Everyone has a role to play in ensuring the safety of others when bullying is a threat

Cosas disrupt teaching at CURRO High School, over the non-suspension of a pupil accused of cyber-bullying and racism. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

Cosas disrupt teaching at CURRO High School, over the non-suspension of a pupil accused of cyber-bullying and racism. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Feb 4, 2024


THE scourge that is bullying knows no bounds, and in today’s society, it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that no one becomes a bully or a victim.

This, life coach Selinah Mehlabovu said, was the issue raged across physical and electronic platforms as it had become a catalyst pushing people over the edge.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent after the opening of schools, where many pupils were reportedly subjected to hurtful acts by others, she said the problem lay both in and out of the home.

Anti-bullying activist Njabulo Zulu from Soshanguve wins an award for Fabulous Girl of the year. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

“Bullying comes in many shapes and forms, and with the advent of social media and the placing of technology at the hands of everyone, the effects know no bounds.”

Bullying has been described as, “Repeated and persistent behaviour intentionally designed to hurt or frighten another.”

Over the years and across the world the label has been a concern, with many people and organisations talking about raising awareness about it, and discussing the long lasting effects it has on both victims and perpetrators.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says: “It can be identified through intent, repetition, and power.

“A person who bullies intends to cause pain, either through physical harm or hurtful words or behaviour, and does so repeatedly. Boys are more likely to experience physical bullying, while girls are more likely to experience psychological bullying.”

They described bullying as a pattern of behaviour rather than an isolated incident, and said: “Children who bully usually come from a perceived higher social status or position of power, such as children who are bigger, stronger, or perceived to be popular.”

Saying children were more often than not targets of bullying, they said the most vulnerable of this population faced a higher risk of being bullied, and included children from marginalised communities, children from poor families, children with different gender identities, and children with disabilities or migrant and refugee children.

Bullying can happen both in person or online or through a third party, Pretoria educator Priya Walker said.

“While once it was known, among pupils, to stalk school hallways and emerge in the playground it has now made its way into technology, where pupils will send hurtful texts, jokes, pictures and memes in a way that defames and hurts, and demeans another.”

She said instances of bullying among young people, in her experience as an educator who also trained young people in arts and sports, had crossed many boundaries and included making fun of those who did not participate in activities due to one or other reason. “What we have seen in sports is, a chubbier than others, shorter, taller, slower child becoming the butt of jokes from others.”

And those who were mean could either be active or even sat on the sidelines. “Even trainers and teachers are guilty, where they can, in reprimanding or encouraging, plant a seed for others to run with, to turn one or more into a subject of ridicule and being bullied.”

Being careful and mindful with thoughts and words was the first step in every situation, said Walker. “But it cannot start with the reaction, it has to be proactive; how we raise children, how we act around them in the home, what we expose them to, all of that directly influences how they arm themselves against the world,” Dr Sam Mosupyoe said.

Said the psychologist: “For some it is a coping mechanism. They come from backgrounds which have damaged them so much that they form an exterior full of arrows just so they appear strong and are not as affected as how they are at home or in their community.”

He said the popular line that “hurt people hurt others” was too true. “It is not always the case that bullying comes from a point of natural meanness, it can be created as a coping mechanism.”

Therefore parents, communities, and more importantly, educators, had the responsibility firstly to mould young minds into sensitive people who were always aware of the effects of their words and action, Mosupyoe said.

The UNICEF said educating children about bullying so that they did not become bullies at that age and even in spaces where they were older was important. “Once they know what bullying is, your children will be able to identify it more easily, whether it is happening to them or someone else.”

They also encourage openly and frequently talking about bullying, because this would make them more comfortable when they saw or experienced it.

“Check in with your children daily and ask about their time at school and their activities online, inquiring not only about their classes and activities, but also about their feelings.”

Children, said the world body, had to be shaped to become role models, so that they acted in any of the areas of bullying: being the victim, the perpetrator and the bystander. “Even if children are not victims of bullying, they can prevent bullying by being inclusive, respectful and kind to their peers. If they witness bullying, they can stick up for the victim, offer support, and/or question bullying behaviours.”

Building a young person’s self confidence was also one major way to ensure safety. Encouraging them to enrol in classes or join activities they loved within the community was one way to help build confidence.

“But, parents, guardians and senior people within a community and society and in school, had to consciously be role models.

“Show your child how to treat other children and adults with kindness and respect by doing the same to the people around you, including speaking up when others are being mistreated. Children look to their elders, and this becomes an example of how to behave, including what to post online,” Mehlabovu said, adding that actively participating in their online activities, social life and school experience ensured that they were safe, as were those around them.

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