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Adolescence And The Psychodynamics Of Bullying

The phenomenon of bullying is the product of an extremely complex picture of external and internal events. Bullying occurs in a relational context.

There is a dynamic relationship in which, aggravated or fuelled by external circumstances, aspects of the personality are played out with some toll, and sometimes tragic consequences.

Many people live broken lives, as a resulte of bullying that occurred early on in their lives, that they have not, for various reasons, processed or worked through. As many authors have pointed out, psychological conditions are not spoken of nor healthily addressed in different African cultures. Their discussion is usually seen as weak, ‘matepe’.

This disposition is shunned as unAfrican, and the stigma that comes with this makes it rather difficult for most to address issues that psychologically affect them. Bullying amongst children and young people cannot be separated from broader social, cultural, and political circumstances.

From a stressed mother yanking her child away from a shop toy “ke tlaa go betsa ka mpama ga o ka tshwara box eo”; to a domestic row, to relationships at work; to structures of class, racism, tribalism and sexism. This therefore extends to any kind of oppression in which, by means of power, violence, cruelty, or perversity, one side persecutes the other, whether in a group or individually.

How does one understand the evils of the human heart, and what kind of factors render one individual vulnerable to the co-opting of their impulses, whether towards being a perpetrator or a victim, and another to contain and withstand? This article aims to understand this question.

From a human rights and legislative perspective, in bullying, the victim’s safety and well-being are threatened in ways that violate their rights in terms of the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).  Botswana does not have anti-bullying legislation. In fact, in drafting the Children’s Act, where this law would ordinarily be, the opportunity to categorically read in the provisions of the CRC as regards to bullying, was missed. Bullying, however, is a human rights concern and one that cuts across various areas of an individual’s life.

It is provided for in Article 19 of the CRC, which states that, “Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.” For children and adolescents, schools are usually the sites for bullying, and this at times infringes on the victim’s fundamental right to access to education.

The Universal Declaration on Human Rights, UDHR provides, “education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” The CRC at Article 2 states that children’s rights entitle them to protection from, “all forms of discrimination or punishment based on

the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.”

It is often the case, that, during adolescence, early vulnerabilities and frailties are re-stirred and have to be managed anew. During the teenage years, pressures towards conformity, on the one hand, and individuation on the other, are often at their most complex. Anxiety about identity arouses an acute intolerance of difference either in the self or in the other—the seedbed of group identity when the shared purpose becomes that of cruelty bolstering the ego at the expense of others.

In understanding the phenomenon of bullying during adolescence, it is essential to not only focus on an attempt to establish direct or specific causal relations (e.g. violent films, abuse, social media, online enactments etc.) but also on the necessity of looking at a constellation of possible underlying psychodynamics. An adolescent’s disposition plays a central part; so too does the nature of a parent’s childhood, their experience of being parented thus of parenting. What needs to be explored when trying to understand the bully-victim relationship, is the incredibly complex relationship between the external, and internal factors, in the matrix communication between adana cam the child, adult, and the outside world from the very first. The latter point shows us that there are no easy answers to the question posed earlier.

What this picture paints, is that adolescents who are unable to engage with, and contain their impulses or manage difficulties, and without an external source of prohibition, or a parental source of containment, often give rein to the most primitive and perverse practices, ones bred by anxiety, fear and hatred. We must remember that the capacity to withstand painful experiences –resilience— is developed in early development.

The seeds of the phenomenon lie deep in the individual psyche, a psyche that needs support and care from the earliest days. This is however only possible in a society really values children and young people, as well as parenthood.

The problem of bullying and its virulence should, therefore, be managed in two-folds; justice needs to be instilled in children at an early age, but it should not only be limited to guidance and counselling classes. Learners can be introduced to the arms of government and particularly to the judiciary and justice during lessons such as social studies, and secondly, through understanding and addressing the underlying dynamics that contribute to the phenomenon.

Article written in collaboration with Batetshi Matenge. Batetshi Matenge has a Masters in Clinical Psychology (Cum Laude) from the University of Cape Town. She runs a private practice and sees adolescents, adults and couples. Batetshi’s professional interests include working with severe psychopathology, trauma, group analytic therapy and parent-infant psychotherapy. In addition to clinical work, Batetshi is passionate about advocacy and activism work within Mental Health.

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