A 2012 study by UNISA’s Youth Research Unit on bullying at secondary school level showed that 34% of 3371 learners surveyed in Gauteng, and 30% of 901 learners surveyed in the Western Cape have been victims of bullying between 2010 and 2012. The 2012 National School Violence Study, highlighted the extent to which community factors intersect with the levels of violence occurring at schools.
What is Bullying?
Bullying involves one or more people singling out and deliberately and
repeatedly hurting or harming physically or mentally. Bullying has three
•It involves targeting one particular person or group repeatedly over a period of time
•It involves an imbalance of power
. Bullies have more power than the person or people being bullied. This power may come from, amongst others, differences in age, physical strength, and status or popularity
•The goal is to harm the target by hurting them physically or mentally
Bullying also has consequences for the bullies. Bullying often masks low self-esteem and poor social skills, which if left unaddressed, can drive self-destructive behaviour and prevent people from forming healthy relationships with others.
Bullying itself can also have legal consequences. In many cases of bullying there are grounds to charge and prosecute bullies under our criminal and civil legal systems. For example, physical bullying, and in some cases verbal bullying, could be prosecuted as assault, while sexual bullying could be prosecuted under
the Sexual Offences Act. Those responsible for verbal and some types of cyber bullying, for instance, could be charged with defamation or crimen iniuria – the intentional and serious violation of someone’s dignity or privacy. If perpetrators are found guilty, they would have criminal records and could face fines, jail-time or correctional supervision.
What about bullying teachers?
Sadly there are still teachers and sport coaches who bully children, Cape Town psychologist Dr Ezette du Plessis says. “These people shouldn’t work with kids at all and are in the profession solely for an income.”
They’re teachers who don’t realise it’s their duty to approach every child, regardless of their weaknesses and limitations, in such a way that they improve the child’s self-image. “They’re blinded by the child’s shortcomings and failings and think their derogatory comments will motivate them to improve.”
Bullying teachers are often power-mad or struggle with a poor self-image. They need a child’s achievements to bolster their egos. “Emotionally destructive bullying practices are still common. It’s often subtle so no one can really point a finger but it causes more lasting damage than the hidings of old,” Dr Du Plessis says.
“The child is singled out and humiliated and shouted at in front of friends. Examples of it are making a child who can’t read fluently read in front of the class; giving a child a funny but wounding nickname; and reading marks out loud so everyone knows who did the worst.”
“You must empower your children,” Dr Du Plessis says. “Make sure they know you hear them and want to help them find a way to approach the teacher. Make sure they know you believe in them and love them just as they are.”
Children, parents, teacher colleagues and principals all have a role to play if a teacher bullies a child.
School principals should know bullying behaviour is a worldwide trend that has already begun to take on serious proportions in South African schools, school psychologist Dr Petrus Herbert says.
Autocratic behaviour at a teacher’s home can be a sign it also happens in the classroom, he says.
“Teachers are supposed to be emotionally mature and to know they’re supposed to create an environment at school in which learners can experience optimal growth.”
Parents should have facts at hand to convince the principal their children are being bullied and must ask what can be done about it. Inquire about the school’s anti-bullying programme and its implementation.
The principal shouldn’t treat bullying behaviour among staff lightly. Ensure the governing body is informed about any problems because it represents the parents and the community.
Parents can act as a group at parent evenings. These are opportunities for the school to explain its intervention strategy and involve the parents.
Learners must be encouraged to tell their friends, any teacher or the principal about bullies. Traumatised children can be referred to the school psychologist. If the problem is deep-seated parents should rather take their child to a private psychologist.
Childline recommends that every school, with input from teachers, parents and learners, should develop a clear-cut policy against all types of bullying, whether it’s verbal, physical or electronic.
Such a policy should be applied consistently and fearlessly.
Respect the ban on corporal punishment and hazing (negative initiation practices) at schools. Teachers and older learners should set a non-violent example.
Teachers can do a lot to help. Promote awareness among learners, for example by using role-play where one child plays the bully and another the victim. Create an environment where children can express themselves without fear.
If bullying teachers were also victims as children or have other problems, psychological counselling can help them too.
If you’re a learner being bullied, resist feeling bad or guilty about yourself. Remember, school is a passing phase.
Be irreproachable. Be yourself and don’t lose respect for your teacher. Behave well, even if they don’t treat you well.
Make an appointment with the teacher and try to clear the air. Sometimes this works.