Bullying. You are Not Alone. It is Never Right. Full Stop. A SchoolsCompared Special Report.
Background – Bullying. You are Not Alone. A SchoolsCompared Special Report.
As our children prepare to return to school in September, the experience will be more joyful for some, than others. Many may have negative experiences clouding their attitude towards September’s return to class, in whatever form that may take. Of the many reasons, however, that our children may be nervous about returning to school, bullying should never be one of them. In today’s world too, even the meaning of bullying has evolved and grown in complexity. It is not only the classroom which can be a scary place. Recent data from Comparitech, found that online bullying across the likes of social media, text messaging, gaming and emails was the second most common form of bullying after that taking place at school.
As online bullying becomes ever-more prevalent, schools, and the government, are, thankfully, taking steps to tackle what appears to be an equally damaging phenomena; cyber bullying. And the reason why schools and governments are acting is that this generation is fortunately changing the rule book so that it is no longer acceptable to cover it up or sweep it under the carpet.
What The Schools Say
Timothy Roberts, Principal at Raffles World Academy says instances of cyber bullying are increasing in society and, as children spend more time online, this avenue widens:
“As with all bullying, there is often an imbalance of power between the children involved and given the prevalence, and access to communication platforms, it is incredibly difficult to monitor and control.”
At Raffles World Academy, the school holds frequent seminars for children and parents to understand and mitigate the phenomenon of cyber safety, with an internet safe use policy which parents and children sign. Mr Roberts explains:
“Often, the word bullying, cyber or otherwise, is used erroneously, and frequently. It must be stressed there is a huge difference between children being mean to each other on occasion, and bullying, which is repeated and persistent and usually stems from a power imbalance.”
Unlike the kind of bullying which takes place on the playground or in the classroom, he says cyber bullying is rather more insidious, taking place in isolation, in children’s bedrooms, and outside normal school hours.
With children online for many more hours than usual every day it becomes likely, at least at some point, that their access to communication platforms will be unrestricted and not monitored by parents, thus, the potential for conflict arises exponentially, he says.
So, where does the responsibility of the school end and the responsibility of the parents begin?
Mr Roberts told SchoolsCompared.com:
“The education of the child is truly a partnership between the school and the parents.”
It is because of this that the lines of responsibility are easily blurred. Mt Roberts continued:
“At Raffles World Academy, we believe in working collaboratively with parents, with the child’s best interests at the centre of all that we do. What is more important is to accept dual responsibility, and inculcate a shared set of values and rules around the use of technology, to ensure the health and safety of children.”
Sara Hedger, Head of Child Safeguarding and Child Protection for GEMS Education, told SchoolsCompared.com that even during distance learning, practices have had to keep up with change:
“Even during this unprecedented time of COVID-19 and the restrictions that come with it, schools and parents still have the same responsibilities towards keeping children safe and happy as they did before remote learning began. Supporting children and teaching them kindness, resilience and enabling them to remain connected has never been more important.
All related GEMS Education systems and processes have been reviewed, and schools have adapted their approaches to supporting children when staff are not seeing students in person. This involves additional well-being check-ups, reinforcing what to do if a student or adult is worried about something, and creating spaces and systems to do that virtually.”
She says communication around the topic is key, ensuring it does not become a taboo for children to share and seek help. In addition, awareness raising can never be overdone. Ms Hedger continued:
“Our approach ensures students and adults know how to recognise and report bullying behaviour, and how to report offensive or inappropriate online material. We also work with parents when issues are identified and involve a student.”
The Implications On Health
Dr. Hiba Kashmoola, Specialist Family Medicine at Medcare Medical Centre in Sharjah, explains that bullying has been identified as one of the biggest threats for youngsters. The aligns with the verdict of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which states that bullying impacts about 20% of high school students. The impact on these children is a direct assault on their psychological, behavioural and physical well-being.
Dr Kashmoola told SchoolsCompared.com that the UAE has played a great role in tackling bullying head-on. She gives as an example the anti-bullying programme established by Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, President of The Supreme Council for Motherhood & Childhood, in collaboration with UNICEF, Ministry of Education and Abu Dhabi Education Council.
“Bullying impacts could vary from being a short term recognisable outcome to a long-term outcome. Short term effects include social isolation, in which the victim is unable to socialise with his or her colleagues due to the low self-esteem caused by bullying. Another very frequent short-term effect is sleep disturbances, changes in eating habits, school avoidance and therefore a noticeable deterioration performance in school. Psychosomatic symptoms can also prevail, and include stomach aches, headaches and muscle aches.”
Dr. Hiba Kashmoola, Specialist Family Medicine at Medcare Medical Centre in Sharjah
Long-term risks are even more worrying and, when bullying is not stamped out, the impact on children can be can be chronic depression, anxiety disorders, struggles forming friendships and relationships, increased tendencies for suicidal thoughts and behaviour – as well as the direct attempts by children to take their own lives.
Bullying also no knows boundaries of age:
“Bullying usually occurs among younger teens and pre-teens and begins to fade by the later teen years. There are however, darker sides to bullying when not curtailed early on. We often see bullying on a continuum. It peaks between 4th and 5th grade. Around 6th and 7th grade, bullying often becomes sexual harassment as teens go through puberty. By high school, it can morph into dating violence.”
Dr. Hiba Kashmoola. Specialist. Family Medicine. Medcare Medical Centre Sharjah.
