“Tara?” a voice called out. It was Meeta, the Head Girl, amidst a sea of uniforms. Ruchika was by her side too.
Meeta smiled, straightening her glasses. “Tara, could you please turn your back on us?”
Tara frowned. “Why?”
Meeta spoke in a hushed tone. “We’ll tell you. Turn around, quickly. Others might laugh at you otherwise.”
Scared, Tara turned around. A few seconds later, she felt a sharp kick on her butt. The next thing she knew, the entire class of 10-A1 was hooting at her from the stairs on the opposite wing of the building.
“There you go,” Meeta called out to the lot. “I’ve kicked the dancer on her butt. You guys owe me 100 bucks now.”
She then turned to Tara. “Hey, nothing personal. Just a bet.” With that, she left, a giggling Ruchika in tow.
Is childhood really a happy wonderland? Are children’s problems really small? Most parents today are aware that’s not the case. Children often face issues we presume are restricted to adults. They too have to deal with humiliation, power games, and abuse. Bullying spares no one, neither adults nor children.
But what really is bullying? Is it humiliating another? Is it exercising power or control over another? Is it abusing another? All three? Bullying is rather prevalent world over, but most of us are unclear as to what really constitutes ‘bullying’. Even psychologists have varying definitions of what it means because bullying encompasses such a wide range of negative behaviours. However, according to child psychologist Mary Chelladurai, taking any kind of advantage of someone’s weakness can be classified as bullying. “This involves teasing or mocking, mentally or physically assaulting another. Aggression, defiance, insecurity, frustration, anger and hurt are some of the most common underlying causes of a bully’s behaviour,” she explains.
In their academic book Bullying: Implications for the Classrooms, psychologists Cheryl E Sanders and Dr Gary D Phye explain that irrespective of how experts choose to define it, every one of them agrees that it’s dyadic in nature. That is, there’s at least one bully and one bullied in any given instance of bullying. The authors also mention a research observation that shows there are very distinct personality traits between bullies and victims between the age of 10 and 15. Bullies tend to score higher on psychoticism and leadership measures, while victims tend to score significantly higher on anxiety and shyness scales.
There are some studies that claim ‘popular’ kids are bullies, while others insist they are the bullied. But going by what Sumit Agarwal, an IT professional has to say about his experience with bullying, a child could be a bully and the bullied just the same. Sumit studied at a boarding school from 6th to 12th grade. The mix of senior and junior boys was very conducive to bullying, he remembers. “It did not matter whether a boy was popular or not. The older boys would harass the younger ones every day. I’ve been beaten for not doing the older boys’ chores the way they wanted, but I never complained. I didn’t want to be thought of as ‘weak’ in an all-boys school. After I graduated to the ninth grade, I turned into one of those bullies myself. It was how we got on with life,” he confesses.
Being perceived as ‘weak’ by peers is certainly one of the reasons children tend not to report being bullied. Another common reason is their fear of being reprimanded by their parents for ‘being weak’.
This doesn’t surprise Chelladurai. She remarks that often, the bullied themselves turn into bullies in order to cope with the demands of their social environment. It is certainly not a healthy coping mechanism, as it only creates more trauma. “And before you know it, it becomes a norm amongst children, without ever reaching the authorities or parents,” she observes.
Being perceived as ‘weak’ by peers is certainly one of the reasons children tend not to report being bullied. Another common reason is their fear of being reprimanded by their parents for ‘being weak’. Geetha N, a homemaker, and mother of two, shares that when her younger daughter was at school, the girl had been ridiculed for being fat. On one of the days, when several kids had to squeeze themselves into a packed school van, they shoved their bags angrily at her, as if it were her fault. Geetha recalls, “When I tried to find out why my daughter said she’d take a bus to school the next day onwards, she wouldn’t talk about it. I later learnt of the incident from the driver.”
Whether or not children open up about such problems and report instances of bullying, parents might be unsure how to deal with it. Raising the issue with the authorities (if it occurred at school) or taking time out to address it within the family (if it occurred at home amongst siblings) is certainly necessary. However, it’s any day better to prevent the instance altogether. Chelladurai explains that this can be attempted through handling the bully just as carefully as we would the victim. Here are some pointers she has for teachers, parents and other authorities:
Understand the bully
Try to find out the root cause of bullying. Understanding the bully’s psyche is essential in order to curb harmful behaviour. Seek a therapist where necessary.
Keep it strict
Where aggressive and violent behaviours are involved, let the child know that such behaviour will be met with severe punitive actions. A parent may take away privileges like watching TV or going on an outing, if the child continues to bully another.
Show the alternative
Where bullying stems from a need to vent, or be popular, school authorities and parents may help channel such energy into productive activities. It is necessary to remind the child that bullying is only a wrong choice, never a necessity.
*A few names have been changed