The mind games we play
Don’t cry. Whatever it is that you do, don’t let them see you cry.
Don’t give them the smug satisfaction of knowing that their sly sideway glances, hurtful name calling, and seemingly accidental shoves in the hallway have finally gotten to you.
Don’t let them in. Maybe if you avoid them, put up a stoic, unaffected exterior, they’ll stop bugging you. You hide away in the library and pack up your bags quickly after school, convincing yourself that they’ll get bored soon; you just need to wait it out until they leave you alone and find another target to pick on instead.
Don’t let them know. Try as you might, you can’t shake off the feeling that this is just not right. You try to be strong and not whine about it, but you can’t help feeling that no one would really understand or come to your aid. It’s that sense of helplessness that’s most crippling; a combination of not knowing and being unable to reach out for fear of being labelled ‘weak’. Or the bane of anyone who’s tried so hard to fit in – a ‘tell-tale’.
You forget that things don’t have to be this way because the truth is, you are not alone.
We need to talk about bullying
Actual statistics on the issue tend to vary across different regions and cultures, but bullying is a common enough problem that has become universal in nature. A popular misconception about bullying, however, is that it’s a typical coming of age process that helps children toughen up, learn to fend for themselves and don on the mantle of becoming adults. Over the years, some controversial (not to mention contrary) views on bullying which support this mindset have arisen, arguing that playground spats may even encourage children to be independent by developing necessary dispute management tactics and honing people skills.
Despite the so-called ‘benefits’ (for lack of a better word) linked to bullying, a study by Warwick University in the United Kingdom and Duke University in America has revealed far more alarming results: individuals who were bullied as children tend to carry emotional scars well into adulthood, affecting not only their psychological wellbeing, but physical health too. For example, bullying victims were found to develop health problems such as cancer, diabetes and even obesity, as well as make adverse lifestyle choices that involved smoking and substance abuse. The research, which followed the progress of over 1,400 individuals between the ages of nine and 26, highlighted that victims of bullying were far more likely to live below average social levels and even be subjected to poverty.
But perhaps the most disheartening news was this: bullying victims – survivors of a traumatic childhood event – reported of low-self esteem and poor relationships with family and friends too. Backed up by such comprehensive evidence, bullying cannot be brushed off as a mere ‘rite of passage’ or blip in childhood anymore – not when it’s shattering souls and destroying lives.
…but what exactly is it?
Bullying can be broadly categorised into two different types: physical and relational. In physical bullying, force – hair pulling, pinching and shoving, to name a few – is applied by the aggressor towards the victim. Relational bullying, on the other hand, is significantly complicated as it is conveyed by more subtle actions (or sometimes, inaction) such as ostracisation, exchange of nasty looks and intentional uncooperativeness during activities (eg. refusal to share notes or pass the ball during games). Bullying can therefore be defined as meditated acts carried out to inflict hurt and cause harm.
The cause of bullying can be traced to various factors, but the most popular explanation on how it takes root is best explained by the threatened egotism theory. According to this school of thought, perpetrators of bullying tend to strike out and victimise individuals whom they perceive are a threat to their ego, be it real or imaginary. The insecurity felt – perhaps due to competitiveness in the classroom or even pangs of envy over friendships – often spurs bullies to take actions that belittle and undermine others. It is worth noting there is no standard characteristic defining bullies too, as they can come in any shape or form. Forget the stereotypical image of a schoolyard bully being the biggest boy in class who exhorts lunch money from smaller students; soft-spoken, timid girls have been known to operate as malicious online bullies who blast out threatening emails and messages.
Even though there is no general rule of thumb that determines what kind of individuals are more susceptible to being targeted as bullying victims, bear in mind that some individuals can be picked on simply due to the fact that they are quiet, withdrawn or perhaps socially awkward – in other words, different. Furthermore, relational bullying has been reported to occur within popular circles, particularly amongst female cliques, where a single member can be teased on a range of topics from dress sense to physical attributes like thigh measurements. These occurrences are downright bizarre, especially amongst individuals who are allegedly friends, but they perfectly showcase the complexity of interactions that the youth have to navigate through with regards to in-group and out-group behaviour.
Enough. A stop to bullying
Although the past few years have witnessed increased awareness on the issue of bullying in schools, there is still much work to be done on the matter. A pandemic that banks on fear and its victims’ unwillingness to talk about – let alone acknowledge – the situation, the key to combating bullying lies in a simple five-syllable word: communication.
