Bullying statistics in the United States indicates about 25% of students are regularly bullied in school. The figures vary in different countries but one thing remains constant – school bullying happens in every school, at every level and in every region.
What is bullying?
Bullying happens everywhere. Most of the time, bullying has not been clearly defined simply because it is hard to identify. Without clear identification of what constitutes bullying, offensive actions are brushed off as teases or jokes. Adults and bystanders may also overlook such seemingly harmless.
The effects of bullying may be subtle and not immediately clear. In many cases, bullying affects the victim’s emotional development in the later years, and this cannot be clearly attributed to a bad school experience.
Victims of bullying display a range of reactions and responses that could emerge many years later. According to bullyingstatistics.org, such responses include:
- Low self-esteem
- Difficulty in trusting others
- Lack of assertiveness
- Difficulty controlling anger
These emotional responses are huge contributors to why the effects of bullying become extremely hard to identify. A student taunted for her weight by her classmates could be bulimic or anorexic in time to come. Some may resort to self-injury or self-mutilation. But one cannot directly link bullying to such tragic consequences – there is no concrete evidence to support the direct relation between bullying and the consequential actions of the victim. A suicide note would be evidence, but by then it is too late.
Two broad categories of bullying
There are two types of bullying:
This is the clearest form of overt bullying. Pushing, tripping, fighting are some examples.
2. Emotional Bullying
This involves other forms of interactions beyond the physical. Verbal insults, name-calling, repeated teasing and hiding personal belongings are forms of emotional bullying. Social and cyber bullying are also forms of emotional bullying.
2a. Social Bullying
A type of emotional bullying, the act of isolating or ostracizing a victim from the group by ignoring or leaving him / her out of the circle.
2b. Cyber Bullying
Another type of emotional bullying, this form of bullying that takes place online via any medium. Cyber bullying includes harassment, spreading false information or exposing private or sensitive information of the victim, anonymously or otherwise.
While many schools have in place a behaviour policy and policies on bullying, it is extremely difficult to enforce these policies if the victim or bystanders do not report bullying cases. Even when school authorities engage parents and students, it will be hard to monitor or identify covert bullying that happens in school. The best way to tackle this issue is to encourage the reporting of bullying and take each report very seriously.
Why bullying is not reported
Reasons why bullying is not reported include the following:
- The misclassification of bullying as just “kids being kids”. This is not a valid reason. An acceptable dispute between 2 children can easily escalate to bullying.
- Bystanders are not sure if what they see is considered bullying. Creating awareness would be a pro-active measure. Keeping an open communication channel is paramount.
- Victims feel humiliated, especially when they are bullied because of their differences. They want to blend in. To bring up the fact they were bullied because of a disability or their looks and beliefs would mean to highlight that they don’t fit in.
- Victims feel vulnerable. They do not trust that the adults can stop the bullying, and they worry the bully will retaliate. The bullying may get worse.
- In some cases, the victims feel they deserve to be bullied for a variety of reasons related to low self-esteem.
- Sometimes, the bully and the victim share a friendship. This is a complicated situation and tough to identify. The victim does not report the bully for fear of losing the friendship.
What every student needs
Every child deserves a safe school environment. There is no way to prevent bullying, but there are measures a school can deploy to ensure bullying gets nipped in the bud and doesn’t escalate:
1) Include bullying as part of the curriculum.
Students should be able to identify bullying signs and behaviour. This would be the first step to deter any bullying behaviour – education and constant reinforcement.
2) Establish a support system in school to report bullying.
This could be an anonymous reporting system. There should be an action plan to handle every complaint seriously. Professional help should also be available to the victim and the bully if required. A support system should also be in place for parents to build communication – parents have a huge part to play in tackling the issue of bullying.
3) Build trust and instill a sense of belonging in students.
A student who trusts the school and feels belonged is more open to sharing personal issues he or she is facing. One way to build trust is through classroom discussions on bullying, or other social issues that affect students today. This two-way communication will break down the teacher-student barrier during such discussions and make students feel they matter.
The issue of school bullying is a sensitive one. As long as we continue to keep the conversation going and establish support systems and action plans to educate students, teachers and parents, we’re taking a step in the positive direction.