Zimbabwe: Communication With Children Key to Stamping Out Bullying

Features Writer

Lately, Nyasha does not want to go to school. She is eight years old, overweight and shy. She complains that other kids at school have been tormenting her, making fun and calling her names.

Nyasha's story highlights the problem of bullying in schools.

Bullying can be defined in simple terms as an aggressive behaviour directed at an individual or a group that is in a vulnerable position, with a clear intention to inflict hurt to that particular individual or group.

The bullied individual typically has trouble in defending him or herself as there is an imbalance of power between the two.

Those with less power are usually the victims and those with more power are generally likely to be bullies.

Bullying can take place in the form of physical contact, words or actions and it can affect everyone -- those who are bullied, those who bully and those who witness bullying.

Technology has aided the youths in sharing pictures and videos that have a bullying effect, especially on social networks and apps.

It can not be denied that bullying is now rife in many schools and has become part of a school culture for a long time.

The major targets are the first year pupils, new ones or those who are deemed weak in general.

In many schools, there is the culture of "initiating" new pupils into the learning institutions by beating, taking away their food or pocket money and doing all sort of things which make the newcomers feel uncomfortable.

The media is abuzz with stories of bullying taking place in schools.

On February 28 2019, The Chronicle had a story headlined "Bulawayo school bullies arrested".

In this story, the police arrested three Hamilton High School Upper Six pupils for allegedly assaulting three Lower Six new comers as part of the school's "initiation" programme.

The three bullies are were alleged to have led the Lower Six boys to the toilets where they assaulted them.

On December 4 2020, H-Metro had a story on Churchill High School which showed the school had been hit by a cyber-bullying scandal involving the Form 4 and Upper 6 pupils who bullied Form 1, 2 and 3 pupils.

Some of the pupils were even found in possession of knives and guns.

Again, on November 13 2019, H-Metro had a story which had a headline, "PE bullying video causes stir."

In this story, it was reported that the pupils at Prince Edward were living in fear of seniors at the school.

This was after a video leaked showing a senior pupil beating up a junior before a fight broke out..

In the video clip, a Form 4 pupil who was in a white shirt could be seen kicking a Form 3 pupil in the face while other pupils watched, with some recording the action. The other pupil eventually fought back at the height of the nasty exchange.

Such bullying incidents are prevalent in schools.

In an interview, the clinical supervisor and trainer at Friendship Bench Bernice Chawira, said bullying could affect mental, physical and emotional health during school years and even into adulthood, and sometimes could even lead to death.

"Bullied children and teens are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, decreased academic achievement, school participation and sometimes long term damage to self-esteem."

According to Chawira, some of the bullies are at higher risk of anti-social behaviours like getting into fights and destroying property.

"The bullying aspect can continue into adulthood, when the victims are likely to abuse their partners and spouses, or their children or engage in criminal behaviour," said Chawira.

She added that victims or perpetrators who experience continued, frequent bullying are at a greater risk of suicidal behaviour.

The clinical supervisor and trainer said there were different strategies that parents or guardians could take to assist a child being bullied.

"As parents or guardians, we need to create an open line of communication between ourselves and our children by asking every day the children what took place at school and even outside the school environment," she said.

There is need, she said, to build your child's confidence by encouraging him or her to do hobbies, extracurricular activities and social situations that bring out the best in him or her.

"Praise the good things that the child might have done to defuse a harasser and also try to do role playing as they will build confidence and empower the child to deal with any challenge the child faces," she explained.

Operations manager at the Global Institute of Emotional Health and Wellness , Mr Henceford Khoza, said parents should be on the look out for different changes in their children's behaviour in order for them to see whether they are being bullied

"As parents or guardians, we need to be on the look out of quite a number of things, such as a child wanting to spend more time alone, changing eating habits, being aggressive, worrying about going to school and other changes that one may notice on her/his child," he said.

Khoza highlighted that schools should not just focus on punishing perpetrators, but they need to talk to the bullies and find out why they behave as such.

"In most cases bullies are victims of abuse either emotionally or physically at home hence the educators need to investigate and not just punish them," he said.

"A number of organisations have taken up various anti bullying initiatives to assist schools and communities. Parents need to participate in this initiatives."

Bullying is traumatic for everyone concerned and it is important to address it as early as possible.

Parents and teachers can work together to ensure safety and prevent future bullying of the children.

Inasmuch as bullying has been known to take place for some time, it is important that stakeholders come together and seek ways to address the vice.

But it should start from the home with parents teaching their children about the dangers of attacking their colleagues, for whatever reasons.

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