The worst thing that a bullying victim can do is to remain silent. Children who are bullied need to be given the assurance that it is okay for them to step forward and report the incidences. Most of the time, victims are unwilling to bring up occurrences of bullying as they fear that the abuse can worsen if they do so. On top of that, victims may be reluctant to reach out as they fear letting down their family and friends by being unable to cope with the situation at hand. No one wants to be called a ‘sissy’ or ‘weak’ – not at the tender age group where the opinion of peers mean everything. Hence, it is vital for schools to provide the proper channels that allow affected students to come up, report the bullying that has occurred and lodge official complaints through a support network of counsellors and teachers.
What follows next usually involves investigations being carried out by the school to find out the facts of the case. If the purported bullies are found to be guilty, disciplinary action – suspension, and in the case of repeated, unrepentant offenders, even expulsion – can be meted out. During this ordeal, teachers should take active steps to ensure that both bullying victims and offenders are not subjected to further unwanted attention or harassment. These troubled times that afflicted schools go through should be handled with care, and more importantly, transparency. Instead of brushing things under the carpet, the student body should be addressed on the events that had transpired and resulting consequences too. Doing so doesn’t just allow schools to address the issue more effectively, it provides students with the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the rights and wrongs of social interaction too.
Proponents of anti-bullying campaigns have often advocated on the necessity of providing victims with adequate support and counselling throughout the entire process. Like all traumatic events, the psychological wounds from bullying run deep and can cast long shadows over emotional stability. There is therefore little question on the need for proper follow up and continued support to ensure that bullying victims are able to let go, achieve closure and move on to productive, fulfilling lives. Yet another aspect of the entire dilemma that is often overlooked is how the bullies themselves are treated after official complaints are made and disciplinary actions are taken. Rather than dropping the issue by deeming that the disciplinary action taken (e.g. suspension) was enough to stop bullies permanently, school counsellors and teachers should work with the offenders to ensure that relapses do not take place and a resolution to internal conflict or anger management issues are found too.
Parents who are concerned that their child might be a victim of bullying are advised to take note of any sudden changes in mood or behaviour. For example, a child who is normally cheerful and outgoing might become moody and shy away from social situations. The alternative is true for children who are generally passive – they can become disruptive and prone to excessive outbursts of emotion. Look out for further deviations from the norm on your child’s part, such as requests to be picked up from school personally instead of riding the bus back or a refusal to attend school altogether – they may be an indication that there is something more sinister at work.
Active participation in your child’s school life is a great way of finding out what’s actually going on. By attending school events such as regular parent-teacher association (PTA) meetings, you are granted access to the school’s staff members, giving you the chance to talk with your child’s educators personally and discover other details regarding their life on campus apart from academic performance. Teachers can shed light on your children’s behaviour at school, in addition to filling you in on possible interpersonal conflicts that could impact their growth and development. There is no denying the important role that teachers play when it comes to handling bullying in schools – with adequate foresight and proactive involvement of all students in activities, there is a chance that the risk of bullying even taking place can be lowered.
Into the light
Look up. Wipe those tears away and face the bright light of day. Understand that although what you went through was unfair and has made its mark on you, the choice to let go and recover lies with you alone.
There will be moments when the injustice of it all may leave you reeling between anger, confusion and numbness, but be gentle with yourself – let time spread its healing balm over your sorrows.
Look up – everything will be all right.
Cyber Bullying 101
What is it?
Cyber bullying is any kind of malicious action towards another individual using any kind of electronic platform such as computers, tablets or smart phones. Extensive in nature, cyberbullying can take place through various mediums including text messages, emails, blog posts, photographs or visuals, tweets on Twitter, Facebook status updates and even comments on Instagram.
What can you do?
Save all the documents: print and compile them in hard copy. The lines get a bit blurry when it comes to tweets and Facebook status updates as they can be indirect and vague, but if an individual feels that they have been targeted, screenshots should be made – the printed copies can be added to the collection. These items must be presented when making a report as proof and to give credibility to the case.
What if the perpetrator doesn’t go to your school?
The problem with cyber bullying is that the perpetrator could truly be anyone. However, the anonymity granted by the Internet should not be a deterrent that prevents individuals from raising the issue with parents and teachers. A delicate matter, the authority figures in a child’s life should not make him or her feel blamed in any way. The true issue at stake here is the fact that a child’s wellbeing and security are being compromised. Here’s something to think about: what if the cyber bully finds out which school the child attends and decides stalk him or her in front of the school?