Tackling bullying in schools


MOTUNRAYO JOEL writes about bullying in schools and how victims can manage it

Mary Douglas, 10, cries every night before she sleeps. The thought of going to school every morning to face some of her classmates, who continually torment her, is demoralising.

She attends one of the popular private schools in Lagos. As a matter of fact, it is a Christian school.

Since she got into the school, in primary one and now in primary four, Douglas has had a hard time challenging those who bully her. During an award night in the school, she was nominated by her bullies as the ugliest girl in school.

Her mother, Mrs. Chibuzor Douglas, feels worse. She said she had reported to the school authorities, but little was done about the matter.

She said, “I complained to the school proprietor about the matter. He promised me that he would put an end to it; but it has lingered on. Sometimes, I consider the withdrawal of my daughter from the school as a solution.

“The whole thing makes me sad. I believe what my daughter is facing in school is what has caused her behavioural change.”

Psychologists have noted that the behavioural change in Douglas — keeping to herself — could be caused by bullying.

An Associate Professor of Development and Clinical Psychology, Mrs. Esther Akinsola, defined bullying as a persistent, threatening and aggressive behaviour directed at a weaker, younger and less powerful individual. Akinsola added that such action could be verbal or physical.

She stated, “Bullying is usually an aggressive, verbal behaviour. However, at the initial stage, it may not be accompanied by physical assaults. Bullying is not peculiar to children alone, married couples also bully one another which is why I said that it is always directed at a ‘weaker’ person.”

The psychologist said a male pupil with the realisation of being bigger and stronger than other pupils could develop the tendency to exercise authority over younger and smaller pupils.

“The pupil knows he could get whatever he wants from other pupils by bullying them. No pupil will dare him. Other younger pupils will even be scared to challenge him. Bullying is a threatening behaviour to make the victim succumb to one’s demands,” she said.

What makes a child become a bully? Akinsola says bullying is an act a child learns at home.

She said, “Children are not born to be bullies, they obviously learnt it from home. If a child grows up in a home where the father constantly bullies the mother, the child might grow up to become a bully, which is what the child was exposed to. If it is a female child, she may not become a bully, but she may end up acting like a male child. This is because she had been exposed to a rough, aggressive and volatile environment.

“Some parents are not aware of the fact that the type of environment they create at home goes a long way in shaping their child’s future. Children copy what they see their parents do.”

Gbemisola Kadiri’s story is akin to Douglas’s. Kadiri, 12, looks a little too small for her age. But this is not the reason she is being constantly bullied by her classmates – the older ones. Many times, her mother, Mrs. Folu Kadiri, has caught her daughter writing hateful notes about her life and school.

Kadiri, who was once described as a kind, sweet child is now withdrawn and quick-tempered. Even when her younger siblings try to play with her, Mrs. Kadiri said her daughter responds in an angry manner.

She said, “My daughter is in J.S.S.1. She attends a public school. Nowadays, she does not want to play with her siblings. She always looks withdrawn and lost in thoughts. When I inquired from her teacher about her behavioural change, her teacher said she was being bullied by some of her classmates. The teacher said she had tried many times to caution the pupils, but they have refused to stop the act.”

Many parents whose children are victims of bullying often find it hard to handle the matter. Advising mothers, an expert in psychology, Fagboungbe Oni, said bullying is a serious case which should not be left to the child to deal with or handled alone.

“The child needs the help of his or her parents and teachers. This is because it is a situation that subdues a child. The child won’t be himself; he would lose concentration and always think of how to escape from his bullies. This is why parents must constantly speak with their children on a daily basis. Whenever a child gets back home from school, parents should ask him or her about all that happened in school. A child who is bullied would not be happy at school and at home. If the parents notice this behaviour, they should make the child talk. The parents should also inquire from the class teacher about those bullying their child,” he said.

Oni also advised teachers to caution and educate those who bully their schoolmates.

He stated, “Parents should also sit their children down to discuss the effects of bullying on them. They need to let the child know that crying or succumbing to the demands of the bullies will only make them (bullies) happy. The child needs to be educated on how to deal with bullying.

“The child must resist when bullied instead of sulking. He or she must come out of his or her shell. Sensitisation from parents, teachers and developing a bold personality are ways a child can deal with bullying.”

Like Oni, Akinsola said children who were bullied should speak out and let their teachers know about their challenges.

She said though bullies could initially threaten their victims not to tell anyone about their travails, the victims must summon courage and confide in their teachers.

“The child being bullied must not stop until he is heard. He or she must persist in his complaints until something is done about the situation. Exhibiting courage is a major factor in this situation. Teachers and school heads have a role to play. They should know that there is a possibility that a child would be bullied by his peers. Hence, they should constantly announce that any child being bullied should report to them. The school could establish a student advisory unit,” she said.

Akinsola stressed that a child being bullied must open up to his or her parents.

She said, “The parents need to know so that they can confront the school head or teacher about the matter. There has to be a form of cooperation between the parents and the school.

“If bullying is not dealt with, it could create emotional problems for the child. The child becomes afraid of every little thing and everyone who challenges him or her.”

Oni added that apart from fear, a victim of bullying could get depressed and become suicidal.

He said, “There is a link among bullying, depression and suicide. When a child becomes depressed, he has no peace of mind, especially in school. He becomes more depressed as time goes on and the only way of escape is suicide.

“Before a child who is being bullied gets to this stage, the parents must have noticed one or two behavioural changes and it is important they act fast. A parent must be observant. Most times, these children do not like talking about what they are facing in school, owing to the fear of aggravated attacks from the bullies. It is left to the parents to be observant. It is also important that parents make their children see them as their friends, this would create an environment where the child can freely talk about his or her fears.”

Speaking on employing pragmatism to tackle the issue, the university lecturer said a child must challenge his bullies.

Oni said, “I hear parents tell their child that if any child slaps their face, they should retaliate. I call it the law of pragmatism. This says if a finger is coming towards your nose and you keep moving backwards, that finger would continue to follow your nose until it hits your nose. But if the finger comes close to your nose, and you act as if you want to chop it off; the owner would withdraw his finger. This is why volatile resistance works in a situation such as bullying.

“Another extreme case is ignoring your bullies. If your bullies taunt you and you ignore them, they would stop bullying you. Their joy is derived from your reaction. Ignoring them will make the situation die down. A behaviour that is not reinforced goes into extinction.”

Also, an educationist, Mrs.Folasade Adefisayo, said children being bullied would not like informing their teachers in order not to be betrayed.

She said, “The child prefers to find a trusted adult he could confide in. This means teachers must be watchful; the signs are always there to show that a child is being bullied. For example, if a child who used to do well in his studies suddenly begins to lag behind, teachers should intervene. They need to be extremely watchful.

“I have discovered that children do not like reporting their bullies, the only way to know that a child is being bullied is through behavioural change.”

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