Bullying in our schools

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It is the first school term of the year and for some this has been the long awaited time of meeting with friends and creating new partnerships.

On the contrary, others view school as a place of torture. Bullying is one of the major reasons why children do not enjoy going to school.

Kenosi (not his real name), is a 24 year-old angry young man who grew up being consistently bullied at school. Kenosi, growing up quite a shy child, chose to be a bit of a clown in Standard 2 class because that is what worked for him socially.

In standard four, two of his peers started changing from treating him as their entertainer to something far more negative. They started calling him hurtful names such as idiot and stupid. It just kept getting worse as the perpetrators started to hit and kick him in school. Kenosi’s parents tried to talk to his teachers and the school head about their son’s ordeal but not much changed.

His teachers would try to talk to the students as a group; unfortunately the bullies would change for only a day or two before returning to their usual behaviour by the third day. Even though Kenosi started school a very bright boy, his academic performance rapidly deteriorated. He started acting out at home, yelling at his parents and binge eating to try to suppress the pain he felt.

 When he was fifteen years old, he started drinking and smoking to gain acceptance among the ‘popular’ group at school. Consequently, he failed his Junior Certificate examinations and decided that he was done with school. Kenosi started a new pattern of behaviour; he would spend the day sleeping at home and go out drinking in the night.

He would carry a knife in his pocket every time he went out to his drinking places. The knife was used as a “defense tool” every time anybody dared to have an opinion that differed with his own. Kenosi perceived any form of argument as a threat or an act of bullying.There is no doubt that what Kenosi experienced at school was overt (or face-to-face) type of bullying. Unfortunately, bullying is common in our schools.


What is bullying?

Bullying in schools includes a variety of negative acts carried out repeatedly over a period of time (Garrett, 2003). Bullying is different from normal peer conflict in that there is an imbalance of power between the people in conflict, just as Kenosi’s peers had power over him.

Normal peer conflict is when the two students of equal power get into a temporary argument or fight, something that was absent in Kenosi’s relationship with his peers.

The bully seeks to control and gain power over the victim and bullying is repeated in nature, as we see Kenosi being repeatedly bullied in school right from Standard four to Form three. Research shows that boys and girls experience bullying in different ways. Generally boys tend to experience more physical aggression than girls and have higher chances of being the targets. Bullying in girls has been found out to be more relationally aggressive - such as spreading rumors, gossiping and excluding one from social gatherings.  


Who gets bullied?

Some children are bullied for no particular reason (bullies sometimes do test the waters), but usually it is because they are different. Bullies do not appreciate the fact that people are meant to differ in some ways. In our schools children get bullied because of the way they talk, their size, their name or even because they look like they won’t stand up for themselves.

How does bullying affect the victims?

Physical harm: this includes harm to another person or property. Kenosi experienced physical bullying when his peers hit and kicked him. Victims of bullying often experience tiredness and illnesses resulting from physical harm and depression.

Emotional harm: bullying hurts the victims’ emotional health. Kenosi developed depression from being bullied, and this manifested into behavioural problems evidenced by his tendency to yell at his parents, binge eating, drinking, smoking and eventually picking fights with unsuspecting victims.

Relational harm: bullying affects the victim’s relationships with other people, even those who are not bullies. Kenosi’s social skills were very poor as a result of being a victim of bullying. He had internalised anger, displayed by yelling at his parents from time to time.

He was repeatedly hurt, made to feel shameful and this drove him to develop aggression towards himself by abusing alcohol and cigarettes in search for comfort. Kenosi later developed violent behaviour to “protect” himself against anybody he perceived as a bully.


How does bullying affect the bullies?

When children are allowed to get away with bullying others, they are actually given an opportunity to hone their criminal skills.

This can only land them in prison at a point when they are supposed to carve their careers.

Bullies can also be victimised by the people they used to bully at a later stage in their lives. I have heard of stories from other countries where bullies were shot dead by their victims, within the school premises.


Who is at risk of becoming a bully?

Children who often witness the violent behaviour of parents or relatives are four times more likely to become bullies ((Garrett, 2003).

Other risk factors include lack of close relationships with family and envying fellow schoolmates. (Contact: 71443707)

Victoria s. Sethibe 

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