Victims, bullies and observers

2015-06-10 06:02

FROM teens campaigning with each other to make sure that a particular child is not invited to a party, to a sexually explicit clip of a child getting shared, these are all forms of bullying.

The modern social media age has complicated things because the ability to re-tweet or share an offensive comment has made it easy to cause extensive harm to children who are victims of bullying.

Few people properly understand that everyone who has contributed to a defamatory statement on social media may be liable under the law.

“In many ways bullying is a euphemism for a range of events that we would rename in the adult world with words like defamation,” said a local psychologist.

Speaking to Maritzburg Fever, the psychologist said that bullying has always been around and usually includes a triad of the victim, the bully and, a much ignored component, the observer.

The ability to share and participate in a social media attack on another person contributes to increasing the power balance between the bully and the victim.

“By sharing, liking or commenting on a post and endorsing the statement, the observer plays an increased role in the attack on the victim,” he said.

While pupils may be more aware of bullying in its common form, the damage when social media is involved may have a wider scope.

Cyber bullying often comes into play when children or teens have been given a cellphone without being primed on cyber-etiquette.

“It is difficult for first-time users because they often assume the culture of shaming others for an audience such as ‘Fails on YouTube’, is part of the fun of having a smartphone,” said the psychologist.

There is now a lot of emphasis on getting the observer to intervene. Often a few comments from a brave observer is enough to disrupt the pattern.

“This may need an adult to initiate, but approaches where a peer counsellor is tasked with seeing the victim and the bully appear to be working well.”

The usual model where the bully is sent for psychotherapy or is shamed in the principal’s office or where the victim is sent for assertiveness training seems to have limited impact.

“The top-down approach, where the bully is shamed, often has consequences later, but when peers intervene there can be real healing,” he said.

It is easy to underestimate the deep and long-lasting impact of bullying. In severe cases, children are treated for depression and anxiety to the point where their doctor prescribes medication.

“A genuine apology from a transformed bully can go a long way towards helping a victim recover.”

The psychologist explained that the power imbalances are part of history.

“It is tempting to punctuate the world around us in terms of winners and losers.

“Although we think of bullying as something that happens among children, we play out the same dynamics in our daily life. Our children see how we treat others and we need to be aware that during our day we too fall into the various roles of the bullying triad,” he said

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