“I was terrified. Every single day at school was hell because of the horrific experiences of bullying I had to endure. I didn’t have the courage to either let my parents know or to fight against the bullies. Even after so many years, when I think of those days, it sends a chill down my spine,” says 26-year-old Keshav Chandran. His words are testimony to the fact that bullying is rampant in schools and that it can have a terrible long-term impact on its victims.
Bullying in schools
A survey conducted by ParentCircle and the market research firm IMRB in 2016 unearthed the shocking fact that every third child in school is bullied. The survey covered 2,700 respondents who included children and parents from across the length and breadth of India. The fact that schools contain children from diverse sections of society makes them a fertile ground for bullying. Experts and educationists also agree that bullying has been going on in schools for many years.
In fact, bullying exists in schools throughout the world. The US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, conducted a School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey among school students aged 12 to 18 in 2015. The result, published in the National Center for Education Statistics, states that 20.8% of the students had experienced bullying in school. When it comes to the nature of bullying, the report states - 13.3% had been made fun of, called names or insulted; 5.1% had been pushed, shoved, tripped or spat on; 5% had been excluded from activities on purpose and 3.9% had been threatened with harm.
The survey also throws in some details on where exactly bullying happens most inside the school campus. It says 41.7% of the bullying happens in the hallway or staircase; 33.6% inside the classroom; 22.2% in the cafeteria; 19.3% outside, on the school grounds; 10% inside the school bus and 9.4% in the rest room. These numbers clearly indicate the intensity of bullying in schools.
Prevention – the best way to check bullying
Although there are many remedial measures to try and bring a victim of bullying back to normal, the best thing to do is prevent bullying from happening at all. Any child who becomes a victim of bullying could have traumatic memories that last for many years. So, to save a child from such an experience, we need to make sure we nip bullying in the bud.
“Prevention is always better than cure. Difficult emotions such as humiliation, embarrassment and social isolation that result from bullying form negative beliefs in the child. This negative loop can carry on into adult life, manifesting in academic under-performance, interpersonal problems, work- related performance issues and difficulties in personal relationships. So, it is always better to prevent bullying from happening, ” says Arundhati Swamy, a Chennai-based family and school counsellor.
Aparna Samuel Balasundaram, a clinical psychotherapist and life skills expert, also emphasises the importance of prevention. “It’s always better to prevent damage from happening, rather than taking corrective measures afterwards. Since bullying experiences are sometimes capable of haunting the victim for life, it becomes extremely vital to prevent them from happening,” she says.
Tips to prevent bullying in school
So, how actually can we prevent bullying? Here are some useful tips for schools (teachers and principals) and parents, with inputs from Arundhati and Aparna, to prevent bullying in school. If implemented correctly, these will definitely cut down the incidence of bullying to a huge extent.
Tips for schools (teachers and principals):
- Schools must have a definitive child protection policy with stringent measures to prevent bullying in any form – verbal, emotional or physical. Students should be made clearly aware of this policy, just as they are made familiar with the school pledge or school prayer. There should be a code of conduct for the students that has clear guidelines for behaviour management and one that also clarifies appropriate student-to-student, and student-teacher behaviours.
- Every teacher should be put through an orientation programme on what bullying is. There are too many vague and misinformed beliefs about bullying. This often leads to bullying being ignored and the problem remaining unaddressed. It would be good if the different types of bullying are documented and shared with teachers and students.
- Teachers should identify children at risk of becoming a bully (aggressive, violent, emotionally unstable or with negative body language) or a victim (timid, shy, withdrawn, oversensitive or having low self-esteem), and make extra efforts to give them emotional support.
- Schools should dedicate time within the curriculum to have group sessions on behaviour management for students. They should make these sessions interactive and structured. Activities, games, videos and stories should be used to help children discuss, understand, learn and practise values like empathy, compassion, friendliness and amicability.
- Schools should actively engage parents and form a school safety committee to prevent bullying. This committee should meet frequently to discuss its course of action and also conduct awareness programmes on bullying in the school.
Tips for parents:
- Parents should pay attention to their children and listen carefully to what they have to say. They should look out for possible warning signs that include unexplained injuries, loss or destruction of personal belongings, abnormal eating habits and the child trying to avoid school or other social gatherings.
- Parents should take bullying seriously and acknowledge its dangers. If a child reports any instance of being bullied, the first thing the parents should do is believe him. They should then react swiftly, before the problem gets out of hand. If they ignore these warnings, things could get worse.
- Parents should make sure to have daily conversations with their children and to ask questions about what’s happening in school. They should look for signs of helplessness and tune in to what is going on in their children’s lives.
- Parents should build on the child’s strengths to help him develop self-worth, self-respect and dignity. They should also teach the child how to use the kind of body language that will convey self-confidence and the ability to stand up for himself. Role-play of potential bullying situations and training the child on how to respond appropriately would also help tremendously.
- Bullying often happens among siblings. This learned behaviour is then carried over into other social settings. Parents should be alert to bullying at home and deal with it firmly. They should also be role models for respectful communication among family members.
- Parents should avoid false praise, as it feeds a child’s ego adversely. She then believes she is the best and uses bullying to maintain this status with peers.
- If parents identify their child as a bully, they should take immediate action to help him overcome his abusive or arrogant nature. They should take him for counselling for moral training and behavioural correction.
Bullying is really a serious problem, and teachers, principals, parents and children should get together to tackle it. “Teachers and parents need to talk to children and explain why bullying is a damaging act. The school authorities should have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to bullying, and this has to be strictly implemented. Bullies as well as by-standers should be caught and disciplined. Parents should make sure that their child is neither a victim of bullying nor a bully himself, by having constant interactions and careful assessments. Students, on their part, should be brave enough to resist bullying, and kind enough not to bully anybody,” opines Aparna.
Arundhati says, “Schools need to create a culture of caring for others, and should give importance to social and emotional learning. This will impact the overall school atmosphere, where children feel emotionally safe. Positive schools teach not just the skills of achievement but also the skills of well-being. They should ensure that their teachers are well trained in both these aspects, so that they make their classrooms bully-free zones. At the same time, parents should teach children to accept and respect diversity, and have empathy and concern for fellow humans, especially their peers.”
So, whether you are a parent, teacher or principal, the onus is on you to implement these measures and prevent bullying. What is at stake is the future of the children. So, isn’t it absolutely necessary that you make a positive effort to stop this menace and provide them a safer world to live in?
Experiences of a victim of bullying:
I was bullied right from when I was in the third standard. A couple of my classmates (who were really burly) used to constantly tease me all through the day. What started as playful mockery in the junior classes turned into serious bullying as we moved up the academic ladder. Although years have passed – I’m in college now – I still have the scars from all those years of bullying.
I think being quiet and an introvert made me an easy target for my bullies. They used to break or steal my belongings, call me names in front of the whole class and sometimes, even beat me up in the hallway and the playground. I never revealed these experiences to my parents or teachers out of fear. Encouraged by this, my bullies became even more aggressive. I used to cry inconsolably, without letting anybody see me doing so. I wondered, “Why me?” every time I was treated badly, but got no real answer.
When I was in class nine, I finally got some relief. My dad (a bank officer) was transferred to a different city. More than the agony of losing my friends of so many years, it was the ecstasy of finally being free of the assaults of my bullies that filled my heart with overwhelming joy!
Even after so many years, I can still recollect all those terrible experiences. It took me a long time and tremendous effort to blank out those tormenting memories. I wish those incidents had never happened. And I pray that they never will happen to anyone else.