The uncomfortable B-word



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.


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