Tuesday 8 July 2014

Are you being Bullied?

The release of Stingers on 16 June 2014 brought to light a pretty sensitive issue: that of bullying, particularly in school.

While the story is fiction, I understand that this is a serious issue. I was a bullied at school myself, as I'm sure many, if not most people, were. In fact, Times Live reported in January 2013 on a (then) recent survey, which said that a whopping 57% of South African kids say that they've been victims of bullying in school. I have a feeling that that figure continues to grow, and I shudder to think what the figures would be, if they were to do that survey again!

Types of Bullying

Bullying has always come in different forms. Everyone knows about physical bullying, which includes poking, pushing, hair pulling, or kids being beat up for their lunch money. And nowadays, just about everyone understands that it can be psychological too, with name calling, snide remarks, and racial slurs. Then of course there's sexual bullying, comprising sexual harassment and even rape, which is sadly becoming ever more prevalent among school kids these days.

When you think of a bully like this, you probably think most often of a big tough muscular guy or girl, kind of thick in the head, with nothing better to do than prove how big and strong they are.

But a new type of bully has emerged for the new millenium: the cyber-bully. Cyber-bullies are different. In any other context, these kids may well be bullied themselves (and I think they probably often are, in the physical world). Cyber-bullies can use their technological know-how to stalk and troll people online, which is the least they could do. If they're feeling particularly malicious, there have even been recorded instances of people hacking into others' Facebook accounts and updating their statuses in embarrassing ways, or uploading photos, etc.

Effects of Bullying

This should go without saying, but kids who are victims of bullying very often suffer from deep psychological trauma as a result. They can become timid and passive, even after school. Or they could snap and wreak their vengeance in ways that could get them into real trouble!

What's more, these psychological problems never go away. Bullying in school leaves emotional scars and long-lasting effects, often beyond what you could imagine. Kids may never forget what they went through, and these experiences could very easily translate into them being ineffective adults, abusers and bullies themselves, and it could even affect their relationships with their future spouses or the way they raise their own children.

In fact, there was a case two years ago in South Africa, of a bullied kid who snapped, stole his mother's firearm and shot and killed the kid who was bullying him. You can read more about that story here. That instance is not isolated. It happens many times, to many kids around the world.

What to do if you're being bullied

So what exactly should you do if you're being bullied? Well, the first thing you need to do is to make sure that the bully knows, categorically, that what he or she is doing to you is not okay! Some bullies are pretty thick—or, to put it in more politically-correct language, self-absorbed—and may not even realise that there's anything wrong with what they're doing to you!

Bullies tend to seek out kids who are on their own, so the second thing you should do is try to find a group of friends you can hang out with. Be careful that these "friends" aren't only pretending to be your friends for what they can get out of you, though!

Lastly, even though it didn't turn out so well for poor young James in Stingers, you really need to tell someone! This can be really tough, because if you're a bullied kid, you may feel ashamed or embarrassed at not being able to stand up for yourself, and fight your own battles. Or you may feel like it's your own fault that you're being bullied. This is absolutely not true!

It is impossible to over-emphasise just how completely untrue those thoughts are. Trust me, it is not your fault, and if you've gotten to this point, there is absolutely nothing else that you can do to solve the problem on your own. So tell someone, and if that person doesn't do something, tell someone else, and keep telling people until somebody does something about it. You have a right to be treated with respect, and you have a right to be heard.

How to know if your child is being bullied

For some of the reasons stated above, kids may be disinclined to report bullying. They may be ashamed to tell you about it, or they may think they can deal with the problem on their own. Don't be complacent: your child needs you.

So, if you think that your child may be bullied, ask. But it doesn't stop there; if your child tells you something (either because you've asked, or out of their own volition), listen, and take them seriously. Do not brush off their fears or concerns with things like "Boys will be boys" or "You just need to toughen up a bit". The fact that your child has come to you with this problem means that it's something that really bothers them, and you'll only hurt them more by being dismissive.

Once you know the truth, don't keep it to yourself. Seek out other parents, whose children might also be suffering, or teachers at the school, who may be aware of what is happening with your kids and others. Come up with ideas, and discuss practical ways in which you might solve the problem.

Teach your kids how to be self-confident and assertive, without becoming bullies themselves. If your child has difficulty making friends, consider enrolling him or her in extra-mural activities at their school. This will not only help to boost their self-confidence, but will help them form a circle of friends that they can hang out with and fall back on.

So go on, read and enjoy Stingers, my short story about bullying. But understand that that story is fiction, and in truth, bullying is no laughing matter, and you should take it very, very seriously!

Do you have anything to add to this discussion? Perhaps you're a child who's currently the victim of bullying in some form. Or maybe you're a parent of such a child. You may even be a bully, or ex-bully yourself. I'd love to hear your thoughts, so let me know in the comments below!

Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, nor have I had any training whatsoever in any of these matters, and I therefore cannot be held accountable if any of my suggestions are inaccurate, don't work, or worse.

Image: The image used for this blog post comes from Wikimedia Commons. It was uploaded by user Doktory. The original image can be found at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bully_Free_Zone.jpg

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