|Bullying comes in many forms and often the victims suffer in silence.
By BRIGITTE ROZARIO
There is a clear difference between teasing and bullying. Teasing is done in good fun and there is no intention to hurt the person being teased.
However, it can turn into bullying when it is done repeatedly over a period of time with the intention of hurting the other person. Additionally, there is a power imbalance in bullying.
According to developmental psychologist Elaine Yong, typically in a bullying scenario, the bully attempts to dominate the victim.
“Most children and teenagers do not want to report it because often the victims who are targeted by bullies were targeted in the first place because they will not retaliate. These victims tend to be shy, are insecure about themselves (have low self-esteem), are weaker physically and have poor social skills. These characteristics make it hard for the victims to stand up for themselves when they are targeted by a bully or a group of bullies. They also have difficulty verbalising that they have been bullied. Often, the victims feel like they are like a deer in headlights, frozen in fear and feeling helpless,” she says.
Yong adds that bullying is a natural occurrence and happens to almost 30% of children. Although some parties may think it has the potential to make the child stronger, the risk of short and long-term damage is there. As such, parents should step in when the need arises as there can be damages resulting from these bullying incidences and the effects can last until they go into their adult years.
According to her, research has shown that bullying has very negative effects on both victims and bullies in physical, social and emotional development that may be experienced even up to adulthood. As such, parents need to monitor the situation closely and learn the warning signs.
“The victims may show signs of crying, refusal to go to school, preferring to be alone, have unexplained bruises, sudden disinterest in school work, a drop in academic performance and a change in the way the child refers to himself (calling himself a “loser”),” she adds.
Yong explains that if it is confirmed that the child is a victim, parents can do three things:
1) Allow the child to recount their experience freely without any preconceived notions and judgments. Allow the child freedom to talk.
2) Teach the child to problem-solve. Coach and roleplay different situations to teach child to respond.
3) Teach child to make new friends, join new activities and clubs.
Yong believes that even if the child insists that he/she is okay, parents still need to intervene.
|Yong: 'When parents don't do anything, the message sent is that bullying is acceptable.'
“When parents don’t do anything, the message sent is that bullying is acceptable. If parents ignore or minimise the problem, the child will believe that the adult doesn’t care, understand or intervene. Parents should still intervene if they are not sure that bullying is occurring. Watch out for your child’s emotional and behavioural reactions. Even if the incident is not bullying, parents should not tolerate aggressive behaviours,” she says.
Yong says there is no one reason to explain why a child would be targeted by a bully. A bully is encouraged when he receives a reaction from the victim. As such, the child’s dressing or actions should not be changed to suit the whims and fancies of the bully.
“When cornered by the bully or a gang of bullies, the victims need to remain calm and exhibit self-confidence. Avoid any form of reaction to the bully’s tactics. Respond in a firm and assertive manner. Remember the solutions discussed with his or her parents. Lastly, reach out to trusted friends and adults,” she says.
What if the teacher/principal is the one doing the bullying?
A teacher/ principal bully has the same characteristics as typical bullies. In the school context, the teacher/ principal uses their power of authority to punish, abuse and shame the child in front of his classmates beyond reasonable disciplinary procedures. These teacher/ principal school bullies are cruel, petty and enjoy the feeling of humiliating others, says Yong.
If it is the parent using bullying as as way of parenting, then it must be stopped as well.
“The other parent or outsiders should step in. However, this kind of bullying may be the most difficult to deal with. Bystanders can report to law enforcement bodies. All forms of bullying need to be stopped for the betterment of the development of the child,” says Yong.
How to help
Parents need to approach the conversation privately with the child. When the child begins to relate the incident, parents need to pay attention to the details. Listen but do not probe too much. Tell the child that the bullying is not their fault and that they are not responsible for the bully’s behaviour. Parents need to remain calm and not show that they are upset.
Often, some victims choose not to tell the parents because they want to protect their parents from hurt. Parents should then praise the child for being so brave for confiding in them. Remind the child that he or she is not alone, highlight that their older siblings may have also been bullied.
If parents don't want to be overprotective, Yong suggests they help by teaching the child to problem-solve. Coach and roleplay different situations to teach the child to respond. Lastly, teach the child to make new friends, join new activities and clubs.
Parents can roleplay these possible solutions:
- If a child has been called names;
- If they have been hit;
- How to reach out to friends and adults;
- Walking away; and
- Avoiding common areas where bullying occurrs.
Parents can also get their child to start a diary to document the incident.
At times, parents may need to bring the matter up to the school counsellor and authorities. Parents should avoid setting up a meeting with the bully’s parents unless they are close friends.
What can bystanders do?
There are two kinds of bystanders: Hurtful or helpful bystanders. Hurtful bystanders may instigate, encourage, join in and accept the bullying. In our society we need to encourage more helpful bystanders who would directly intervene by stopping the bullying or get help by rallying supporters to defend the victim and report to adults. Most bullying stops after 10 seconds of a bystander stepping in to help the victim, informs Yong.
“Changing the child’s school should be considered as the last resort. It is important for parents to explore all avenues such as raising the issue to the teachers, seeking the help of the school counsellor, or even getting the child to seek psychological intervention via the school counsellor.
“Bullying should not be tolerated. All parties, including the victim, bully and bystanders, need to be educated. When parents raise the issue to higher levels within the school, it places pressure on the school to implement school-wide programmes to address the issue of bullying. School-wide policies on bullying can be effective in preventing bullying incidences,” says Yong.
Effects and consequences
Bullying in whatever form has an effect on the children/adolescents and is no laughing matter, informs Yong.
Typically, bullying is differentiated based on the type, whether it is verbal (teasing, name-calling), physical (pushing, hitting, taking child’s possessions) or psychological (social exclusion, rumour spreading). Regardless of type, the effects can be seen across childhood to adulthood.
“As bullying occurs over a long period of time, the effects on the victims vary significantly. It could be the development of physical ailments such as problems eating, sleeping, headaches, upset stomachs, irritable bowel syndrome, and symptoms of stress. Other victims may develop psychological effects which are difficult to detect such as the development of low self-esteem and confidence, mild to severe depression and a deep sense of anxiety,” says Yong.
According to her, research shows that across a span of one to four years after the initial reporting, the status of a victim may remain fairly stable even after changing classes. Boys are more likely than girls to continue experiencing the role as victims. However, most children report less victimisation at upper secondary school years. Apart from that, there is evidence that adults who experience bullying at the workplace may also have been victims of school bullies during their childhood.
“Typically, the psychological development of the victims largely depends on how they view the bullying experience. For victims who didn’t view their past experience as too painful, time typically helps them cope and we do see a reduction in the levels of hurt feelings, and a decrease in the levels of depression and unhappiness reported by these victims.
“However, for victims who initially reported their childhood victimisation as very traumatic, the evidence shows there is no reduction in hurt feelings reported. These children grow to become adults who are more at risk of developing depression, social anxiety and having neurotic personalities. This means, these individuals are doubtful of themselves, fearful of being around people and are emotionally unstable,” explains Yong.
In a nutshell
- Parents should listen closely when their child talks about the incident.
- Ask for details without pressing too hard.
- Remind the child that humiliating another person is not acceptable and it is a form of abuse.
- Inform the child that you will speak with the teacher/ principal.
- Have an open discussion with the teacher/ principal. Ensure that there is a document trail of all conversations.
- If the bullying continues, raise the issue to the next level of administrative support.
- If all else fail, parents may need to consider transferring the child.
- Seek professional help for the child if psychological effects begin to emerge.