Sadly, however, there are more destructive experiences during these years that could have long term effects on children. One of these is bulling. Although bullying is a topic that has been discussed widely, it is a phenomena that has increased over the years and with the ‘cyberworld’ becoming an integral part of most people’s lives, bulling has become something that is no longer only limited to the school grounds. It is widely accepted that bullying is a form of hostility, victimization and/or aggression towards a child/children, where these children become victims of verbal, physical and internet based threats, slander and abuse. Often times bulling, which is defined as a form of aggression that occurs over a period of time and involves some form of a power imbalance, is overlooked and excused as a normal part of childhood development. Bullying does, however, have far reaching consequences that leaves victims at risk for adjustment difficulties, emotional difficulties, low self-esteem, poor school performance and disruptive behaviour. Researchers have suggested that 15-20% of learners will encounter bulling at some point in their school career, while 1 in 4 learners are bullied online. This brings about feelings of anxiety and fear, loneliness, helplessness and depression which directly impacts on their opportunity to learn and develop optimally.
Bullying can take on a variety of forms. Bullies can operate individually, but often exist within a group that behaves in similar ways. Further, bullying can occur anywhere, on the school grounds, in shopping centres and on the sports field. It can be verbal or physical, or occur in social media networks and on internet sites such as facebook, twitter and blogs. Direct forms of bullying can include behaviours such as physical attacks, hitting and threatening while indirect forms may include behaviours such as spreading rumours, isolating someone from a group or activity and making derogatory comments online.
There are some warning signs that may be an indication of a child being bullied, which include: unexplained injuries, changes in eating habits and sleep patterns, a child becoming more moody or tearful, not wanting to attend school or social activities, nightmares, becoming withdrawn and complaints of stomach aches and of feeling sick . Some children may begin to act out at home and at school, for example sudden increase in temper tantrums, running away, intentionally hurting themselves or talking about suicide. It is important that parents and teaches recognize these warning signs and take action as many children who are being bullied won’t ask for help for various reasons.
It is important to keep channels of communication open and to check in with your children often. Empower children to feel confident and assertive to stand up for themselves. Teach them about acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and what bullying means. Children need to know that they are able to trust those close to them and have a place to go to if they need help.