Updated: Mar 7, 2018
The recent case of bullying at a secondary school has once again brought much needed attention to the hostility that students subject one another to. The Facebook video uploaded this Monday morning has, by now, been viewed more than 400,000 times. Media reports also highlight the ways in which various stakeholders – schools, parents, and students – manage the problem.
Currently, measures to deal with bullying tend to be reactive. We often talk about what to do with the students involved after the bullying has happened, but we do little to explore the ways in which we can minimise it in the first place. As parents and educators, we lose the vantage point in tackling the issue if we limit ourselves to responding only after the fact.
To effectively address the problem, we need to understand that bullying exists in many forms. The motivations behind and manifestations of bullying encompass emotional, psychological, and physical factors. We must proactively deal with the issue from these perspectives if we want to truly prevent bullying from happening.
We need to provide students with a viable and sustainable blueprint to safely navigate their way through such situations.
Increase Emotional awareness
For instance, we can educate at-risk individuals, on being aware of their emotional states and show then healthy ways to manage negative emotions such as angst, frustration & boredom.
We can increase our students’ emotional empathy by asking them how they would feel in similar situations:
“The Bullied” – How do they feel when being bullied?
“The Bully” – How do they feel when they are bullying others?
“By-standers” – How do they feel when they see others being bullied?
By helping our students gain greater awareness and control of their emotions, we can enhance their emotional well-being and potentially stop the emotional cause of bullying before it happens.
Strengthen the mental toolbox
In addition, psychological well-being is needed to complement the emotional aspect. Students should be coached in areas such as positive self-talk, confidence-building, mental reframe, and skills to assert their boundaries. This allows them to shore up psychological defences against scenarios like verbal abuse and emotional bullying. These cognitive skills not only help them cope with life’s challenges, but also deal with a bullying situation rationally. This prevents any situation from blowing out of proportion, minimising the risk of harm to all parties.
Give young people the physical skills to protect themselves
Lastly, if the above measures fail to deter a persistent bully who resorts to physical abuse, students should be taught ways to safely disengage from the situation with minimal violence.
While some might fear that this would mean equipping students with means to inflict physical harm on others, we should also consider that failure to teach effective physical strategies could result in violent brawls that cause even more harm. It is in the best interest of all stakeholders, where physical confrontation becomes unavoidable, that it is more prudent to teach students how physiology supported skills can help them manage their responses calmly and effectively, than to leave them to their own devices.
These emotional, psychological, and physical elements are connected and require much attention by all stakeholders to untangle. In this light, bullying does not just involve “culprits” or “victims”. Knowledge of the multifarious nature of bullying is not enough, all stakeholders need to collaborate and act on this knowledge, so no child becomes either the bully, or the bullied.