A CONCERNED parent asked me why I was dwelling on such a negative and unpleasant topic as school bullying. I took time to find out why the parent was uncomfortable and interestingly, I found out that he was once a big time school bully in his hey days.

Consequences of school bullying may linger on in adult life if not properly taken care of when one is a child and that is why we need to know all about it so that we can arrest it in childhood.

Last week, I wrote about forms of school bullying manifesting in physical, emotional, verbal, sexual and cyber form.

Today, I will attempt to take a deeper look into school bullying so that parents, teachers and all stakeholders can comfortably tackle the problem from a well informed position.

What usually happens is that stakeholders concentrate on rehabilitating the victim and “praise” the bully for being “a real man.” Please stop praising bullies instead arrange for their counselling and rehabilitation!

1. WHO IS INVOLVED

In this write up, the word he is used inclusively to represent both male and female pupils. Parents, teachers and stakeholders should take caution when dealing with a school bullying case by knowing exactly where the child is categorised. A child may fall in any one or some of the following categories:

a) The Victim

The victim is the child who is being bullied. Naturally, the victim may be physically smaller than his peers though not all the time.

He may be a shy or timid type of child who may be naturally quiet.

Victims may also be the submissive type of children who are also passive.

Generally, children who are unable to fight back for one reason or the other are targeted by bullies. Such qualities in children make them extremely vulnerable to bullying.

Notice that a victim of school bullying may be extremely intelligent but physically unable to fight back due to other factors (principles, emotions, decisions etc).

A victim may also be physically huge but decline to fight back due to other issues.

b) The Bully

The school bully who is a pupil will intentionally and repeatedly make other pupils uncomfortable by harming them in different ways. The bully himself has physical power and may also have social power or both.

c) The assistant

A school bully may have an assistant who will wait for the actual bully to start. The assistant then comes in to help the bully. Most of the time, the assistant bully is encouraged by surrounding pupils to help the actual bully. Most likely, the assistant bully and the surrounding pupils feel compelled to be involved to safeguard their social status of belonging.

d) The Reinforcer

Sometimes during a bullying session, a pupil emerges to reinforce the bullying by playing a very small role either consciously or unconsciously. Examples of bullying reinforcement may include laughing when it seems funny, clapping when it seems interesting and so on. This reinforcing pupil seems to enjoy himself at the bullying session.

e) The Observer

In a bullying session there usually is an observer whose task is just to watch the proceedings. This observer may defend the victim or simply ignore the situation, sometimes the observer may encourage the bullying so he is unpredictable.

f) The Defendant

At a bullying session, there may be the presence of one pupil who will at least be on the side of the victim. Such a pupil will attempt to defend the victim during the bullying process. The defender may also continue to console the victim long after the bullying has taken place.

g) The Outsider

The outsider is that type of pupil who will witness the bullying alright but will not be involved in any way. The non-involvement in the bullying process could be due to indifference or other issues best known to them. In other words, the bullying process could be of no interest to him. Another question arises: why do pupils bully each other?

2. TYPES OF BULLIES

Before I write about why pupils bully each other let me mention that there are different types of bullies as lined out by Barbara Coloroso in an interesting publication.

•   The Social Bully has a low self esteem and tries to bring others down by using rumours, verbal insults, gossip etc. This type of bully is dominated by female pupils.

• The Confident Bully feels superior over other pupils and has a high opinion of themselves.

•  The Fully Armoured Bully usually manifests with little or no emotion and prefers to act when no one will stop them or see them.

• The Hyperactive Bully usually bullies someone and places blame on someone else. This type of bully has problems with academic issues and is also struggling socially.

•   A Bullied Bully is mostly a pupil who has been bullied before or is being bullied somewhere maybe by an older sibling.

•  A Bunch of Bullies is a group of friends who gang up on their fellow pupils to gain power or just for fun.

3. WHAT CAUSES BULLYING?

Bullying in its true sense is not a one off accidental aggression towards other pupils but it’s an intentional wish to inflict pain on others whether physically or emotionally. There must be something which is causing such type of behaviour.

For a long time, social scientists have always believed that bullying was caused almost solely by insecurity on the part of the bully. However, it has been discovered that sometimes both the bully and the victim are at more or less on the same social or economic status.

Some scholars dispute the fact that power imbalance can cause bullying but I will explain it anyway.

a) Power Imbalance

Characteristics such as body size in terms of height and weight can give a bully perceived power and authority over other pupils.

Other factors that can give perceived power and authority to a bully are age and gender. For instance, older pupils could bully younger pupils and taller pupils could bully shorter pupils and so on.

For a long time it has been believed that certain bullying instances are triggered by insecurity on the part of the bully  to cover up for his weaknesses.

If for instance, a pupil fails to tick academically, he may want to bully other pupils to cover for his academic failures. This has been disputed by some scholars but it still makes sense.

It is interesting to know that unimportant factors like dressing, facial issues, style of talking can trigger some bullying behaviour. Children who are differently gifted and differently abled may experience bullying from others.

b) Contextual Factors

Bullying behaviour can be attributed to context. In other words, the environment, setting or surrounding in which bullying occurs is likely to be the cause of that particular type of bullying. Sometimes a pupil may come from an environment which is characterised by violence such as from a broken home, a gender violence infested home, a crime infested compound etc. Such children are likely to carry the aggression into the school environment and become bullies.

Schools which are located in unplanned settlements or “shanty compounds” are likely to harbour a number of school bullies due to context (environment) in which the school was built.

Efforts by the school to curb school bullying are likely to be thwarted by the environment which glorifies violence.

It may happen that a pupil in the school has nothing to do and is feeling bored. Such a pupil may resort to bullying to fill up the gap caused by boredom.

Such a pupil has nothing else to do apart from bullying his friends at school.

If there are no practices that deter bullying at any particular school, it will be a breeding ground for bullying behaviour because pupils will have noticed the uncaring attitude of their teachers.

c) Structural Factors

Another cause of bullying behaviour is certain structures within our society such as gender inequality, violence against women, discriminatory cultural norms and practices which are perpetuated by our traditions deep rooted in our patriarchal system.

The boys and girls grow up in a power struggle environment where females are portrayed as the weaker gender.

This power struggle is transferred to schools by some pupils and it triggers school bullying behaviour.

A good example of this is sexual bullying and in some cases emotional bullying as well.

In the next article I will look at effects, consequences and impact of school bullying.

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