Bullying: The ‘silent’ epidemic in our schools
By Antoney Luvinzu
| May 10th 2021
Bullying is an epidemic. It is rampant, widespread, pervasive and the effects can be catastrophic.
Bullying in schools is a worldwide puzzle that has negative consequences for the general school setting and for the enablement of students to learn in an apt environment without fear.
What makes a school bully? School bullies tend to share common traits such as aggressive, dominant, slightly lower than average intelligence and reading ability, and are of average school popularity. A vital suggestion is that such tyrants may possess poor social skills, have low empathy levels, and can be uncooperative.
When most people think about bullying, they envision some kind of physical intimidation. However, bullying can take on many forms, which are just as emotionally and psychologically damaging as physical intimidation and harassment.
The four general forms of bullying are physical, verbal, social, and cyberbullying. All these are evident in the school integration and equal emphasis should be put on them.
Aligning this with the knowledge of parents on this puzzle, the conclusion that parents are not aware of such shameful acts in schools would be disgraceful.
The Global School-based Health Survey 2017 ranks Kenya among the top countries in the world with a high prevalence of secondary school bullying.
The government is aware of bullying in schools and has legal provisions in place to protect the rights of learners and empower school administrators to address it. The Education Act, 2013, outlaws any form of psychological or physical punishment of students.
It spells out punishments for those who contravene this, which includes, upon conviction, jail terms, or payment of fines. These interventions are time-consuming, in theory, but in reality, nobody has ever been convicted based on the same, knowledge well known to bullies.
Bullying is a relatively common problem among children and adolescents. It is not a new phenomenon, but something is different: How the generations; the millennials and the generation Z are indulged in it.
In earlier times, bullying was seen as a more clearly specified and simple set of behaviours than at present.
According to descriptions in old documents from the 18th to early 20th centuries, bullying was generally seen as a more clearly specified and simple set of behaviours than at present.
However, in contrast to the forms of bullying in earlier times, and the first descriptions of bullying as one or a few physically strong boys directly and harshly treating weaker ones, bullying in modern contexts includes more psychological and verbal threats as well. Researchers such as Smith and Rigby have included forms of indirect bullying: gossiping, unkind gestures, and spreading rumors.
Over time, the meaning of what bullying includes has broadened to cover indirect forms. The attitude towards it has been changing. It used to be considered a part of children’s growing up, but now is considered to be a social problem that has to be controlled.
Both are very important issues because the possible developmental forms of bullying can be predicted. More efficient prevention programmes could be provided to reduce the incidence of bullying. Moreover, the forms of bullying have developed further in more impersonal ways, rather than face to face.
Societies with larger economic inequality have a higher prevalence of bullying victimisation, but also a stronger social gradient in bullying. One underlying mechanism may be that acceptance of hierarchies and of having a more segregated society is reflected in behaviour among children.
In countries with large economic inequalities, hierarchies and status differences are distinct in the adult population and thus may gain more widespread acceptance among children and school officials.
A societal norm of accepting socioeconomic inequality may lead to more widespread approval of behaviours associated with status differences, such as bullying.
Forms of bullying tend to differ from private schools to public schools. A student at Brookhouse School, for example, is more likely to experience a different form of bullying from one at Maranda High School. This is due to the very different economic and cultural settings.
Students living below the poverty threshold are at high risk for perpetrating and suffering bullying in all grades of school. The frequent victimisation of these students by their peers has been related to the stigmatisation for their being “different” due to familial poverty, and/or to the poor relational skills of minors raised in highly deprived environments.
There is also increasing evidence about the higher prevalence of bullying behaviours in students living in poverty, who may bully their peers as a reaction to the suffered stigmatisation, or to combat feelings of low self-esteem.
The degree between the number of incidences, types, and location of bullying that takes place at public and private schools are different. In private schools, forms such as gossiping, unkind gestures, name-calling, cyber-bullying, exclusion, spreading rumours, racial and sexual comments are some of the common unfortunates of bullying.
Unlike in private institutions, public schools tend to have face-to-face-like forms of bullying such as physical acts, money or items taken away, threatened or forced to do something.
Bullying, online and in school, has driven students to the point of fear, depression, self-harm, and even suicide. Solutions are said to be as simple as talking to a parent or teacher about the problem, but it is easier said than done. Many victims of bullying never tell a trusted adult, most likely due to lack of self-esteem and the fear of the situation becoming more unbearable.
The long-lasting psychological impacts stem directly from the short-term impacts that children experience as the result of being consistently bullied. Depression and anxiety tend to characterise their emotional outlook well beyond the bullying years, extending into their adult lives, where they become chronic, sometimes lifelong problems.
These issues make eating, sleeping, working, exercising and engaging in interesting hobbies – all the hallmarks of a full, balanced life – more difficult. They also make it more difficult to make and keep relationships, whether with friends or romantic partners.
And according to the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, the conventional “sticks and stones” wisdom about what kind of bullying really causes lasting damage is backwards: It is actually emotional harm that lasts much longer than physical harm. Especially during childhood, when bodily damage heals readily, the victim’s self-image may be permanently maimed.
This results in the bully victim’s inability to trust himself or herself as a capable individual. In particular, this has effects during tough or difficult times, where the victim has been taught they are too weak or hopeless to persevere, and so they do not. This can have major repercussions for work, relationships, and other trying life situations that require persistence and grit to overcome or succeed in.
They also have difficulty trusting people, have reduced occupational opportunities, and grow into adulthood with the tendency to be loners. They make fewer positive choices and act less often in defense of their own happiness, owing mostly to the lack of perceived control instilled in them during their childhood bullying.
What can we do to make schools safer?
Dealing with feelings of school safety, and specifically addressing school bullying, requires a multi-pronged approach. One of the first steps in preventing bullying is teaching students about it and discussing what their rights are at the school.
There are multiple ways to do this. The internet and library can be used by students to research bullying, what it looks like, how to prevent it, and how to respond. Of course, learning about bullying also requires school staff to step up.
It’s important to have presentations on what bullying looks like and teach students about how it can hurt others. School-wide presentations and classroom discussions can both be used as a means of teaching students about just how bad bullying can get.
Teachers might also want to use alternative approaches to exploring bullying. For instance, in some cases, teachers can turn to creative writing to help students express how they feel when they get bullied.
Poems, sketches, and stories can all be written that explore bullying and its effects. This creative exploration doesn’t have to be limited to writing. Artistic works can also be created that explore the bullying phenomenon. What’s important is that teachers give students the space to explore their feelings on the matter and guide discussions around the topic.
Of course, responding to bullying requires more than just exploring the feelings of students. Concrete actions need to be taken to prevent bullying before it starts and stopping bullying when it happens. To that end, staff training is an incredibly important part of stopping bullying.
It’s important for not only teachers but all members of a school’s staff to be familiar with the policies regarding what to do when they see bullying. Teachers may often step in to address bullying in their classrooms, but other members of staff may be at a loss about what to do when they witness bullying happening. For this reason, it’s important that administrators review school policies toward bullying with all members of the staff.
It’s also important to be aware of the school climate and how students feel about going to the school. For this reason, it’s important for administrators to occasionally perform a school-wide assessment.
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