Bullying is an age old issue which somehow still plagues us. In my naivety and positive optimism, I believe that the world truly can be a better place and that modern society has learnt how to co-exist peacefully. Only to be reminded by my darling husband that we are still surrounded by war, crime, violence and abuse. Needless to say, when you remove your head from the sand and take a good look around, this is very apparent.
As a mother, my first instinct is to protect my young, “I am a Lioness – hear me roar!!!” My love for my children is unconditional and I will protect my girls at all costs. So how do we as parents deal with bullying, which unfortunately is still alive and well in our schools. Experts in this field believe it is on the increase and has even evolved into cyber-bullying in some cases. Most schools have bullying policies in place but in my opinion, most of the confrontations go by unreported, as the victims of bullying are often too afraid to speak to anyone about their predicament. I find myself in a very uncomfortable position when faced with my child being the victim of any type of abuse. When do I get involved and just how much involvement is necessary?
I guess we first need to understand what it is that makes bullies do what they do – the nature of the ‘beast’ so to speak. The word ‘narcissistic’ comes to mind – someone with the need to have other people admire them and be the centre of attention at all costs. It has always been my understanding that bullies are cowards, who for whatever reason, need to be seen as important. Therefore by belittling others, they satisfy this need for self-importance. My question is: where does this need stem from and what can we, as parents, do to stop this cycle from occurring? Perhaps the parents of bullies are oblivious to what is happening or they are too afraid of confronting the problem. Some children may mimic the behaviour that their parents display at home, which manifests as intimidation. I do feel that the responsibly should lie with us as the parents and that all possible measures should be taken to root out these individuals, before the problem escalates out of control.
As individuals no one wants to be singled out as being different or the odd one out and I think as parents we should be teaching our children how to treat one another. Something that I have tried to impress upon my girls from a young age is acceptance of others – especially people different from themselves. Even though you may think someone is different, that is your opinion and not something you need to voice. I always tell them to think before they speak and to think of the impact that their words or actions may have on the other person and how they would feel if someone said the same things to them. This is still a work in progress but I think they get the basic idea; no one is perfect and we have all said things that we regret.
I am both saddened and appalled that young children today are still subject to this type of abuse. Some of the actions associated with bullying include: intimidation, coercion, manipulation, criticism and aggression. These can lead to loneliness, depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, the consequences of which can be devastating, causing violence or even suicide in severe cases. In my own experience with my girls, I have seen evidence of this anxiety and added stress. This is something that there is already so much of in the schooling environment, without other outside factors adding to it.
I think as parents we need to speak up for our children and empower them to take a stand against bullying in any way or form. Bullies need to understand that this behaviour at school will not be tolerated. I realise that it is a very delicate subject but maybe if people were more vocal about the need for stricter measures, children would be less inclined to inflict this behaviour on others.
We just need to reflect back, to the 1999 Columbine massacre, which linked the extreme violence displayed by these students, to years of being targeted as misfits and bullied by their peers. I know that this is an extreme case but we need to be aware that there can be dire consequences, if this type of intimidation if left unchecked. If it is not dealt with at this level these perpetrators simply carry this behaviour through into their adult lives, or we find victims of their abuse ultimately taking the ‘law’ into their own hands.
Warnings signs of abuse to look out for:
- Coming home with signs of physical abuse: bruises, cuts, ripped clothing
- Possessions and money going “missing”
- Not getting on with previously good friends
- Changes in mood: becoming bad tempered or quiet and withdrawn
- Not wanting to go to school
- Lack of appetite
- Taking out frustrations on siblings or parents
- Bad grades
- Depression and anxiety
No parent wants their child to exist in an unhealthy environment and I think we need to be more vigilant about speaking up and facing this issue head on. We need to address any situation which we think constitutes bullying and not be afraid of the consequences, because we are primarily responsible for the protection of our children. I think it is vitally important to let teachers or school counsellors know if any bullying is taking place, so that measures can be taken to deal with the situation.
If this avenue fails to resolve the problem then outside counseling can be helpful. Author Anne Cawood, who is also a registered social worker, has written a few books on boundaries for children, which could be helpful to read. She has a website “Boundaries Inc.” which also deals with the topic of bullying, especially in the Pre-school years – which is often when bullying starts.
Other recommended reads on the subject by Child Mag are:
- “The Everything Parents Guide to Dealing with Bullies” by Deborah Carpenter, Published by Simon and Schuster (R176)
- “When your Child is Bullied – An Essential Guide for Parents” by Jenny Alexander, Published by Simon and Schuster (R153)
- “Letters to a Bullied Girl” by Olivia Gardner, Published by Harper Collins (R147)
- “Bully Blocking “by Evelyn M.Field, Published by Finch Publishers (R220)