Thirteen-year-old Varun loved to express his opinion in group discussions. He would never conform to the viewpoint of the majority in the class. Inadvertently, he often drew the ire of a few of his classmates for being ‘outspoken’. They decided to put him down by making a strew of false complaints about him to their class teacher. They encouraged others in the class to gang-up against him. The emotionally draining episodes left an indelible mark on him.
Varun felt that his entire world had come crashing down. He was pinned down by the grim reality: bullying by his peers.
According to experts, engaging in any behaviour that intends to physically or emotionally harm someone, where the perpetrator uses a clear pattern of intimidation or ‘rule by fear’ is called bullying. It could take the form of verbal taunts, spreading of malicious rumours, physical assault or rude gestures. Identifying behaviour that falls under the category of bullying and creating awareness about its psychological toll is need of the hour.
“Many students don’t even realise that what they are doing qualifies as bullying. Awareness is generally low among students. Since there is no well defined idea about bullying among them, schools need to define it in clear terms. There should be a zero tolerance policy,” says psychologist Jyothi Ravichandran of the Chennai Institute of Learning and Development (CHILD).
Adverse effects of
Facing the same conflict situation every day can leave a mark on the victimised child. “Going to school itself instills fear in bullied children. Due to high level of anxiety, they tend to fall sick often,” she explains. It may lead to lack of sleep, low grades, and even withdrawal from class activities.
Not complaining about it for fear of further harassment is not the solution. Anti-bullying efforts can be successful if the child feels encouraged to come out of the shell and share the problem.
“A child should not be made to feel bad or petty for complaining about unacceptable behaviour. Open communication between the child (who is being bullied) and teachers can help. The child needs to know that the teacher can play a protective role by taking action against the bully,” she adds.
Implementing anti-bullying policies in schools can explicitly address the systemic issue. Highlighting the debilitating effects of bullying through posters, campaigns and lectures by experts aids in sensitising students.
Assertive communication skills
Imparting assertive communication skills play a key role in tackling the menace. “Most kids either resort to aggressive or submissive behaviour when confronted with bullying. But teaching them assertive communication can help,” she says.
Emphasising the need for young adults to realise the emotional costs of bullying, she adds, “It’s not about what bullies label you. You don’t have to put up with it. Your right to feel emotionally secure is important too.”