Rosemary Oshiomah Ogedengbe, PhD.
What is bullying as a behaviour?
Bullying is an abusive behaviour. It involves the repetitive use of physical force, coercion or any form of harmful behaviour to intimidate or hurt someone who is perceived as less powerful or vulnerable. Usually, the main purpose is to gain control over the victim. Bullying can occur anywhere there is human interaction, such as family settings, schools, work places, neighbourhoods, correctional centres, political circles and even in religious settings.
Forms of bullying
Bullying can take different forms. The most noticeable form of bullying is physical bullying which is the use of physical force to intimidate or harm a victim. It could involve shoving, kicking, hitting, slapping, and in extreme cases, the use of weapons on a victim. Physical bullying could sometimes involve damaging the victim’s possessions. It is easy to recognize physical bullying when it occurs because of the physical activities involved and sometimes because of the obvious physical effects of such activities, such as physical injuries, scars or torn clothes.
However, there are other forms of bullying that are less noticeable but equally devastating, and may go unnoticed for a long time while the victim suffers in silence. Verbal bullying is an example of such forms of bullying. Verbal bullying involves targeting harmful statements at someone to make them feel inadequate or less powerful. It includes yelling at the victim , threatening, use of derogatory remarks, aggressive teasing, taunting, name calling and unwanted nicknaming- giving of nicknames with negative connotations.
Social bullying is another form of bullying that is difficult to recognise as bullying. It involves the use of subtle yet aggressive behaviours, such as spreading false rumours about someone or encouraging others to ostracize them, in order to humiliate them or harm their reputation.
Another form of bullying that is very difficult to notice is emotional bullying. Emotional bullying which is also known as relational bullying usually occurs within the context of a close relationship and involves the use of power and aggression to subdue a victim, by targeting their self-confidence, sense of worth, hopefulness and sense of achievement or importance. Emotional bullying is perhaps the most common and yet the most difficult to recognise form of bullying. The activities employed include giving silent treatment, derogatory remarks, betrayal, social exclusion, teasing and taunting.
Other forms of bullying include sexual bullying, cyber bullying- use of technology to embarrass, threaten or humiliate another by sharing or sponsoring derogatory rumours or videos about them on social media.
From my experience with victims and young people who have perpetrated bullying, I realised that bullying does not always involve an imbalance of power where the victim is a perceived less powerful person. In some cases, the perceived superiority or power of the target, such as their social status, physical strength or other advantages which the perpetrator perceives as threats, and the intent to neutralise such influence are the reasons for targeting aggressive behaviours at the victim. In this case, the perpetrator targets aggressive behaviours at the victim to weaken them, in order to cope with their own feeling of insecurity. Thus, bullying is also a negative coping skill that involves an individual creating a situation that enables them to experience a false sense of power over someone that they perceive as a threat. This is usually the situation in many cases of cyber bullying and also in collective bullying which is known as mobbing – where a primary perpetrator recruits others to join them to target aggressive or violent behaviours at a victim.
Bullying as a problem is not exclusively among children and adolescents. Both adults and children can become victims or perpetrators of bullying. However, this discourse shall focus on bullying as it affects children both as victims and perpetrators. Particularly, focus shall be on the risk factors for becoming a victim of bullying, effects of bullying on victims and how victims can be helped, risk factors for becoming a perpetrator of bullying, effects of bullying behaviour on children who are perpetrators and intervention for perpetrators as well as prevention of bullying in schools.
What are the risk factors for becoming a victim of bullying ?
Certain factors could increase a child’s risk of being bullied by peers. These include being seen as weak and not able to defend oneself, low self-esteem which inhibits assertive response, lack of friends which projects the individual as being alone and lacking support, and therefore vulnerable, being physically or intellectually challenged and having a high tolerance for abuse, perhaps because the child experiences abuse at home. Sometimes, children who are considered as having certain advantages, such as those with wealthy or celebrity parents, and those considered as being better off academically may be picked on as targets to reduce their sense of pride. This is usually called wing clipping among bullies.
