Standing up to the bully

Bullying, a common phenomenon in schools, is a problem that needs to be addressed. Eight-year-old Anoop does not like travelling by school bus as the older boys tend to make fun of him, while nine-year-old Ann’s fervent prayer is that her classmate Shaliya will change school as she constantly picks on Ann. Children are ostrtacised, they are physically assaulted, there is verbal and emotional assault…

Despite the efforts of teachers and parents, bullying is a common phenomenon on our school campuses. The recent incident of a handicapped child being bullied in a city school highlighted how pervasive it has become. And also how some of our teachers prefer to turn a blind eye to taking swift action. As in the real world, it’s a jungle out there in school.

“It’s indeed a survival of the fittest,” says Beena Mary Thomas (name changed on her request), a kindergarten teacher. Every class, she says, will have a class bully or bullies.

Most people, says Preethy Binu Kurien, a former teacher of Christ Nagar School, have been bullied or teased at some point of their lives.

She adds: “The problem exists among students from all strata of society. It’s just that kids don’t talk about it as they do not want adult intervention for fear that it might make things worse. They also could be anxious that their parents might think that they are not good enough.”

Rajeesh S., a Plus Two teacher in a government school, feels that teachers should not turn a blind eye to complaints of bullying. “The minute a student garners the courage to complain about a senior or a classmate, the teacher must take cognizance of that complaint.”

He says that when such complaints reach the teachers or the staffroom, the student concerned should be called aside and advised how and why he/she should stop bullying other children. “Bullying can be verbal, emotional or physical. In any form, bullying has a detrimental effect on the child. And it is the duty of every teacher to see that he/she stops the bully at the earliest,” he says.

It is the same reasoning that makes A. Nirmala, Principal of Shantiniketan School, take a hard line against bullying. The teacher and psychologist says no matter how hard pressed a teacher is for time, she must take firm steps to stop the bully from running wild. “It has to begin early so that the bully knows from childhood that his/her behaviour is unacceptable. Without any kind of corporal punishment, a good teacher can nip bullying in the bud. A counsellor must be made mandatory in every school. It will do a world of good for both teachers and students,” she says.

Sajini feels that a bully will always remain a bully unless the problem is addressed. “One needs to discover the root cause for the bully’s behaviour. Parents should not tell their children to fight their own battles if the child shows symptoms of being bullied, such as crying because they have to go to school, throwing tantrums, failing in subjects, losing appetite…”

Some of these problem children come from broken families, says Valsamma George, a former teacher at P.S. Nataraja Pillai Memorial Government Higher Secondary School, Peroorkada. Bullying is often a way to seek attention.

Some television programmes and video games convey the idea that violence is a way of life. “We need to make it clear that a bully is not a hero. To achieve that means, parents and schools must work together. Parents should also stop considering counselling a taboo,” says Sajini.

Online Bullying

Cyber bullying is a new form of bullying that is cropping up. ‘Frenemies’ create fake accounts and post nasty comments as an anonymous user on the Facebook wall or blog.

The root of the problem

The problem usually starts whenever there is an ‘odd one out’, someone who doesn’t ‘fit in’; economic disparity could be a reason and physical appearance, another. Studious kids are usually denied entry into the ‘cool’ group. Kids who are new to a school find it difficult to find a foothold. That is because the other students would have already formed cliques and are wary of accepting a stranger. If the new kid is better in studies or turns into a teacher’s pet, he/she often becomes the butt of jokes and is often ostracised by the rest.

Things to note

Children who have been bullied come up with various excuses and throw tantrums to avoid going to school. The stress of dealing with the bullies can make the children feel sick too, stomach aches being a usual complaint.