One of the most unfortunate truths of childhood, or for that matter any stage of one’s education, is bullying. Be it at school (day or residential), college or at a master’s program, there are always those few disgruntled peers who resort to picking on others and making a nuisance. Many of these institutions, and the students therein, pass it off under the garb of tradition,or dismiss it saying it is a bit of ‘harmless ragging’. But let us be under no misconception – there is no undivided opinion on this – NO form of bullying is acceptable.
So what can we as parents do to prevent our children from being at the receiving end of bullying? To put it plainly, there is simply no fool-proof way of ensuring that one’s children will NOT be subjected to bullying. That would only be possible if we kept our kids under a rock, which, ironically, would in itself be a type of bullying. Rather than investing energy and effort in trying to prevent our children from being bullied, we ought to focus instead on preparing them in their reactions to bullying.
What steps can they take if and when they do face any kind of bullying?
The first and foremost step is for parents to talk about bullying at home. Too many times, we tend to overlook this, assuming that it will be common knowledge. Quite the contradictory. The first time a child is bullied, it will come as a huge shock to him or her, especially if they are NOT aware of its very existence. It is like a girl experiencing her first menstrual cycle without any prior knowledge of it. Bullying in itself causes emotional upheaval; the least we can do therefore is to tell our children about it, so that at least it isn’t this big, bad, shocking and unknown thing.
TALK, RECORD, REPORT
In most scenarios where children are bullied, it is considered ‘uncool’ or (ironically) ‘cowardly’ for the bullied, to tell someone about the incident. Children who ‘report’ bullying to their parents, seniors, teachers, are often labelled ‘snitches. We need to explain to our children that reporting an instance of bullying is in fact, the exact opposite. Not only are they standing up for their own rights and dignity, they are also helping (in the long run) the bullies themselves, whose behaviour will be checked, and stands a chance of being corrected, before it is too late and becomes a personality trait of that person.
By talking about bullying to your own friends and family, the bullied individual heals. Sharing of trauma helps one recover from it to a great extent. Similarly, writing about bullying, specific incidents, will not only maintain an accurate record, it will also prove to be cathartic. And of course, like mentioned before, report the problem immediately to someone in a position of authority, be it a parent, a school teacher, a guardian. If we can explain the importance of taking these essential steps to our children, they will be a lot better equipped to deal with bullying, and will ensure that they,if not entirely, to a large extent, negate the ill-effects of bullying.
Since we are living in a connected, digital world with more and more young people being active users and citizens of the internet; it is also pertinent to mention that as parents, we need to explain to our children, and help them guard against any kind of cyber-bullying as well. No longer is it enough to ONLY deal with bullying that takes place in the physical realm.
With children adopting many social media platforms and identities, they are also always at risk of being assaulted online. Be it mean comments, viral rumour-mongering, even being solicited by unsavoury/perverted individuals; we are in a time when we MUST talk to our children about the existence of these realities, and ask them to be cautious.
Similar rules apply here as the ones we discussed in reaction to traditional bullying, with the added caveat that in the online space, it is best advised to use various tools that developers and social media platforms inherently offer – such as Block User, Report User to the concerned application/website. Also, we must ask our children, tempting as it may seem, to NOT get into an unnecessary tit-for-tat verbal slug-fest online. Things can escalate needlessly and quickly get out of hand.
Bullying, remember, is a result of a sickness in society, one that stems from frustration, unhappiness and cowardice. We must combat it with confidence and surefootedness.
This article is by Kartik Bajoria and first appeared in TOI.
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