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How to Deal With Childhood Bullying

Author: DR PAULA ROBERTSON, MBBS, FRCPCH PAEDIATRICIAN

Sadly, bullying is becoming more commonplace in our schools, with increasing numbers of incidents reported in the media. With the advent of social media and cyber-bullying, it has taken on a whole new level as the bully can now be faceless, or hide behind their internet persona, often freeing them to say or do things that would normally not be sanctioned.

Dan Olweus, creator of the renowned Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme defines bullying in his book, Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do:

“A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself.”

This definition includes three important components:

    1. Bullying is aggressive behaviour involving unwanted, negative actions.
    2. It involves a repeated pattern of behaviour over time.
    3. There is a perceived imbalance of power.

Bullying can take many forms, both direct and indirect. Some of the common recognized forms are:

    1. Verbal bullying, eg taunts, derogatory comments
    2. Physical bullying, eg hitting, punching, kicking.
    3. Relational bullying – damaging to one’s self-esteem, for example by social exclusion, rumour spreading.
    4. Cyber-bullying, using social media, texts or the internet as a means to bully.

Typically the person doing the bullying has low self-esteem or is perhaps dealing with a situation in which they feel disempowered. Picking on someone who is seen to be an easy target (either because they are physically smaller, perceived to be different or non-threatening) provides the brief opportunity to boost their own self-esteem, and feel a sense of power and control.

Dr. Olweus states that there are 3 main reasons why students bully:

    1. They have a strong need for power and dominance.
    2. They find satisfaction in causing injury and suffering to other students.
    3. They are often rewarded in some way for their behavior with material or psychological reward.

In the US, stopbullying.gov states that up to 1 in 3 students has been bullied at some point. Locally, Mala Ramdass et al in the 2017 paper Addressing Bullying in Schools – A study of selected primary Schools in Trinidad and Tobago, suggested that social, verbal and physical bullying are perceived to be more prevalent in local schools, with varying degrees of support available.

It’s vitally important to deal with bullying as if allowed to continue unchecked, it can adversely affect student motivation and achievement. UNESCO (International Symposium on school violence and bullying: from Evidence to Action, global status report 2017) stated that children exposed to bullying can experience both immediate and long term adverse effects. For example, school violence and bullying can adversely affect the physical health and emotional well-being of young people, causing physical effects like stomach pains, headaches and difficulty eating or sleeping. Physical bullying can also cause significant injuries or other physical harm. Those who are bullied are also more likely than those who are not bullied to experience interpersonal difficulties, to be depressed, lonely or anxious, to have low self-esteem and to have suicidal thoughts.

The educational impact on victims of school violence and bullying is also significant. Victimisation may make children and adolescents who are bullied, and bystanders, afraid to go to school and may interfere with their ability to concentrate in class or participate in school activities. They may miss classes, avoid school activities, play truant or drop out of school altogether. This in turn has an adverse impact on academic attainment and achievement and future education and employment prospects.

The school climate as a whole is affected by violence and bullying. Unsafe learning environments create a climate of fear and insecurity and a perception that teachers do not have control or care about students’ well-being, and this reduces the quality of education for all students.

Violence and bullying in and around schools also has significant social economic costs. The longer-term impact, on victims and perpetrators, can include increased risk of social and relationship difficulties, antisocial and criminal behaviour, lower qualifications and less likelihood of adequate social support. The economic impact is also substantial, including foregone benefit from early school drop-out and underrepresentation of girls in education.

Available evidence shows that effective responses that take a comprehensive approach and include interventions to both prevent and address school violence and bullying, can reduce school violence and bullying.

Based on experience and good practice, comprehensive responses encompass: strong leadership; a safe and inclusive school environment; developing knowledge, attitudes and skills; effective partnerships; implementing mechanisms for reporting and providing appropriate support and services; and collecting and using evidence.

More specifically, such responses include: enactment and enforcement of national laws and policies and of school policies and codes of conduct; commitment to creating safe, inclusive and supportive learning environments for all students; training and support for teachers and other school staff in positive forms of discipline and provision and delivery of relevant curricula and learning materials; collaboration with a range of stakeholders and active participation of children and adolescents; access to safe, confidential and child-friendly reporting mechanisms and support services; and research, monitoring and evaluation.

Interventions that have focused on transforming the culture of schools, taking a strong stance against violence and supporting teachers to use alternative ways of disciplining children and managing the classroom have proven to be particularly effective.

Resources like the Olweus programme and stopbullying.gov highlight the best practice and evidence-based approaches to dealing with bullying. They highlight that it requires a team effort and long-term commitment. The key points are:

    1. Focus on the whole school environment and climate.
    2. Assess bullying at school.
    3. Form a group to coordinate bullying prevention activities.
    4. Train all staff in bullying prevention.
    5. Establish and enforce school rules and policies related to bullying.
    6. Let young people have a say. Involve youth in regular discussions about bullying.
    7. Increase adult supervision in ‘hot spots’ and locations where bullying is identified to occur.
    8. Intervene consistently and appropriately in bullying situations.
    9. Involve parents, keeping lines of communication open between parents and the school.
    10. Continue efforts over time, don’t give up.

Resources:

https://www.stopbullying.gov/

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/cyberbullying

https://olweus.sites.clemson.edu/

 

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