The heart-wrenching story of a 13-year-old girl who overdosed on painkillers after being bullied in school brought bullying in school to the fore once again. There is a sense that her pleas have fallen on deaf ears and in that sense, the school has let her down.
No case of bullying in school should be brushed aside as childish pranks, however minor. Even childish pranks have to be dealt with as children are growing up and need to be properly guided on social behaviour.
When is it bullying?
MOE defines bullying as persistent behaviour intended to cause hurt, distress or humiliation and can be physical, verbal or psychological in nature.
When is an act considered bullying and when is it just an act of mischief?
The fine line probably depends on how the person on the receiving end of the act perceives it and more importantly, how it impacts him/her.
Why do some students turned bullies?
It’ll take a lot more to answer the question: why do some students turn bullies?
But two facts are clear about bullies. They lack understanding and empathy.
Bullies pick on those weaker than them, those who are different from the majority such as a learning disability.
There has been more than one case of bullying because a student is dyslexic.
Where there is a student in a class who is dyslexic, it will be good if the school provides the students in such a class with an engaging session on dyslexia to help them understand from the outset, what dyslexia is so that they do not perceive a dyslexic classmate as ‘weird’ or ‘dumb’.
This is one way to address students’ lack of understanding.
Bullying is not a straightforward matter
Tackling bullying in school is not always a straightforward matter. Dealing with it is a complex and tricky process because bullying comes in many different forms. Not only that, they often take place outside the classroom which makes it difficult to catch the bullies red-handed.
Students in a secondary school are shrewd enough to make sure bullying happens behind the adults’ backs.
Digital technology is now part of students’ lives and with it, the boon and the bane. As our children map out their identities in the world, they often find themselves thrown into a world of viciousness. To help them navigate a world seemingly without boundaries, teachers are the next source of guidance besides their families.
A lot of bullying happens on social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Tik Tok where students may have multiple accounts across different platforms. It’s a challenge for a teacher to track and follow his/her students on social media platforms to establish bullying.
What is the appropriate punishment for a bully?
Once bullying is established, the next question schools will have to grapple with is: what is the appropriate punishment?
Factors to consider include the student’s age, the severity of bullying, and whether the student is a repeat offender. One thing is clear: there is no one-size-fits-all mode of punishment.
As psychologists, counsellors and teachers will tell you, the hard approach is not necessarily the best approach to deal with the problem of bullying. Whatever the approach, it is important that it does not harden the bully in the student. When we delve deeper and look beyond the acts of bullying, we may be able recognise the bully who needs help. Hence, it is important to separate the student from the acts of bullying.
Schools are institutions to mold character besides giving every student an education. As such, whatever punishment meted out should be corrective and not merely punitive. In other words, the punishment should seek not only to address the distress caused to the victim, it must also produce a better outcome for the student who is a bully.
Such an approach may not always be satisfactory to all parties but every student matters.
It is good process for a bully to honestly confront his own behaviour through an empathy map: why did he behave that way? How did he feel when his victim hurt? What satisfaction did he derive from that behaviour? How would he feel if he were in his victim’s shoes, etc. This is not meant to be a damnation trip. This is a small step forward in a self-discovery trip. It’s not a journey to be taken alone either. It’s a journey taken in a supportive environment.
Change begins with understanding one’s own behaviour.
Make effective empathic communication our priority. In all fields. At all ages. Equip us and ourselves with great communication skills to minimise misunderstandings, reduce the pain caused and create a better world.
Co-authored by Audrey Tng