Updated: May 20, 2022 2:59:12 pm
In the last column we identified what constitutes bullying and what are its effects. This time we look at case studies and unwrap a survey done in six schools from Delhi and Bengaluru, across socio-economic lines.
What the survey unveiled
In the survey done in 2013-14, nearly 1500 students and 83 teachers participated. That bullying is rampant and common was the most definitive finding, across government and private schools. However, it was accepted as normal among students and teachers, and children were simply expected to deal with it. While the abusers said they mainly used verbal and social media as means of aggression, those who were at the receiving end felt they were picked for their looks, the way they spoke or their academic performance. While most hecklers said they did this to teach the other a lesson, all the students resented partiality by their teachers. That most teachers favour students who keep good academic records also highlights the hierarchical structures that make it easier for bullying to happen, be condoned, neglected or ignored. Meanwhile, the survey also showed that 12 to 18 per cent of bystanders enjoyed the process though some even tried to stop the bullying.
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Case Study I
A child from a minority community came to us when he was 12. He went to an old, well-known school in Delhi and was being badly bullied. During our assessment, we learnt that he had ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and learning disabilities, and his classmates often picked on him as is often the case with kids who are different. They would push him around, not include him in games, call him names and quite often provoke him in between class or on the playground. In his defence he would react and lash out, which invited the ire of his teachers, who only saw him initiate a fight or attack. When in fact, he was the victim of bullying. He was suspended from school and what was worse is that the teachers had created an awful reputation about him – that he was inattentive in class, aggressive, badly behaved, etc. When the parents met us, we wrote to the school and met the school counsellor but there were only acts of tokenism that they offered. Parents of the boy, who stood up for him all along, wrote to the National Commission for Minorities and the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights. Both the bodies wrote stinging letters to the school calling for proper assessment and detailed report on the issue, which the school reluctantly did. However, resentment towards the boy grew to a point where he finally dropped out of school. His refuge was then in gadgets, and with the lockdown it got worse. He slipped into depression and came close to ending his life. So, although the family had taken steps to act on the issue of bullying, the system had failed him. More than seven years later, he still carries deep scars of that trauma.
Cast Study 2
This girl went to an affluent school in the city, was good in her studies but not physically active. She was around 14 when we met her. When girls are in their tweens and begin to become conscious of their appearance, she had classmates who would pass comments about her looks and ostracise her, not including her in their games or birthday parties. Being perceptive, she would pick up these subtle cues. Incidentally, she came from a family of high-flyers who were all into health and fitness. She had other interests, and therefore, she stood out from her family, too.
After initial hesitation, she managed to talk about verbal and social bullying at home. But since the family was concerned about her weight and health, they didn’t take her seriously at first. They expected her to always perform and stand up to her peers. She didn’t feel heard, and in a bid to have some control in her life she started controlling her diet and would throw up most of what she would eat. Soon she developed a full blown eating disorder and slipped into depression as well. It is then that the parents noticed her suffering and took her to mental health services. The school, in this case, had a redressal mechanism for bullying. Through a concerted effort from her family, school and her own determination, she was able to recover and heal from the trauma.
In such situations, what should a parent do?
For instance, when a child takes the courage to speak up, the thing to do is to open up and say, “We are so sorry that this is happening to you”, “How have you been dealing with it?”, “How can we help?”.
Sit and listen to your child, and ask sensitive questions with curiosity. Be supportive. Don’t judge the child, or say, “Why can’t you stand up for yourself?”, “If you don’t study, your classmates will pick on you”. Don’t blame the child, be there for him/her.
Inform the school and let them know bullying is totally unacceptable. Build a community within the school to handle such a case.
And if you notice that your child has been struggling emotionally and think that she/he may be developing mental health issues, don’t hesitate to get professional help.
(Dr Amit Sen is a child and adolescent psychiatrist working in Delhi. He has served in the Army Medical Corps from December 1982 to January 1988)
(This column by different experts will appear every fortnight)
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