The signs of being bullied are always there
The sings that a child may be experiencing bullying are always present. Unfortunately, these signs are often taken for granted or not even noticed by parents and teachers. The physical signs include looking rumpled, torn clothes, bloodshot eyes, physical injuries, scars, aches and physical exhaustion. Among children in boarding schools, looking malnourished and weight loss are common signs as the bully may also confiscate the provisions of the victim. Other signs include withdrawal, looking sad or depressed, angry outbursts, forgetfulness, reduced concentration, absent mindedness, loss of interest in school activities, truancy, absence from school and low grades. While these signs may indicate other problems, they are good reasons to investigate if a child is experiencing bullying at home, school or in the neighbourhood.
What are the effects of bullying on a victim?
Bullying has adverse effects on the physical and mental health of victims. Victims may sustain physical injuries or experience body aches. In extreme cases death could result from bullying. Children who experience bullying may develop mental health problems such as anxiety, fear, depression, trauma, low self-esteem, homicidal ideation, suicide ideation and suicide. Bullying can cause children to learn negative coping skills – maladaptive behaviours which they resort to, in order to cushion the emotional effects of bullying or escape from bullying. Examples of such behaviours are substance use, truancy, absenteeism, stealing or engaging in examination malpractice to appease the bully and lie telling to cover up the stealing habit. Children who suffer prolonged bullying without recourse, especially physical bullying, may gradually lose their sense of empathy, particularly where adults who are supposed to intervene handle such issues with levity or minimise their sufferings. Bullying can impact negatively on a victim’s grades.
Prolonged exposure to bullying without intervention can make children to learn violent behaviours. A victim may become frustrated to the point of staging a retaliatory attack that may be fatal, while some, in order to escape, may join the gang of bullies and then become perpetrators.
How can victims of school bullying be helped?
Children who have experienced bullying should be targeted with psychotherapy to help them with immediate mental health problems resulting from bullying, and to prevent long term emotional and behavioural problems. The treatment is usually aimed at helping a victim to heal from the emotional problems resulting from bullying and helping with negative coping strategies that the victim may have been using to cope with bullying, such as truancy, absenteeism, excessive use of sleeping pills, alcohol and drug use, stealing and lie telling. This also includes helping those who have learnt violent behaviours as a result of being bullied to unlearn such behaviours. Furthermore, the treatment integrates skills training to equip the victims with skills to be able to protect themselves from subsequent bullying, such as assertive skills and reporting skills.
What are the risk factors for a child becoming a bully?
The risk factors for becoming a bully include family risk factors, such as witnessing domestic violence between parents, experiencing abuse at home, permissive parenting style which allows children to grow without firm boundaries and witnessing bullying behaviour in older siblings. Certain individual factors could increase a child’s risk of becoming a bully. An example is low self-esteem which makes the individual to engage in bullying in order to experience a false sense of power over someone that they perceive as a threat. An example of such a situation is where a physically stronger person bullies on a class mate who performs better academically. Children who have unhealthy need for control or power, those who lack empathy and those who have anger management issues may be at high risk of perpetrating bullying. Children may also bully because they have been bullied. Such children may pick on weaker children to bully just to regain their own sense of power.
Does bullying have any adverse effects on perpetrators?
Bullying behaviour equally has negative effects on perpetrators. If children are allowed to continuously perpetrate bullying without intervention, they may grow into adults with antisocial personality disorder. Bullies are also vulnerable to violent attacks when they least expect as their victims can feel frustrated to the point of retaliation. In large groups, bullies may suffer social exclusion and experience loneliness as other children would want to avoid interacting with them.
Children who perpetrate bullying also need help
Children who perpetrate bullying can also be helped with psychotherapy. Treatment is aimed at helping the child to unlearn the bullying behaviour by teaching and reinforcement of ‘appropriate’ behaviour. It also involves assessing their risk factors and providing help to eliminate or reduce them, and by increasing their protective factors. One of the ways of increasing children’s protective factors against bullying tendency is to equip them with social skills such as empathy, rapport building , communication and pro – social skills. Treatment can also help perpetrators to cope with the negative outcomes of bullying behaviour, such as negative publicity, harsh criticism, rejection by peers, loneliness and the stress associated with the penalty for their bullying behaviour which could be suspension from school or being sent to a correctional centre.