Dr Kashmoola explains that the manifestations of bullying vary by gender; boys more physical, girls more verbal. While boys are more in the open, fighting in the hallway, girls are more furtive, and this is where cyber bullying suits the female gender type more commonly than boys, says the doctor. “Cyber bullying (bullying behind a screen) is common in both groups, but girls participate in it more frequently. This is likely because it can be hidden or anonymous,” she explains.
Boys will bully both boys and girls, while girls mostly bully other girls:
“Girls are less likely to bully boys than their peers. However, boys will bully either boys or girls. Women have a natural desire to connect with others and that can turn into a sense that girls must vie for these spots. Yet girls are told it is not socially acceptable to physically fight or display aggressive behaviours in the open, and so they often fight other girls more passively.”
Dr. Hiba Kashmoola. Specialist. Family Medicine. Medcare Medical Centre Sharjah.
Malak Kamel, Clinical Director & CDA Licensed Psychologist at Thrive Wellbeing Centre, says the laws and actions of the government are raising awareness of the causes of bullying – but also acting. Article 21 of the UAE Federal Decree Law in 5/2012 states that cyber crimes, including cyberbullying, are punishable by a fine or even jail term. The UAE Ministry of Education’s National Bullying Prevention Week provides awareness and intervention programs across schools.
It is a joint challenge though, for schools and parents. “We are all responsible,” she says. “Schools are responsible for implementing prevention and intervention programmes that address bullying and educating students about the issue, and parents are responsible for being active role models against bullying, and educating their children about respect and care for others.”
Thrive Wellbeing Centre has collaborated with several organisations to address these concerns, conducting workshops with hundreds of students and their parents. The anti-bullying campaign has seen Kamel meeting with over 2,000 students to educate them on the impacts of bullying. Other essential supports include school workshops on healthy cyber technology use and online safety, provided by the clinic’s Dr. Ola Pykhtina. Amongst these, the experts address the root cause of bullying. Children who bully are often experiencing their own stress and trauma, be it in their social or home environments, explains Kamel. “Educating children, families, and society about healthy outlets for stressors is key in preventing the spread of aggressive behaviours”, she says.
When it comes to online safety, the advice is clear; controls are key. Cyber security experts Kaspersky, in the global Kaspersky Family Campaign survey, found that just 35% of parents use parental control solutions, with just 50% of parents checking their children’s device after use. Whether tracking dangers online, tracking a child’s whereabouts or limiting screen time, the advice is clear; controls are key in fighting the dangers of the ever increasing online world.
But, as many of us as parents know, our ability to block out the world for children in this way as they get older simply does not work. Older children will not stand for it.
Bottom line? The SchoolsCompared verdict on bullying
Most of us, as parents, will have experienced bullying at some point in our lives. Those of us lucky enough to have survived school unscathed by bullying (and it will not be many), will have experienced it in the workplace, amongst “friends”, or even within families. What links any experience of bullying is the absolute horror of it. That horror often lies in our sense of powerlessness in the face of working out how to deal with it.
Our children at some point will inevitably ask us for answers on how to deal with the bully. In the old days “fight or flight” might have been offered by parents – but it no longer cuts it as a solution – and it rarely works today, if it ever did at all.
Some parents do advise their children to fight back. Bullies rarely expect that. But schools do not advocate this approach – and it can often end in the injustice of our own children, themselves, being labelled as bullies or worse. If our own children fight back and hurt another child too, they could, whilst not deliberately, really hurt them and the impact of this may not be easy to recover from – whether in terms of school (or government) sanction, or another child being hospitalised. It’s just not a safe approach for parents to advocate violence as a solution – even if it’s an approach older generations advocated for a quick win.
The language of “toughen up” does not find an easy place today either in school or outside it – and many parents will feel this is a good thing. Violence seems to be a solution that ultimately perpetuates horror rather than diminishing it – and teaching our children that violence is a solution to anything seems barbaric.
In our older lives the “easiest” solution against the bully is often flight. We change jobs. We leave relationships. We avoid the bully if it is possible. But we almost always pay a very high price for doing this and it comes with a sense of injustice. We should not expect this of our children. No child should be forced from their school by the actions of a bully.
As tough as it may well be to advocate, the only solution to bullying in schools, in our view, ultimately lies with schools. We need schools to manage bullying, to stop it in its tracks. And we have a right to expect this. The best schools do not have a bullying problem – the culture makes it impossible.
The best schools will act immediately if bullying is reported. Your child may be uncomfortable you making an intervention on their behalf. But you should not have to make an intervention. If you find yourself in this position it is too late. The best schools create awareness that reporting bullying is an act of courage and make it natural for children to report it without worrying. There is no judgement to be made on the child that reports it – and a culture of “creeping” or being the “tell tale” is not tolerated. If your child find himself or herself in a school where they are bullied, the reality is that the school has failed them. It is not their fault. The culture has failed. If your son or daughter reports it, it should be stamped out. Immediately. No ifs and buts.
Asking how a school deals with bullying when you visit a school to consider it for your children’s education is, we think, a vital question to ask. The answers you receive will be telling – and certainly a school that is anything but black and white on the issue should see you running for the hills.
If there is a single message about bullying it is that it is never justified and always wrong. It may well be that there are reasons for a bully being a bully. They may well need help. But this is not your issue, or that of your child. It is a school’s issue. The best schools do not allow bullying to start. Interventions are made before it gathers life. A culture of kindness dominates, not fear. And when the exception that proves the rule does occur, it is stamped out.
Understanding that bullying is always wrong is the only place to start. The school’s taking away the problem is the only place to end.
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