Boo the Bully

A : Aerial View

Is your child being bullied?

Bullying is the intentional belittling of another person and includes physical, emotional and sexual misbehaviour. Learn the causes of bullying in children and adolescents and preventive steps to save them.

Dr Vani Kulhalli

Most children are capable of bullying and being bullied- irrespective of their age, temperament and behaviour at home. Bullying can occur between siblings, playmates, classmates and neighbourhood. In the teenage years, a gender difference occurs. Adolescents are trying to explore their identity and bullying becomes much more serious. Girls resort to name-calling, gossiping, spreading rumours and exclusion from groups as a form of bullying. In boys, aggressive behaviours such as threatening, beating and teasing occur.

The bully is a person, who has low self-esteem or is undergoing some form of chronic stress. This causes the person to express aggression towards others. The aggressor gains social position and improved self-esteem due to victim’s submissiveness. The bully selects the victim, who can be easily subdued or who’s retaliation can be easily suppressed. The victim may also come from a similar background and therefore has limited self-esteem or social skills to deal with the bully. The child may be hampered by a being younger, delicate physical structure, mild temperament or some incident that contributed to a ‘fall from grace’. Both victim and the bully are likely to have deficits in understanding and intelligence, academic challenges, poor social skills and family stress.
‘Ragging’ is a form of organised bullying which occurs when one a group of senior students bully newcomers using their superior knowledge gained due to having arrived at the scene earlier. This started as a harmless rite of passage, but slowly evolved into torture and therefore is banned by law.

The victim of bullying initially tries to reason and retaliate. The victim becomes anxious and pre-occupied with the problem and is unable to concentrate on other activities. The child may become so pre-occupied that it may result in withdrawal from other children. As a strategy of escape child begins to avoid scenarios where interaction with the bully is likely such as avoiding playground activities, sitting in the classroom during lunchtime and finally school refusal. A child with genetic vulnerability or severe unremitting bullying will ultimately develop mental illness; the most common being depression. In adolescents, there may occur frequent fights, moodiness, addiction to media and gadgets and suicidal behaviour in extreme cases. Teenagers have sometimes dropped out or been killed due to extreme ragging.
The bully also undergoes isolation. Usually, the bully operates alone or is surrounded by like-minded children. The bully is deprived of positive social interactions and develops a ‘winner-loser’ framework for life. This puts him at a disadvantage in relationships and leads to lifelong unhappiness. People with the habit of bullying are at risk of mood disorders, substance abuse and relationship disorders.

Ideally, the intervention has to do with the entire group of adolescents. The group should be educated about the problem and what is the behaviour expected of them. An open discussion about how the problem evolved is needed and children guided towards positive forms of conflict resolution. This intervention needs to be done maintaining confidentiality without labelling the victim or the perpetrator. In the current world, it will also be prudent to take the parents into confidence. Both the bully and the victims should be referred for individual counselling and treatment.

Bullying is not a problem of a single ‘bad’ or ‘tender’ child but an outcome of disturbed social interaction. All parents should take the responsibility to provide adequate supervision and guidance. Parents should make it a habit to converse with their child about their friends, school and experiences. Parents and teachers should give suggestions to children about playing together and solving differences. Any indication of disturbance should be probed immediately and remedied. 
Bullying is also a reflection of the social toxicity that has seeped into our times. Media is full of nastiness, competition and violence. Though adults may preach good values, their lives are often a lesson in rule-breaking and manipulation. The unprecedented academic and social pressures along with a lack of continuous mentoring make children react quickly and thoughtlessly. This can only be prevented by parents spending more time mentoring children, protecting them from media exposure and living a life with adequate introspection.

The interpersonal power play is a necessary part of every society and bullying is observed even in other social animals like apes.  It provides a method to restore or rejuvenate leadership patterns which are critical to the survival of the community. It becomes pathological only when cruel, persistent and causes disturbances to mental health. The experience of power-play teaches children about leadership, being good followers, conflict resolution, dealing with people in authority and generosity towards youngsters.  One needs a nuanced approach to assess the situation and change the narrative into developing positive values.

(Dr Kulhalli is Psychiatrist at the Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai)  

(Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)


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