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A Closer Look at Bullying

Bullying is on the increase and awareness of its occurrence is also steadily growing with recent incidents that have propelled the matter into the spotlight via traditional media channels and social media platforms. It is a form of violence that may cause irreparable harm to children if not contained and dealt with, correctly and effectively.

At its core, bullying is a psycho-sociological act that is not necessarily a dyadic problem between the bully and the victim, but a group phenomenon that happens in a context of complex factors that promote and maintain it. Bullying can manifest in any social setting such as a family, a peer-group or a community, and is normally a result of predisposing factors that are fuelled by circumstances that encourage and maintain the act.

If a child is bullied at school, it normally happens in full view of other children who either encourage or discourage the act.  The bully continues the violence outside the school as well as at home or the bully may even act differently in relation to other people.  This simplified example portrays different people playing different roles ranging from an observer or bystander through to the actual victim experiencing the bullying – both directly and indirectly - while others are perpetrators, in various settings and different points in time.

Bullying can manifest as a physical act; a verbal act in the form of social gossip, name calling and threats; in addition to cyber bullying on social media platforms, chat programs, text messages and e-mails. All of these can potentially be devastating for the victim, causing physical and emotional harm to both the perpetrator and the victim and can even cost them their life when bullying leads to depression and suicidal tendencies, especially among children and teens.

Broad descriptions:

  • Bullies or perpetrators - may have conduct or behaviour problems such as delinquency, depression and anxiety.  It is closely related to attention seeking syndrome with individuals who are emotionally unstable, who display acts of aggression, have no regard or respect for others and have often been bullied themselves.
  • Victims - have physical attributes that distinguish them from others, are labelled as being different and are less popular.  They are frequently rejected by peers, have low esteem, are lonely and withdrawn or come from poor socio-economic and different cultural backgrounds.

The circumstances that cultivate the playing field for bullying could originate at the family unit where a child is given wrong or no discipline, or could be the result of an authoritarian family member or an inadequate role model. It could also be as a result of peer norms that reinforce bullying, in addition to socio-cultural norms or political practices that encourage provocative behaviour, to name a few.

From an SOS Children’s Villages perspective we frequently deal with children in our care who fall victim to bullies, purely because they come from poor backgrounds and are stigmatised by others.  In public settings such as schools and churches these children are habitually taunted and made to feel small, where the child eventually withdraws and isolates him or herself, which regularly leads to an escalation in bullying.  There are even instances where these children are bullied by teachers and other adults who tease them and call them names when they need special attention in class or otherwise, which can potentially destroy the victim’s faith in those that should portray the role of a mentor or protector.

It is up to all of us to take a stance on the matter and to teach our children that we are all the same, despite all our differences.  We need to accept one another irrespective of our backgrounds, because bullying – at its core – is about the failure to accept others who come from different backgrounds and are seen as inferior or less developed.

As a child rights organisation we believe that all children are equal and they all have a right to a safe existence and protection from any form of harassment by others.  We therefore appeal to everyone to join us as we say:

  • Count me in as we prevent and fight bullying
  • I will not become an on-looker when other children are being bullied
  • I will stick up for others
  • I will be a role model on how to deal with conflict
  • I will partner with schools, parents, caregivers and others, working hard to stop bullying
  • Children can count on us to advocate and make their lives better