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Bullying must not be tolerated in any form

By Anne-Funmi Fatusin
09 December 2021   |   4:22 am
Most students have encountered what we now know as bullying during their education, especially those who were at boarding schools. Bullying is not specific to a region, social class, mixed or single gender schools. Educational establishments are beginning to recognise the impact of bullying especially in primary and secondary schools, but with prevalence amongst boarders.…

Most students have encountered what we now know as bullying during their education, especially those who were at boarding schools. Bullying is not specific to a region, social class, mixed or single gender schools. Educational establishments are beginning to recognise the impact of bullying especially in primary and secondary schools, but with prevalence amongst boarders.

There is no legal definition of bullying but according to the anti-bullying UK Charity, Ditch the Label – bullying is “an imbalance of power which is used to either defame, harass, intimidate or upset another person”. Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA) defines it as the “repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power”.

People used to perceive what we now know as bullying – as part of school life with the belief that it should toughen one’s personality and preparation for challenges in the real world. Junior students were constantly punished by their seniors – to tie shoelaces, fetch water, clean their clothes or serve out their own punishments. It was like an initiation in some schools that students would later brag about what their seniors had put them through and when they became seniors, felt the need to mete out the same on their juniors. Sadly, gone were the days when it seemed like fun to those who were ‘victims’ of the domestic chores meted out to them by their seniors.

Antics during school days could be put down to youthful exuberance but it stops being interesting or anything to boast of, if the recipients of the pranks or bullying feels worthless due to denigrating experiences or remarks which robbed them of their innocence and destroyed their self-confidence. There have been terrible incidents where bullying has resulted in students being sodomised or becoming extremely scared of their peers and taken to playing truancy. Those in the boarding house who find it difficult to escape their tormentors, suffer in silence because they are either too embarrassed to report to their teachers and/ or parents. In some cases, by the time their parents become aware of the situation, it is too late because in some instances, when the bullying becomes unbearable, some victims commit suicide.

Due to the advent of the social media, there is now cyber bullying which is defined as “when someone uses the internet, phone, laptop, tablet or online gaming to bully their victim”.

Bullying starts from an early age, even with toddlers. Parents are usually aware but take little cognizance of the negative impact the unpalatable behaviour of their children have on their playmates. Such behaviour ought to be discouraged almost immediately. From some research, there has been evidence that people who were once bullied as children, later turn out to be bullies in adulthood. There is also proof that some people develop bullying traits because they want to have some sort of ‘power’ over their play/school mates or to earn respect amongst their peers and so adopt the bullying tactics to create a formidable personality. In some cases, it is insecurity which gives rise to bullying. Some bullies do not realise the effect they have on their victims and continue until an unfortunate incident occurs or the victims find the courage to confront them verbally or physically. Some victims find strength to confront their bullies, which comes as a shock to the bullies, and it stops. On the other hand, with such reaction, the bullies may perceive such rebuttal as an affront and garner support from their peers to continue the torment.

Some people in adulthood have experienced bullying, which can take place in any environment – office, political circles, amongst friends and family members. Bullying can be anything from verbal threats to name-calling, teasing to physical assault. Defaming someone is also a form of bullying because the intention is to ruin the person’s character.

People may not realise the impact of their actions at times, due to different cultural beliefs. In Africa for example, where many have domestic staff, bullying is quite common because it is a case of master-servant relationship. Unfortunately, the domestic staff usually come from disadvantaged backgrounds and are probably breadwinners of their families and so put up with harrowing bullying experiences. There have been reports where hot pressing irons have been stamped on a domestic staff just because the employer’s clothing was accidentally burnt. Other instances included domestic staff having hot water poured on them resulting in severe burns. In some educational establishments, some teachers have been subjected to bullying by parents of naughty children who were disciplined. These parents rather than accept their children were at fault, instead harass the school authorities, sometimes with law enforcement agents. Little surprise then that these children exhibit negative traits premised on a sense of entitlement.

One could recall the experience of a classmate who said she constantly had flashbacks of her secondary school days each time she was in the company of ducationist and successful author of children’s books. She admitted that her career path was strongly influenced by her childhood experience of bullying. Personally, I experienced bullying, which I never thought was the case at the time because of my congenial disposition. Whilst in secondary school, I had a classmate who always asked for my breakfast. My favourite breakfast was egg sandwich, and it was a joy to share but it soon turned to annoyance when the classmate would ask for it in a threatening and intimidating manner.

Several decades later, we had the opportunity to meet again as members of the Old Girls’ Association. Sadly, her behaviour had not changed. It was at this point I knew that I had to put a drastic stop to her antagonistic attitude especially as I was an adult in my 30s. We developed cordial relationship afterwards, but I discovered that given the chance, she would resort to her old ways.

