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Friday, 1 April 2011

Dealing with bullies

By Muhammad Ilyas Khan

This is with reference to the article “ Standing up to bullies” by Neda Mulji published on this page on Oct. 30. The writer has pointed out a very important issue which causes considerable damage to the development of a child’s personality. It hampers the smooth process of education in our schools and needs to be handled wisely and firmly in order to be checked.

Calling another student names, making snide remarks, punching and giving threats cannot and should not be taken lightly because it can cause much psychological harm and mental torture to the victim. That said, the fact is that in many bullying takes on more serious forms. For instance, in many cases bullying can lead to sexual abuse and, if the victim does not do what the bully says, can result in physical assault and injury to him/her.

Bullying in its severest forms is a phenomenon primarily confined to boys’ schools. Girls’ schools are predominantly free from this menace. Boys seem more inclined to rude and unruly behaviour, especially in their later teens. A close look would reveal that bullies in schools mostly belong to the adolescent age group. For example bullying seems to occur less at the primary or middle level and more at the secondary level.

The age between 15 and 17 can be said to constitute a crucial period in a teenager’s development. Boys who are this age can have an enormous amount of energy at their disposal. Besides at this age, a sense of wanting to be better than others and to be defiant can also be found in many boys. It can also be observed that bullying happens more where the middle level and secondary are housed in the same premises. Students in the 15-17 age group are stronger mentally and physically and children in the age of group of 11 to 14 can easily be overpowered and abused by them.

Another observation is that bullies mostly belong to the group of students who are academically weaker. Students who fail more than once become old for the class they are studying in and thus get an opportunity to bully younger students because of their physical superiority. Such students tend to show little interest in studies and are not good at doing homework or other assignments. Instead they force their classmates to do these tasks for them, especially those who are more hardworking and intelligent but who are younger and physically weaker. A close look at bullying would reveal that different factors contribute to it. These include the family background of the bully, the victim, the teacher, and the school administration.

First let’s examine the role of the parents in this regard. Bullies in public schools by and large belong to uneducated or less educated families. Parents belonging to the low socio-economic strata of the society are predominantly illiterate and do not know how to handle their children. Children watch their parents often quarrelling and fighting with each other. The father is likely to physically abuse the mother and probably does it in front of the children. Such parents, especially the fathers, bully their own children and as a consequence the latter learn how to intimidate others. This does not however mean that parents who are affluent do not indulge in such acts. Ironically, those who are financially sound but not that literate also have a role in turning their children into bullies.

The same goes for parents of children who are victims of bullies. These are parents who do not care much for the protection and welfare of their children. They usually have little knowledge of what their child is doing in his or her school. They have little contact with the school administration and do not take much interest in dealing with the problems of their child. Such parents normally believe that their primary responsibility is to send the child to the school and that’s where it ends. They will take notice only when something serious has happened to the child. Besides this, many fathers especially have practically no communication with their child. There is this unbridgeable distance between the parents and the child. As a result the latter is not too inclined to share with his or her parents any problems faced in school and ends up suffering himself.

Let’s now see what role the teacher plays. This is perhaps the most crucial aspect. Ideally speaking a teacher by his very profession should be someone like an antidote to bullying. He should be the first and foremost defence against bullying. However, ironically in some instances a teacher plays just the opposite role and encourages bullying in the school. His role as a promoter of bullying might either be intentional (in which case it is nothing less than a heinous crime) or unintentional (in which case it shows professional incompetence on the part of the teacher).

How does a teacher intentionally promote bullying? Unfortunately, there are black sheep even in this otherwise hallowed profession. Thankfully such black sheep make up a small proportion in our schools. Off and on we come across incidents where a teacher even tries to abuse a child sexually. He does not do this directly but uses bullies from among the students in the school to make life miserable for a particular student he wants to abuse. If such a victimized student comes to the teacher for help, the latter gets the opportunity to abuse the former by telling him that it would best if the bullying or abuse incident is not reported to anyone. There are also cases where bullies are created when they have been bullied or harassed by teachers (as opposed to the father example).

As for the unintentional role of the teacher in promoting bullying, one instance can be when a teacher appoints a student who is a bully in a position of authority, for example as a class monitor. The teacher might be doing this to give the student a sense of responsibility but such an action can lead to a very dangerous bully in that his actions will acquire legal sanction within the confines of the classroom. This shows professional incompetence on the part of the teacher.

Finally let’s have a look into the role the school administration plays in all of this. The school administration can help reduce bullying in two ways. First, it can take stern action against those students who are involved in such activities. A school’s administration should do all it can to provide and promote a peaceful, fear-free environment in the school. There should be no compromise on this. But a more wise action can be directing the energies of the young adults into some more productive activities. The schools should arrange all kinds of curricular and co-curricular activities to utilize the school time usefully and in a positive manner. A school day should be a day full of activity. Students should relax but not to the extent of leisure and laziness. As the saying goes ‘an idle mind is the devil’s workshop’ — students should therefore remain busy doing one thing or another.

Victims of bullying mostly belong to the category of students who are introverts. They are not very enthusiastic about participating in co-curricular activities like games, debates, and other school functions. The administration should make sure that such students take part in such activities because this can go a long way in helping them come out of their shells and in gaining courage to face their bullies with some degree of confidence. The school administration should also have a close liaison with parents of students. Close cooperation between the school and parents can be very helpful in checking bullying in schools.

Besides, the school administration and society at large should provide protection to teachers because in many cases even teachers have to face bullying and harassment — both from older students and their parents in case they try to sternly deal with bullies. n

The writer teaches at the Institute Of Education and Research, University of Peshawar. Email: ilyasjans@yahoo.com

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