The playground mafia

2009-08-21 16:08

School can become hell for a child who is being bullied, and the abuse can

scar them for life. But there are ways to identify and solve the problem, writes

Mokgadi Seabi.

THEY’RE called the silent victims – children who endure abuse at school

without saying anything about it because they are afraid. But bullying can make

children’s lives a living hell and it can cause lasting psychological damage.

Fourteen-year-old Jacob weighs only 30kg. He is a chronic asthmatic and was

the smallest boy at St Benedict’s College, a private high school in Bedfordview.

Jacob was allegedly bullied so badly at school by an A-team rugby player that he

suffered from a post-traumatic stress disorder and was forced to leave his

school.

His is not an isolated case. According to the latest survey by the Parent24

website, seven to nine-year-olds are the children who are bullied most. This is

followed by 10 to 12-year-olds. A drop is seen as the children get older.

“My 12-year-old son has always loved school and he was quite an intelligent

student who excelled with very high grades. However, since this new term began

he has been withdrawn, and drags his feet when it’s time to go to school. His

grades have also dropped and he refuses to talk about it.” says concerned

Johannesburg mother, Thandi Msimango. While this doesn’t necessarily mean

Msimago’s child is being bullied, it is important not to ignore any changes in

your child’s behaviour.

Dukie Mothiba, the national director of the Family and Marriage Association

of SA, says every parent needs to be vigilant regarding their children.

“There’s a difference between missing buttons from playing and those from

fighting. Check the outward appearance first and foremost and then the child’s

attitude towards school.”

Megan de Beyer, a psychologist who practises in Cape Town and Durban and has

run many successful parenting workshops at high schools, says that “preschool

children who have been bullied often have trouble going to sleep and may

suddenly want the light on or creep through to their parents’ bed in the

night”.

Preteen and teen boys notoriously don’t readily express their feelings as

they may have been threatened or think they need to be brave and “take it like a

man”.

“Many boys bully their younger siblings or sisters repeatedly if they have

been bullied at school,” says De Beyer.

She adds that children act out what they see: “Normally children bully

because they have witnessed or experienced aggression either at home or in their

environment. Parents who coerce or shout or hit their children are raising

future bullies.”

“Parents who fight with each other will strip a child of feelings of

security. Often that child feels helpless and being angry and bullying others

will help him or her feel more powerful.Research has shown that a constant

watching of violence on television, films or on computer games influences a

child’s propensity to bully.”

Bullying doesn’t just involve one child hitting another child or taking away

their lunch or lunch money. Other forms include calling a child names; making up

things to get him or her into trouble; hitting, pinching, biting, pushing and

shoving; taking away or damaging the child’s belongings; taking their friends

away from them; and threats or intimidation.

Bullying also comes in the form of harassment by an abuser who possesses more

physical or social power and dominance than the victim.

The victim of bullying is sometimes referred to as a target. The harassment

can be verbal, physical and or emotional.

Mphonyana Mahlatsi (11), who attends a private school in Pretoria, says

there’s a boy who waits for her outside school every day even though he knows

that she doesn’t like him.

The little girl says she prefers not to tell her mother because her friends

will laugh at her and think she’s afraid of boys.

Childline chief executive Dumisile Nala says their statistics indicate a

decline in reported cases of bullying – from 120 in 2007/08 to 101 in 2008/09.

However, adds Nala, the ways to bully have increased with technology and

today’s children are even bullied through text messages on their cellphones and

through cyberspace. Although one would like to think that bullying is only done

by boys, girls are just as guilty. De Beyer says girls bully in a more covert

way, called relational aggression.

“They exclude weaker girls from groups, they leave girls off invitation lists

on purpose to hurt them and they spread rumours or taunt and tease.”

De Beyer says this may even result in the bullied victim dropping out of

school.

Although schools have anti-bullying policies to protect children, Mothiba

says teachers and other people holding positions of authority are sometimes

reluctant to upset the apple cart.

“This is especially so in prestigious schools where you find that the bully’s

parents are high-profile people.”

Mothiba advises parents to create an amenable atmosphere so problems are

discussed at home before the child approaches a teacher.

“Bullies are uncomfortable with who they are and when a child acts out in

this way, it’s a sign that something is wrong. They need help in some way.”

De Beyer agrees: “Often bullies, who are aggressive and even violent, suffer

from conduct disorder. It is a serious problem that requires the parents and the

bully to seek professional help.” – lifestyle@citypress.co.za


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