenager was a very bubbly girl who fall prey to a sick mind who abused her online, hid behind a mask of anonymity and attacked this vulnerable teenager to an extent of taking her life”.

“Bekon Smith committed suicide by walking into the path of a truck. Prior to the incident, she had scheduled a post on her public Tumbler page to go live after her death. In her final message, Bekon stated “my death has to mean something”. She wrote about her struggles as a young transgender teen, detailing her wish to live as a woman with her parents, who had denied her request, claiming it to be an insult to God. The post broke the hearts of thousands of readers, who actively shared the message in order to publicize the tragedy. After her death, Bekon’s mother still refused to use female pronouns for her daughter and would only refer to her by her given name of Bekon. She also refused to allow Bekon’s best friend, who had supported her decision to live as a woman, to attend the funeral

The above case studies are our attempt to raise awareness on the issue of suicide of children and teens.

Suicide is a difficult subject to address. There are far too many tragic stories of people who felt the only way to escape their troubles were to take their own lives. When the people at the center of these events are children, the dreadful emotions we feel are amplified. Well hear the truth there are much more of the shocking motives and piteous stories of children who ended their own lives, horrifically from as young as 6 years old!

Suicide among teens and children often happens after a stressful life event, such as problems at school, a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the death of a loved one, a divorce, or a major family conflict. So it’s important for parents to know the warning signs so teens who might be suicidal can get the help they need. Some adults feel that kids who say they are going to hurt or kill themselves are “just doing it for attention.” It’s important to realize that if teens are ignored when seeking attention; it may increase the chance of them harming themselves (or worse).

Keep a close eye on a child who is depressed and withdrawn. Understanding depression in teens is very important since it can look different from commonly held beliefs about depression. For example, it may take the form of problems with friends, grades, sleep, or being cranky and irritable rather than chronic sadness or crying. It’s important to try to keep the lines of communication open and express your concern, support, and love. If your teen confides in you, show that you take those concerns seriously. A fight with a friend might not seem like a big deal to you in the larger scheme of things, but for a child/teen it can feel immense and consuming. It’s important not to minimize or discount what your teen/child is going through, as this can increase his or her sense of hopelessness.

Most teens interviewed after making a suicide attempt say that they did it because they were trying to escape from a situation that seemed impossible to deal with or to get relief from really bad thoughts or feelings.

There’s a thin difference between child and teen suicide. Child suicides aren’t like teen or adult suicides, which usually start with an idea, proceed with a plan, and end with action. Suicide among children is more likely to be spontaneous and less connected to psychiatric disorder or aggression. This is often reflected in the method: Instead of hanging or cutting or using a gun, “suicidal” kids tend to kill themselves by doing things their parents have warned them against, such as running into traffic or jumping out of a window. Children who kill themselves often have a mood disorder, ADHD, or a “conduct disorder,” which basically means antisocial behavior. Living an in abusive household can lay the groundwork for suicidal behavior, and an incident like getting kicked out of school or a dying relative can trigger it.

Often parents discuss death; suicide etc in front of children, what they don’t realize is that it can create a deep impact on the immature mind. Do not discuss these dark topics in front of the child/teen. They are too young and vulnerable to understand. The child might think it as a fun and even before you realize the child is gone the same was the American child smothered himself to death trying to fidget with the hook that hung his shirt.

Please raise awareness, please stop suicide among children and teens for you won’t realize how much it feels to be sad every single day without your child even when you experience joy, for it’s the goodbyes which hurt the most when the stories aren’t finished, for you parent will never understand until it happens with you, for it’s the child you will miss when you are breathing.

Save a Child, save the Nation. Make the world a better place to live.

Note: These are case studies, name changed to protect identity

Subject to Copyright

~Rimli

 

 

What’s inside the box: 5-tips that helped a bullied child

14808680_10209762296949641_883924339_o

The other day, I was walking past the corridor on my way home from work. As soon as I walked past the elevator, a huge cardboard box caught my sight. I was curious about what might have been wrapped inside! It was written shoe-stand with shoes :). I thought our new neighbors might have shipped stuff from the middle east. Because of curiosity again, I tried to peep inside the box. And guess what! I discovered a young boy hiding inside with his hands and legs folded. He somehow managed to fit himself inside the box. I became alert. I pulled him out. Thought he might be with a gang of friends playing ‘Hide and Seek’. I started talking to the boy.

– Are you hiding from your friends? Playing hide-and-seek?

– No

– Why are you sitting inside this box? Where are your friends?

– They are playing inside the house.

– What? Why are you here alone? Let me take you to your friends.

We rang the bell. There were 3-4 kids in my neighbor’s house. The leader mentioned that they do not play with young kids. And that’s an instruction from his parents. I understood now that the boy was sad and the box was his cocoon shelter. Can you please play with him outside for sometime?  “No auntie, he has damaged a flower pot already”. And they all came out and showed a pot that the boy had kicked in a fit of rage and damaged! There was some spill over soil to testify their fact!  I looked at the boy, and his sadness had increased. He murmured softly that he already said “Sorry” to the team of elder kids. And told that he kicked the pot because he was left out of the games. “Don’t you have other friends to play with?” To this he mentioned that his age kids usually return little late from school, and come late for playing.

