Bullying is a worldwide problem. It happens when a person or a group of people decides to upset another person by saying nasty or hurtful things to him or her repeatedly.
They may also tease their victims again and again. Sometimes, bullies may hit or kick their victims to force them to hand over money. The person being bullied finds it difficult to stop this happening and may be worried that it will happen again.
Bullying can include:
- Name-calling and teasing;
- Extortion (taking things away);
- Damaging property and belongings;
- Spreading horrible rumours and stories; and
- Deliberately leaving learners out of games and activities.
Bullying has three elements:
- A desire to hurt;
- Hurtful behaviour (physical, verbal or relational) in a situation where the balance of power that favours the perpetrator(s); and
- The action is unjustified, typically repeated and experienced by the target as oppressive.
Most bullying takes the form of name-calling. Being hit or threatened with violence are the next most common forms of bullying. Boys are more likely to be physically hit or threatened than girls who experience indirect forms of bullying such as having no one to talk to or having rumours spread about them.
We must be up front from the start on how to respond to bullying:
Message to learners
- You have a right to be happy and safe at school.
- You have a responsibility to show care and concern for others in your school.
- You can do something about bullying.
- Tell your teacher, principal, friend, parent or guardian if you are unhappy about something at school.
- Contact organisations such as Childline on 0800055555 or Lifeline on 0117812337 for advice.
Message to teachers
- Ensure that learners are safe at school.
- Make sure that all areas of the school are properly supervised.
- Create an atmosphere at school that allows learners to feel free to talk about problems.
- Do something about bullying at your school.
Message to parents
- Watch your child and make sure that he or she is happy at school.
- Talk to your child about his or her experiences at school.
- Get to know your child’s teacher and principal.
- Contact the school if you are concerned about your child’s safety at school.
The internet has a wealth of information on bullying and allows young people to explore subjects that schools sometimes ignore or refuse to tackle. It offers a place to ask personal questions without being embarrassed or ridiculed.
Websites that deal with bullying include:
A number of agencies or organisations have been set up to help young people with their problems. Many young people are too shy or embarrassed to approach people or organisations for help.
Here are a few tips for young people:
- Remember that you are not the only one who has faced the problem;
- Write some main points on a piece of paper before making a phone call. This will help you to remember what you wanted to say if you get nervous. Try to summarise the problem or incident as it happened;
- Many helplines do not even need to know your name;
- Breathe deeply for a few minutes before picking up the telephone. Think of the first few words you will say. Practise these. Then dial the number and share your problem.
Mark Potterton is the author of the book Beat Bullying: A practical guide for schools
Pratish came to South Africa with his diplomatic family when he was 12. For six months classmates at his Durban school bullied the 15-year-old remorselessly. “I was an outsider because I wasn’t born locally. I came from India and spoke differently from my classmates. There was a lot of name-calling and psychological abuse. They gave me a nickname that I didn’t like — ‘Curry’. A lot of boys also called me ‘homo’, because I wasn’t ‘macho’ enough. I didn’t have many friends and I didn’t know how to tell my teachers. I felt very alone, like I was on a desert island.
“I searched the internet for a website that would help me in my situation. I found many different websites with stories like my own. It was a relief really — I didn’t feel abnormal. I found lots of suggestions from other teenagers on what to do about bullying: ‘Ignore the bully. But don’t ignore a physical threat. Get help.’ ‘Be assertive. Say how you feel and what you want.’ ‘Avoid the bully. Keep in a crowd when you’re in a hallway, washroom, or other unsupervised places.
“I also read about the school’s responsibility in my situation. I decided to challenge the school to do something about the bullying and they did.”
Pratish’s story reminds us that young people can do something for themselves.