BANGALORE: Most people look back on school as a haven of innocent fun, wonderful friends and good times with teachers. But for some, memories of school life are coloured by the trauma of having been bullied.
Ramona (name changed) recalls how she was bullied one day by a gang of six boys who threw paper balls at her when she stayed back at school. "I ran away as fast as I could. I cried that whole day," she recalls, but now she is able to laugh it off.
Bullying need not always involve a physical fight. Verbal abusing and emotional bullying, such as spreading rumours and socially isolating the child are bullying too, and if prolonged, they can leave scars on the victim.
Divyashree A M remembers, "It is an awful experience to walk into a classroom without a single person who will talk to you, and to hear others gossip about you very audibly, and to keep a straight face. I dreaded high school, and I remember in vivid detail how I was surrounded by a group of classmates, all verbally abusing me. It was worse because a junior, who had nothing to do with any of it, joined in. As a result of that, I am still hesitant to go anywhere alone, and am anxious in social situations."
Divyashree is not alone. "Victims of bullying often feel helpless, humiliated and insecure. Some may have social anxiety and low self esteem," says Meera Haran Alva, consulting psychologist and psychotherapist. "Unfortunately, there is a tendency to brush it off as insignificant."
Contrary to what most people think, bullying is not a natural phase of growing up. According to research by The Institute of Psychiatry at King's College, London, the effects of bullying can last well into middle age and impact health, social and economic aspects of a person's life. The study showed that people who were bullied frequently as children had increased risk of anxiety disorders, depression and even an increased incidence of suicidal thoughts.
However, bullying is not difficult to identify or put an end to. "Younger children begin to show unwillingness to go to school and may start bed-wetting. Elder children too, may suddenly become less social and show school-related fears. It's not rare for the academic record to drop either. Gentle probing about what happened in school or in the bus can help the child confess their fears," explains Meera and adds, "It is very important to convey that a child is being bullied to the teachers who can keep an eye on the children, because bullying always happens when adults are not around- in the restroom or the playground, where the bully feels secure."
Nandini Jayaram, a social science teacher in Sudarshan Vidya Mandir, agrees. "In fact, any observant teacher easily notices if a child is quiet while the class is noisy, or if the child is not with the usual group of friends. I usually ask both the children involved to meet me, and help them sort out their conflict, and in my experience, it works."
Meera, meanwhile, highlights another aspect. "It is not enough to cope with bullying. The bullied child needs to be empowered with social skills and assertiveness to stand up to the bully when possible, and to call for an adult at other times," she says. "While counselling and therapy can help adults who still suffer from consequences of being bullied, early intervention programmes, where children are taught about bullying and how bad it is, is best to prevent incidences of bullying," she says.
Prevention, as the cliché goes, is better than cure. And rather than helping victims cope, parents, teachers and everyone around should help keep school what it should be- a place of fond memories for all kids.