Tue | Dec 12, 2017

Glenn Tucker | Fighting bullies without fists

Published:Tuesday | September 19, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Glenn Tucker
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Anyone who got a copy of The Sunday Gleaner of September 17 would share the range of emotions experienced by the mother of that female student who nearly succeeded in a suicide attempt when she was no longer able to deal with bullying by what I call 'junior criminals' at her school.

We have all sorts of organisations, registries and agencies ostensibly protecting our children. Yet, so many of them seem to be running a gauntlet to get through childhood unscathed. Bullying is nothing new. But one would think that as we become more advanced, this problem would be significantly minimised.

Not so.

This mother realised the harassment her child was experiencing because the bullies found out she had a medical condition. She noticed her declining self-confidence and depression and spoke to school authorities. But how often does that work nowadays.

For a variety of reasons, including fear and intimidation, children often hide what is happening to them from parents and teachers. But there are many warning signs that observant adults can use as a cue to dig deeper. Feigning illness, truancy, depression, crying, withdrawing from activities they used to enjoy, and loneliness are some of the signs.

 

No training

 

Most schools fail to take this problem seriously - partly because those responsible do not have the training that enables them to appreciate the significance of the problem. The extortion racket that bleeds the earnings of the business community is alive and well in many schools. Children are forced to give up lunch money and, where affluence is suspected, they are required to steal from their parents.

Children are afraid to speak. And parents accept the explanation that the expensive phones given to them are 'lost' on a regular basis.

These junior criminals always select an average child with some perceived weakness - obesity, cheap or torn clothes, stuttering, etc. They then employ the most merciless methods to relentlessly demoralise that child. Non-stop. Every facet of the victim's persona or property is fair game. Most of this is done publicly to increase the shame effect and goes on until the poor victim is crushed, devoid of self-confidence, self-respect or even the will to live. Unattended, these feelings remain with these children for the rest of their lives.

 

Future effects

 

In her book Bullying Scars, Hellen Walser de Lara lists some of the feelings that persist into adulthood: low self-esteem and shame, problems trusting others, food and substance misuse, people-pleasing, emotional problems and the development of psychological problems, and feelings of anger, rage and revenge.

Hitting first so they won't be hitting second, the personality of the bully usually develops as a result of experiencing the same treatment they dish out. He/she must feel superior or he/she will be forced to admit to his/her own weaknesses and insecurities.

Each child deserves a safe, secure and happy learning environment. Our children are not getting this in many of our schools - even some of the posh ones.

How can adults help their bullied or excluded children? First, children are psychologically, physically, cognitively and emotionally frail, and immature. For God's sake, stop telling these burdened, wounded children to 'ignore them' or 'just walk away'. They can't! Stop trying to use adult logic on children. It can't work! Donald Trump is in his 72nd year, for Christ's sake!!

It could help to find fresh social outlets where new friendships can be forged. And children should be helped to determine how much of their private lives can be shared on social media - or even with 'best' friends.

Parents, you need to start giving your child a voice. They need to trust you. If bullying is a problem at your child's school and the management won't respond, there is credibility in unity: Get a coalition of parents and go to the board. Of course, most media houses will be happy to help.

When a child enters school, there should be a welcoming environment that provides compassion, inclusion and tolerance. It is a right.

- Glenn Tucker is an educator and sociologist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and glenntucker2011@gmail.com.