If you have spent any time on social media, you have probably come across a dramatized video depicting the life of a victim of vicious bullying. These videos end in tragedy; the victim usually committing suicide. Although bullying is a problem and awareness of such is a necessity, are these videos the answer? Do these videos give our children and their parents the wrong idea of bullying? Do events have to be this extreme to be taken seriously? Is bullying a new development in our society? Where do we draw the line between innocent teasing and bullying?
Bullying is something that has plagued schoolyards for decades. I can recall many horror stories my father told me of his school days and the things his peers did. I wonder how my husband made it through his high-school career alive while witnessing the deaths of several of his school mates, the worst of which was the death of a child who was shoved into an electrical distribution board.
Do these stories tell our children that minor forms of bullying are not serious? If your child is being mercilessly teased, has had their stationery hidden or food openly stolen from them, do they know that they are being bullied and have the right to speak up?
As I grew up and expressed my frustrations with my peers, my parents would often tell me that I should not let my friend du jour bully me and that I should stand up for myself. However, this advice was difficult to take. I had trouble relating the vague frustration I felt with the idea that my playmates were being bullies. And then there was the matter of how exactly I should stand up for myself.
My mother too found herself in a position similar to myself. During her school career, she was moved from a higher stream class to a lower stream. Her friends from the higher stream no longer associated with her during class breaks, before or after lessons. While discussing this with her, we came to the realization that although she was blatantly being bullied during this time, she had never, until this conversation, considered the incident as an act of bullying.
Should we take milder forms of bullying seriously? Yes, because this can grow into more vicious forms that can cause lasting damage. With the children of today having almost unlimited access to internet, the schoolyard bully finds him/herself with a much wider audience and fuel for further taunts. Not only that, but there is a very fine line between harmless teasing and bullying and even as an adult we probably find it difficult to determine exactly where this line is.
Does bullying end with the school playground? No. Many of us out there have found ourselves at the hands of a bully in the workplace. Although age and experience leaves the majority of us slightly better equipped to deal with it, we still need the support of those we trust.
Abigail, who was severely bullied as a child due to her red hair and low social status, says that it has taken her years to get over the abuse. In primary school she had much trouble from one particular boy who spent his time tormenting her by hitting her, throwing sand at her, pushing her and pulling her hair. However, the verbal and emotional abuse from the girls who teased her for her red hair was far worse than the physical abuse she received. Having a tendency to cry more easily did not help matters for her and she hated being an outcast. She admits that the way she was treated negatively affected her self-confidence, but she now realizes that she had no reason to be embarrassed about her red hair or for having less money while growing up, than her peers.
As a child, Abigail relied on the support of her parents. She was able to talk to them about her problems at school and they helped her cope. For the physical abuse, her parents would ensure they were at school on time to pick her up, so that the children did not have time to cause her physical harm. Abby recalls, “It was tougher with the verbal and emotional abuse from the girls at school. I remember the one day we all showered after PE and one girl peeped at me and sniggered causing everyone to take turns to peek and laugh. It was awful. I never felt so humiliated in my life. For a young girl of 11 it’s hard.” In this instance, Abigail’s mom reassured her that she had nothing to be ashamed of. Once Abigail was in high school things improved dramatically.
However, things took a turn for the worse when Abigail entered the workforce and she found herself under a manager who played mind-games. One day the manager would be happy with Abigail’s work and the next, Abigail would find herself on the brink of receiving a warning. One day, things worsened and the manager threw objects at Abigail and called her names. During this time, Abigail did her best to remain positive and not show her true feelings to her abuser.
Finally, after enduring for over a year, Abigail took the matter to the owners of the company despite her fears that the owners would not believe her and refuse to help. The owners of the company were horrified at what had been going on behind their backs and the problem was duly resolved.
How can we help our children when they become the target of a bully’s attention? Perhaps we can learn from stories like Abigail’s above and make sure we know what is happening in our children’s lives and offer them the support and comfort they need. Perhaps we can help them put together coping strategies and action plans. Very importantly, we should take the concerns of our children seriously so that they can turn to us in their time of need.
Abigail does believe that the difficult times that she endured has made her a stronger and better person and it has given her the tools to deal with many people with differing personalities. We can only wish the same for our young ones as they endure under the torments of their bullies!