BULLYING – HOW IS YOUR CHILD AFFECTED?

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Bullying - no bullying of any kind image‘My child is being bullied and the school does nothing about it’.  A phrase often heard in casual conversation.  Is this a perception or a reality?  Let us start by finding a definition for bullying.

The Oxford English Dictionary describes a “bully” as “a person who deliberately intimidates or persecutes those who are weaker”.  Poor role models and less than perfect examples set by leaders and parents alike, result in schools becoming a hunting ground for bullies.

WHAT IS THE STATE OF BULLYING IN SA SCHOOLS?

In November 2015 the following statistic become public.  Although now more than two years later, the figures should still be relevant.

  • More than 3.2 million learners are bullied annually in South Africa.
  • When asked, 52% of learners characterised bullying as an act of verbal abuse and 22% explained it as physical abuse in the form of pushing, hitting and beating.
  • More than 67% of bully victims will not ask a teacher for help because they don’t think it will change their situation.
  • 90% of school bullying is carried out by learners.
  • 8% of school bullying is carried out by teachers.
  • 4% of learners know someone who is being bullied.
  • The Western Cape has the most reported cases of bullying with over 18.5% of learners reporting acts of abuse.
  • 160 000 high school learners bunk school daily to avoid being bullied.
  • 1 in 10 learners drop out of school to avoid being bullied.
  • 16% of learners admit that they are victims of cyber-bullying.

The information above is scary, and it seems that our children is getting more vulnerable by the day.

WHAT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF PARENTS AND TEACHERS?

Obviously, Schools have a responsibility to stamp out bullying. The South African Schools Act 84 of 1996 (SASA) provides that governing bodies of public schools must adopt a code of conduct for the learners after proper consultation with the various role-players.  This code of conduct should address bullying as well, and the School must adhere to its own code of conduct.  However, a school can only act on a problem if they are aware of the problem.  According to the information above, a great number of kids will not report bullying to their teachers.  Thus, the school may not be aware of it unless the parents report it.

Let’s make one thing clear – it is not the school’s responsibility to teach our kids manners and a sense of what is right or wrong.  Parents must rise to the occasion and ‘parent’ their children.  If you are the parent of a bully, you need to address it.  You should be able to recognise aggressive behaviour at home.  If your child bullies his siblings or his pets, you should be worried.

WHAT IS THE EFFECT OF BULLYING ON THE VICTIM?

How will you know if your child is being bullied? Some children may not even report it to their parents.  Look for signs whether your child is happy at school, or trying to avoid going at all costs, as this may indicate that he or she is being bullied. Discuss what happened at school on a daily basis and try to pick up on sudden mood changes.

Bullying causes anxiety and depression which could lead to self-mutilation, substance abuse and even suicidal thoughts.

HOW TO ADDRESS THE ISSUE OF BULLYING

If you suspect your child is being bullied, discuss it with him or her to determine all the facts.  Parents tend to believe their children unconditionally, so try to put emotions aside and focus on the issue at hand, to determine the truth.   Contact the school and make an appointment to see the teacher or in extreme cases, the principal.  Discuss the issue objectively with him or her.  If you have proof of the bullying, make it available. Without proof, the bullying may be considered hearsay only.

Allow the school to do an investigation, as they need to hear both sides of the story.  Resist the urge to contact the alleged bully’s parents.  That will in most cases end up in conflict.  Ask to be kept informed of the progress of the investigation as well as the action that will be taken.  Follow up frequently, if you feel the procedure takes too long.

If it is proven that your kid is being bullied, the school will be obliged to act against the culprit.  Depending on the severity of the bullying, action can be anything from providing counselling / therapy in order to change behaviour, to suspending, or even expelling the bully (in very extreme cases).

NOT HAPPY WITH HOW THE SCHOOL HANDLED THE BULLY CASE?

Schools need to deal with the issue in line with their codes of conduct, and intervene appropriately to support the victim and to change the behaviour of the culprit.  If you have exhausted your options with the school itself, and is still not satisfied with the way they are handing the case, contact the Education Department.

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