The harrowing details of rampant bullying in a recently released story on Alliance High School and Maseno High School caused public uproar and sparked conversations on Twitter and other social media sites as more and more people recounted their high school bullying experiences.
What these conversations revealed was that bullying had become the new normal and it was more prevalent than we had all imagined.
According to a study done in 17 public high schools that was published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Mental Health, the occurrence of bullying stood at 64% compared to 30% in the US. The instruments of bullying varied, from physical to verbal abuse but the basis of bullying was the same, and it was that the aggressor felt a need to assert their power on their victim.
So what role do the parents play in perpetuating bullying? And how does it affect them as well?
After the story on bullying in Alliance High School broke out, some of the parents interviewed were shocked and had no idea of the magnitude of the situation. Most felt uncomfortable leaving their children in school amidst all the reports but felt that they had no choice since it was the middle of a school term.
Bullying leaves deep psychological and emotional scars in the victim. Most of them end up having low self-esteem as a result of it and as a form of self-preservation, tend to draw inwards towards themselves. The fear instilled in them by the bullies should they report what happened to them becomes so ingrained that they will not even open up to their parents or guardians. This fractures the relationship that existed between the parent and child as the children become more aloof.
The aloofness often means that parents find out too late, and by this time, the child is so deeply affected and might require psychological help in the form of counselling which will cost the victim precious academic time and economic resources from the parents.
Where the bullying is physical in nature, medical expenses will be incurred and because the school administration is sometimes in cohorts with the bullies, by the time your child is sent back to you, the injuries have worsened and become more difficult to treat.
Bullying will always affect the victim’s academic scores and their participation in extracurricular school activities. If the parent considers transferring the child to another school, it might be difficult for them to find schools of their choice due low grades exhibited by their child. The lack of participation in extra school activities also inhibits growth of the child into an all-round individual which is a desirable quality during high school and even university admission processes.
Economically, strain will be placed when a parent has to constantly buy school supplies and uniform when the form of bullying is theft or coercing the victim to give up their belongings.
Parents, however are not always innocent when it comes to the occurrence of bullying. Bullies are not born, they are made. The environmental factors in the home and the socialisation of the child plays a big role in whether or not your child ends up a bully.
The study on bullying in Kenyan high schools in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Mental Health cited that often, bullies had emotional and physical abuse directed at them by a parent or guardian and in turn, they took it out on their schoolmates. Some had witnessed violence in their homes and have grown up knowing it as the norm.
Sometimes, the bullying would manifest itself from a young age, when the child interacts with others at the playground. Some parents might fail to discipline their children when instances of bullying are reported and dismiss it as the children being ‘too young’ to understand both what they are doing and the consequences of their actions.
Relegating the role of parenting to the teachers also helps to feed the monster that is bullying. Parents, instead of dealing with their children’s unruly behaviour, will ship them off to boarding schools and let the teachers and schools’ administration to deal with them. Over the holidays, they hardly spend time with them, sending them to private tuition, further running away from confronting the behavioural issues of their child.
The parents of the bullies could also end up spending large amounts of money on rehab facilities as bullies are more likely to end up with drug and substance abuse problems or end up as criminals in the future.
A parent will always want the best for their child and they go to great lengths to give them the best education that they can afford in the hope that they will secure a bright future. Due to the investment that they make, sometimes even selling property to put their children through school, they might sometimes not take it seriously when their child reports that they are being bullied. Because a child might not be direct in saying that they are bullied, choosing instead to say that school is bad or that they do not like school, the parents might view this is a form of insubordination or that their children are being ungrateful and will continue to keep them in that school until it is too late. They might tell their children to develop thicker skins or to focus on their school work and ignore those who bully them.
Bullying does not happen only in isolation. When we are a society that chooses to resort to violence as the default to dealing with political and social issues, then this will definitely seep into our school systems. Human beings do not exist as solitary creatures and therefore, the head teacher is the same person who might be picking up brawls in pubs to exert their masculinity, or you may find that the parent is also a bully in one way or another. The cycle is vicious, bullying begets a bully. Sometimes victims in turn become bullies because they also want “revenge” on others.
Simply demoting school captains or dismissing school heads and conducting endless police investigations are just band aid solutions that only work for a short time. We need to act on the results and put systems in place that can identify a potential bully and work towards fixing the underlying problems that cause such behavioural problems. Schools should also provide safe havens where the victims can report their incidents anonymously. Parents should play more active roles in their children’s lives in order to notice the nuances in behaviour that may be signs of something bigger. As individuals, we also need to look deep into ourselves to find any scars that might have been left by a bully and that might be causing us to be unnecessarily aggressive and deal with them head on.