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Bullying: How to know if your child is a victim or perpetrator

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As the world becomes more digitalised and parents and guardians become busier, bullying amongst children is on the increase. How do you know your child is being bullied or is in fact the bully? Bullying has several short and long-term effects that, if not properly addressed, can cause a myriad of problems for the child in the near future. We have read and heard of victims of bullies that have harmed themselves or even taken their own lives when they couldn’t stand it anymore. We may think these things cannot touch us but there is no guarantee of this.

On May 4, 2012, the United Nations (UN) declared that date as an international Anti-Bullying Day and although this date is yet to be adopted in Nigeria, Adesola Oyinloye-Ndu, the Director of Active Projectile, an anti-bullying advocate, says it is worth sensitizing parents, schools and communities of this menace.
 
Do we know what bullying is and how we can identify a bullying incident? Bullying is the deliberate intimidation or persecution of those who are perceived as weaker. Bullying can occur in any context in which human beings interact with each other.

According to her, bullying can occur in schools, offices, families, playgrounds, places of worship; that is, it can happen anywhere and to anyone regardless of age, tribe, class, gender and religion. This harmful aggression can be directed by an individual or a group against the victim and could be physical (verbal, sexual, tribal and racist) or emotional which is further categorized into psychological, relational and social bullying and of course the 21st century bullying which is cyber-bullying or electronic bullying which takes place through texts, emails or social media.

The victim of bullying is known as the target and could be one-off or repetitive. It could be one-to-one or more complex that would involve other people or a group of people. In bullying incidents, there is always an imbalance in power. This may be physical strength or affluence or in number of followership on social media. A quarrel between two equals or friends does not constitute bullying usually.

How do we then determine if bullying has taken place in an incident?

There are three questions to ask: Was the action deliberate? Was it for the purpose of intimidating another? Would it leave a long lasting negative effect on the target?
 
Once the answers to these questions are ‘Yes’, then the incident is a bullying incident.
 
Speaking further, she said a recent example which comes to mind is the incident between some male students of Ireti Grammar School, South West Ikoyi and female students of Falomo Senior High School on May 6, last year, where the male students were accused of attempting to assault the female students in broad daylight. “This should send shivers down the spine of parents and is an incident of Physical and Sexual Bullying. It might have been a one-off incident but if we ask the three questions above, then we can rightly say that it was a bullying incident.”
 
For educators, and school administrators, do you know that your actions may constitute bullying and you might not be aware? A thin line exists between disciplining a child and bullying. Bullies as well as their victims are affected negatively. Bullies can end up in crime, drug addiction and lose relationships. They may lose their careers and jobs due to this aggressive behaviour.
 
Now, you may ask that as parents, what can be done to help curb this menace ravaging our schools? Most bullies are homegrown and even when they are not homegrown they still go home on holidays.  Likewise, the victims. Hence, parents and guardians have a lot of role to play in curbing school bullying. Parents and guardians must be seen as partners in progress to schools and must be more observant at home. Watch out for a very quiet student or a change in behaviour of a child. Look out for signs of bullying at all times (bully or bullied). Parents and guardians should examine carefully what the child’s school is doing regarding school safety and security which must include bullying controls. Parents and guardians should not always assume truancy if a child loses interest at school and should investigate why the child(ren) or ward hates school.

Parents and guardians may not give mobile phones to minors, except they are programmed for family contacts as this may be unduly exposing children to cyber-bullying or to be a cyber-bully. Young children with the need for emails for school work may share emails with their parents so that they could be monitored. Parents should curb the excesses of kids having social network accounts for safety and security reasons.

“A lot of families have also been burgled into because of travel information that they or their kids provided on social media. There are peadophiles out there looking for children to abuse. Parents must be on guard at all times and find time for conversation with their children from time to time.”

“ I know a family where the children use intercom to book appointment to speak with their parents. This is not good parenting. Parents should help build the confidence of their children and wards by speaking with them and having the children confide in them. It is important for our children and wards to know that they have our backs.

This will guide their attitudes and behaviours everywhere they go. Loving a child does not mean that they should not be reprimanded. Tough love should not be overlooked,” Oyinloye-Ndu added.

Parents should know the company of friends of their children and wards and be vigilant about their behaviours, the way they speak and act. Children must be brought up to be empathetic, and courteous with the use of nice words such as Please, Excuse me and Thank You. Parents need to be empathetic, compassionate and selfless in order to bring up empathetic and selfless children.

Schools also have big roles to play by documenting all incidents, installing an anti-bullying programme; developing strategies  and counter strategies that include dealing with existing incidents and prevention strategies such as promoting awareness and pro-social behaviors and providing regular in-service training for all staff and parents. Schools should not live in self-denial that bullying does not exist in their schools as it exists everywhere human beings interact.


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