My only option was to safely take the boy to his house. But the I decided to spend some time with him. I talked to him, tried to instill some life skills. The only reason was that I wanted to see him happy. Here are my 5-tips that helped the bullied boy:

1. Listened to his story: I gained the trust of the boy as I offered to listen to him. I took him to the house of the elder kids, and tried to solve his problem. I discussed with him various options, and offered solutions. But most importantly, I listened patiently. It’s a common suggestion to parents when their kid becomes a victim of bullying.

2. Made him aware of his mistake: I took the boy near the flowering pot. I explained to him that plants are living objects. And that he must say sorry to the plant for having kicked it. The boy did what I asked. I mean he really stood before the plant and said sorry in all earnestness. He was aware of his behavior. He promised that he will not hurt others just because he is angry or sad.

3. Helped him to come out of sadness: My conversation with the boy helped him come out of his sadness. As we discussed options of play for him, he came out with the idea of going back home to his mother, spend time doing painting, and come out to the play area in the evening when his other friends would be around!

4. Directed him to his safety net: The boy was hiding inside the cardboard box.  Somebody could have easily pushed it to the side and he would have got hurt. Luckily that was not the case and he was not hurt. I showed him the way to his safety net i.e. his home.

5. Imparted him the SHIFT-skills: Overall, I had to quickly ensure that his confidence does not take a hit, and help with a strategy to overcome the rejection and mild bullying that he encountered. First was to help him Show confidence, to be able to Handle emotions, to learn to Ignore bullies and Find good friends, and to confide in a Trusted adult are the skills to be imparted to victims of bullying. I explained to the boy that if the elder kids do not want to play with him, he must move on and find good friends of his age. And that he must discuss this incident with his trusted adults.

bullying

Bullying is such a common phenomenon that all of us see it around us. Kids can become victims and perpetrators of bullying without really consciously being aware of it. Some are mild forms of bullying, and some are severe. Either way, the victim does go through rejection, sadness, and can lose confidence. And we have to get them out of it and help them come out of it.

“One person can make a difference, and everyone should try”- John F. Kennedy. I hope I tried the right way to pull out a kid of his danger zone…

Do parents make the best teachers?

parents teachers

 

The first teachers we have in our lives  are our parents. They teach us to feed ourselves, to speak, take baby steps and learn to walk, ride a bike, know the environment, and many more. They even teach their kids the values of friendship, empathy, social skills, and emotion regulation. They are no doubt the best teachers for their kids.

Some parents argue that other than the traditional school curriculum, like science, arts etc, school has a limited role to play in the overall well-being of  kids. The other day there were differences in opinion in an well known parenting group. The debate was on “Whether preschools should provide lessons on abuse to kids”. Few parents were of the opinion that such sensitive issues can be discussed better by parents!  I personally know parents who feel that abuse should be discussed with girl child only. In this era, where there are daily reports of abuse of kids in the media. Is this not the time to spread awareness through schools, malls, apartment associations, and various social medias? As we know that prevention is better than cure, why cannot the society be little liberal in discussing such issues?

I was invited by an International School to address kids on “The use of TV and Gadgets“. I oriented the kids towards the “20-20-20” rule. The kids learnt that every 20 minutes, they should gaze through the window (spend 20 seconds looking at something 20 feet away). Also, they promised not to indulge in TV and Gadgets for more than 2 hours daily. The kids enjoyed the session. There were many kids who wanted to meet me after the session to discuss their queries. I remember one question by a young kid: “My grandmother wears spectacles, even then she always sits close to the TV. What should I do?” There were many such interesting questions. I was glad that they understood the benefits/drawbacks of TV and gadgets. I was sure that many of those kids would adhere to the 2 hrs duration. This was something that they learnt in school. I am sure parents also try to restrict the TV and gadget time of their kids. But that is mainly by enforcing a strict discipline. How many parents would teach about the drawbacks using games, and medical facts?

Bullying is another topic that requires attention. Due to changing trends of the society, kids are overprotected. Many of them are not exposed to the adversities of life. They become vulnerable when bullied, also some enjoy to bully the weak ones. Our society has a reservation towards seeking the help of psychologists. I personally know parents who contacted me to connect to a psychologist for their kid who was regularly bullied at the play area, and facing low self-esteem. They contacted the psychologist but were willing for counseling sessions over phone, without revealing the identity. When we have so much concerns, why do we not equip our kids the skills to handle such situations before an actual scenario pops up?

The most important thing to realize is that we all have many teachers in our lives. Our parents teach us, our teachers also teach us, our peers books, newspapers, television, ipads, environment also teach us. All of them are valuable in their own ways! As parents we should identify our strengths and weaknesses, and seek help from experts whenever required. We have to remember that parents are the first teachers in the life of their kids, but they are not always the best teachers….

“Parents can only give good advice or put kids in the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”… Anne Frank