'Very challenging and tricky to address': Local panel discusses school bullying

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After the recorded bullying incident of Lufuno Mavhunga took a fatal turn, many tragic past stories started to surface and the spotlight has turned back on the issue of bullying in schools and the devastation it causes.

Parent24 then brought together four local professionals to discuss the issue and provide advice and insight so parents, teachers, and schools could get a full picture of the challenges faced. 

The panel consists of Cwayita Vellem, a legal expert at LAWFORALL, Phakama Sibango, an educator at Fisantekraal Primary School, emotional wellness coach Kate Tregan Rowe and Tina Thiart, a trustee of the 1000 Women's Voices Organisation which recently relaunched their anti-bullying programme. 

The panelists opened up about the heartbreaking experiences they have witnessed and spoke about how changes can and are being made to prevent future tragedies.

Thiart revealed that "The statistics say that 56% of children at school have experienced bullying – and 90% of bullies grow up to become perpetrators." 

Adding to the problem is the fact that pupils are not open about their experiences – "it's very challenging and tricky to address," said educator Sibango.

Legal expert Vellem provided insightful guidance, elaborating on the laws that protect children and the laws that schools, parents and teachers should be informed of so as to keep their children safe. These include the South African Schools Act, the Children's Act, the Protection from Harassment Act and the Child Justice Act.

Also read: Do we have the laws in place to assist in dealing with bullying, and are they adequate? 

"It's very important to note that the aim is not to punish the bully, but to rectify their harmful conduct," said Vellem whilst elaborating on the legal consequences bullies could face.   

The panelists all expressed the effect that bullying has on the child's education and their mental health, often due to them developing unhealthy coping strategies to protect themselves.

"If there is a behaviour that seems consistently out of the ordinary, pay attention. Behaviour is motivated by something that is going on internally," said wellness coach Rowe.

The panellists provide helpful tools to create a safe and open space for children to share with their parents and teachers, and offer tips on what behaviour to look out for to identify any possible red flags. 

"Like [Rowe] was saying, create that safe space so that the child feels as though they can share what is happening. Ask: how do you feel about it? and what would you like me to do?" advised Thiart.

Also read: Why girls continue to experience violence at South African schools

"How you respond is important – responding is not fixing. Acknowledge and validate – we need to be careful not to minimize or take something to an extreme. That is very damaging," advised Rowe. "Don't rush, stay with it, have more than one conversation and let your child set the pace."

The panellists emphasized the importance of discussing the issue of bullying with your children and encouraged everyone to be an advocate for change daily by speaking up to injustice.

"There are lots of examples where you can open up a conversation or even share what you think about something and how it made you feel and then that opens up a space," said Rowe encouraging parents to speak openly to their children. 

"Unless we're pointing [bullying behaviour] out and making an effort to say 'How can we do that differently?', it's not going to change – it's in everyday moments that it matters," she said.

You can watch the full Parent24 webinar on YouTube, and above.

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