• Friday, June 14, 2024
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Beyond creating an anti-bullying policy: Role of parents

The demise of Mohbad: How can families shield children against bullying?

Social media was abuzz last month when the news of a female student being bullied at Lead British International School broke out. The last frenzy of a worse situation happened in the controversial death of Sylvester Oromoni Jr., a student at Dowen College, whose father had persisted that his son was being bullied before the unfortunate incident leading to his death. Several other cases have been reported, including that of Deeper Life High School, where a young boy in junior secondary school was bullied because he was bed-wetting. Also, in extreme cases, allegations of sexual molestation sometimes follow these reports, and one can’t help but wonder if the perpetrators are not getting off too easily.

Bullying is a universal problem that faces everyone, old or young, male or female. When unleashed, it leaves and inflicts emotional, mental, and psychological effects on victims. While the root cause can be connected to abusers’ overindulged childhood experience, for instance, children who were raised to be disrespectful of people (especially house help from “commoners”) might tend to grow up to become bullies, unless they get humbled by life experiences; not all abusers state off like that. Some grew up in violent family environments where their fathers molested their mothers, or vice versa. The effect on them is that they pick on vulnerable peers who are lower than them in age, class, or size. That is their way of exerting authority and dominion.

Read also: Nigerians cry out as another student endures bullying from mates

While the school authority in charge of these students must always be held accountable when such cases are reported, and irrespective of the deep-rooted causes of this pervasive and permeating issue, parents have their roles cut out for them: to train their children and discipline their children from such tendencies on the one hand, as well as instilling the confidence and bravery to tackle any kind of bullying. As much as the government and school authorities can go the extra mile in implementing anti-bullying measures to address this problem, the primary involvement of parents cannot be overemphasised. Parents are the first contact and formative mentors children are exposed to, and they can only go to the extent of their parents’ grooming. Their involvement and intervention significantly influence or enable their children’s behaviour and responses towards or from bullying.

Bullying is surrounded by a range of behaviours, which include physical aggression, verbal harassment, social exclusion, and cyberbullying. The latter is a subject that deserves a separate opinion. Generally, bullying leads to consequences like anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem in victims, as well as antisocial behaviours and criminal activities in abusers. Victims can also get negatively inspired by envisioning a world where they are equipped and empowered to do to others what they have suffered in the past. In other words, bullied people bully people.

Read also: No to bullying Nigerians for cybercrimes with Cybersecurity levy

It is also not uncommon to find parents admitting their children to school hostel facilities to serve as a measure of discipline, confidence, and independence. Unfortunately, the adverse effects of “seniority or school mother/father culture” do more harm than good to students. While the seniors subtly divert school provisions and funds belonging to their “wards” to themselves, others expect and demand servitude from junior students in exchange for their “protection” from other senior students’ harassment. What starts as innocent school tradition ends up being a cause for infringement on fundamental human rights: the assault meted out under the seniority system goes against the hallmarks of human rights, child safety, and other normative practices.

To prevent abusive and bullying tendencies among abusers and victims, parents need to model appropriate behaviour. Being the first contact of their children’s formative years and considering the fact that children mostly replicate what they see their parents doing, parents need to set nonviolent, respectful, compassionate, and empathetic standards for their children. They should demonstrate how to handle conflicts with mutual respect in words and actions, thereby teaching the children how to interact with others. They should also encourage open communication by creating an enabling environment where children feel safe to discuss their experiences and feelings. Regular conversations about school life, friendships, and any difficulties they might be facing can help parents identify early signs of bullying. It helps parents decode if their children are potential abusers or targets of bullying. If a child is being bullied, parents should provide emotional support and reassurance. It is crucial to listen without judgement and validate the child’s feelings.

Parents should also educate their children about the ingredients of bullying, even from their interactions with their siblings. Older siblings naturally have the tendency to want to instil fear, respect, and submission in their younger siblings. They must understand the place of mutual respect: giving the utmost respect irrespective of the seniority of the child. In enlightening them about how not to react, behave, or act towards their siblings or anyone else for that matter, they must also discuss forms of bullying and their effects on them and the victims. Children who understand the negative effects of bullying are less likely to engage in such behaviour and more likely to stand up against it.

A typical approach and response to preventing or intervening in bullying is the ability to recognise the signs of bullying. Parents must be vigilant and aware when recognising signs that their child might be involved in bullying, either as a victim or a perpetrator. Changes in behaviour, unexplained injuries, lost or destroyed personal items, and reluctance to go to school can all be indicators. Early recognition allows for timely intervention. Parents’ should be committed to engaging school stakeholders—teachers and administrators—to stay informed about their child’s social interactions and performances. They should be available for parent-teacher meetings, school events, and being part of the school community as they are striving to make a good living.

The post-bullying period is very difficult for every parent. Most parents would rather live in denial than face the reality that their children were victims or perpetrators due to fear, judgement, and social repercussions. Parents therefore need to acknowledge the issue and seek help without feeling ashamed or thinking they failed as parents. They need to be proactive and go as far as learning to navigate technology, especially where cyberbullying is concerned. They should set ground rules on internet use, monitor their children’s online activities, and collaborate and consult with other parents if need be. As much as children need a sense of social life with their peers, parents should provide adequate guidance without being too intrusive, especially when their children are beginning to revolt at such overt intrusion. They hold the strict and disciplinary stick in one hand while also letting them know their doors are always open for a conversation. This boosts children’s confidence in their parents’ ability to fight their “demons.”.

On this latter, parents must face the reality that in teaching their children about coping, resilience, and empathy, they must also let them know that the world is full of broken people; broken people break people. If a child is being bullied, the parent must play the role of a defender and teach the child to stand up for himself or herself. Although parents cannot always be there to protect their children from harm, they have to let them know that it is alright to defend themselves against bullies. Typical approaches include registering the children in karate and related children’s clubs. The truth is, no level of empathy or compassion will stop a bully from trying to subdue others. Ironically, children from poor backgrounds have been known to bully children from rich backgrounds, although the reverse is always the case.

Nevertheless, a child who makes a clear statement at an instance of being bullied would be sending a lasting message to his or her abusers: that they are not subjects to be played with. This height of confidence doesn’t happen overnight; parents must always be ready to plant the seed of courage in their children. It is much better for children to be assured of their parents love, which would go to any lengths in defending and protecting them from outside “forces,” while also knowing their parents won’t blink an eye in instilling discipline each time they err, than for them to be more afraid of the forces from outside.

Ifenla Oligbinde is a Nigerian lawyer, writer, inclusion advocate, and politician with over 10 years of experience in project management and community development. She was the first and only Nigeria selected for the McCain Global Leaders program in 2023, and one of 700 African Leaders for the 2023 Mandela Washington Fellowship, to study Leadership in Public Management track at the Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.