The strangest bullying experience I encountered was in my 50s by another schoolmate. In fact, it endured for more than two decades, which I just ignored and put down to the individual’s craving for attention at any given opportunity. At first, her behaviour seemed like juvenile exuberance reminiscent of someone trying to revisit their youth. It however became irritating as the concerned individual would cast aspersions or demean any of my achievements in any group in which we both belonged. She was so fixated with me that she tried to influence other people to perceive me in a negative manner. I disengaged from any group she belonged to, to limit any interaction with her. However, I was unperturbed and totally ignored her existence.

What is a bit perplexing about such bullying behaviour, is the palpable silence from witnesses to these destabilising acts, just like during school days. Few if any (behind the scenes), thought it reasonable to intervene and condemn such despicable behaviour as unacceptable. I later had to send a very strong warning to the individual to desist from contacting me as I did not wish to have anything to do with her and reaffirming that being secondary schoolmates did not translate to being friends, especially not someone who took joy in defaming others, in pursuance of peer recognition or validation. Confronting bullies is an antidote to their irrational character.

Parents should be vigilant. They should watch out for different signs exhibited by their children. If a child begins to bed-wet or starts to play truancy or have cuts on the body or feels withdrawn or scoring poor marks in school; then it is time to have a good conversation and offer support. Most African parents can also be bullies in disguise. Instead of trying to find out what is wrong with the child, they unwittingly apply bullying tactics by screaming and shouting on the child who is already fearful. It is not the time to apply ‘corporal punishment’. On the other hand, if a child begins to act irrationally at home, always displaying anger, being very disruptive and stubborn, parents should check the company he/she keeps. If the delinquent child is reported for his/her misdeeds by the school authorities, it is inappropriate for the parents to lambast the principal and condemn the school. Similarly, if the errant child is expelled, the parent should find out what misdemeanours led to taking of such a decision. The behaviour could be indicative of the type of upbringing the child has received. After all, they say charity begins at home. Some parents are the architects of their children’s downfall because they indulge them in everything because in their eyes, they are perfect. Some parents are never even around to nurture their children but would rather send them off to boarding school.

School authorities must be very strict in taking appropriate disciplinary action when a child has been found guilty of bullying. Under no circumstances should they try to cover up for the child because of the child’s parents’ societal status. If the bullying becomes a criminal case, the school authorities, even if they want to protect their reputation, should ensure full co-operation with law enforcement agencies, and must not interfere with their investigations. Safeguarding children in their care is more important than protecting reputation of a school. There should be an incident report in all schools for recording bullying incidents and the actions taken. The incident report must be available for inspection when School Inspectors visit the schools. Schools that fail to protect children in their care should be sanctioned – either to seize their licence as an educational operator or permanently shut down the school until remedial steps have been implemented.

Bullying should NOT be tolerated in any shape or form. Educational establishments must ensure there is a strict policy against bullying. Administrative and academic staff must be trained on recognizing traits of a bully as well victims of bullying.

They should have small booklets for students, which will depict different scenarios of bullying, what to do if bullied, tell-tale signs of bullying, etc. Children must feel safe in a learning environment. Some children who have experienced domestic violence between their parents, at times end up as bullies because they have witnessed their father physically assaulting their mother. Others, because of poverty, had to fight for survival. With some schools, as part of their pastoral care, they have Psychologists who ensure students feel comfortable to discuss any issues they might have in school. In the professional arena, unhealthy competition could make people do anything to destroy the career of others on the altar of success. Such is also practiced in the political sphere.

There is absolutely no reason for bullying, and it must be condemned in all its ramifications. There must be a strong campaign in schools against bullying. The police and other law enforcement agencies must be involved in the campaign. Students should be made aware of what constitutes bullying and that if anyone of them is found guilty, they will be reprimanded – either suspended, expelled, or prosecuted, depending on the nature of the offence. Students found guilty should be held to account, regardless of the societal status of their parents.

The Education Minister must ensure that schools within local and state governments in Nigeria, must have an Anti-Bullying Policy. There is an urgent need to create awareness of the devastating effects of bullying. School authorities, parents, and children – need to be educated on bullying and prevention. The recent unfortunate incidents of students, which have ended in tragedy, should never reoccur.

School life must be enjoyed. It should not be a harrowing experience. Learning institutions are where leaders of tomorrow are moulded. It should not be a breeding ground for thugs or those who will constitute a menace to the society.

Unless and until our society recognises (cyber) bullying for what it is, the suffering of thousands of silent victims will continue – Anna Maria Chavez (Attorney, former Chief Executive Officer of the Girl Scouts of the USA).

Fatusin is freelance writer, motivational speaker, social justice influencer. founder/CEO, Renewing the African Mindset (RAM) – a discussion platform for African social issues.