How to prevent bullying in schools
Bullying in school is preventable. Certain strategies can help to minimise the occurrence of bullying in schools. These include the following.
* Having a child safeguarding policy that prohibits bullying and all other forms of violent behaviours in schools. Such a policy should not only prohibit children from perpetrating aggressive behaviours but should also prohibit school personnel from perpetrating such behaviours against children and colleagues. This will prevent teachers and other school personnel from modelling bullying behaviour to children in schools.
* Fair and consistent application of penalties as specified in the child safeguarding policy.
- Regular training of teachers and other school personnel on child safeguarding within the school environment.
*Creating a positive school climate and positive classroom environment – Schools and classrooms with warm physical and psychological tones have been found to have calming effects on children, and consequently minimize aggressive behaviours. Teachers with positive classroom environment knowledge and skills are able to curtail power imbalance among their learners, by making every child to feel empowered and important, through the way they influence the physical and psychological environment within the classroom. Such teachers are also able to model appropriate behaviours to their learners.
* Training of learners on social skills to protect them from being bullied as well as to prevent them from becoming bullies.
* Reinforcement of appropriate behaviour of children. For instance, when a new intake with bullying behaviour begins to relate with other children appropriately or no longer bullies, such a child should be commended by the teacher to reinforce the appropriate behaviour. Parents can also apply this strategy at home.
* Use of parents – teachers forum to train parents on how to prevent bullying behaviour – It is important for schools to collaborate with parents in order to prevent bullying. No child is born with bullying behaviour. Children learn many of their behaviours, including bullying through a process of learning known as social learning which is learning by observation and imitation. Consequently, children whose parents model bullying behaviour are likely to learn to bully others. Thus, training of parents on how to model appropriate relational behaviour to children may be helpful. Similarly, parents can be educated on preventing children’s exposure to violent media content. Training parents on observation and listening skills can also make it easier for them to be aware when their children are being bullied or are exhibiting bullying tendency so that they can help them.
* Counselling services in schools can help to identify children with bullying tendency with a view to providing help for them, and also help those who have experienced bullying. Perpetrators of bullying can be helped after serving their punishment.
* Having an effective reporting System – It is necessary to have a simple and effective system through which children can easily report adverse experiences including bullying in schools. Having suggestion boxes in accessible and strategic places within the school premises has been found to be helpful in encouraging children to report experiences that they may ordinarily find difficult to talk about.
* Early intervention is necessary for preventing bullying culture in schools. This involves prompt and appropriate response to reported cases of bullying no matter how mild they may appear to be. When known or reported cases of bullying are overlooked, it gives a negative signal that the behaviour is acceptable, and this encourages other children with bullying tendency to perpetrate the behaviour.
How can parents support the school in curbing bullying?
As mentioned earlier, parents, and by extension the family has the primary duty of socialization towards children. Children are born into families and they spend the earliest part of their lives in the family before starting school. They are first and foremost family members before becoming pupils or students in any school. Moreover, children return to their families after school no matter how much time they spend in school. Therefore, parents have a significant role to play in curbing bullying among children.
Children who enjoy parental guidance are often easier to train in the school than those who do not. Thus, greater positive outcomes can be achieved when parents and the school play complementary roles.
Some of the ways parents can complement the schools’ efforts in curbing bullying includes modelling appropriate relational behaviours to children at home, setting firm and consistent boundaries for children, protecting children from violent media content, being observant so as to be able to notice signs of being bullied or of perpetrating bullying, with a view to taking necessary steps to help the child. Parents can also help the school by not defending their children when they break anti – bullying rules in their schools. Rather, they should allow them to serve the specified punishment. Another way parents can help is to ensure that children who are bullied or perpetrate bullying are provided with psychological treatment.
If you need more information or training on the above as a parent or a school owner, or you need counselling to help a child who has experienced bullying or a child who exhibits bullying behaviour, you can call us @07061118363.