In traditional Barbados, the phrase ‘stop picking on me’ was often heard in exchanges between children or even adults engaged in a spat. The ‘noise’ would come to a quick end with a stern rebuke from Ma or Pa or another no-nonsense adult.
Somewhere along the way we have lost our ability to bring a quick – non-violent – end to conflicts. Today, not only adults but children resort to senseless violence in a losing struggle to settle differences.
We see daily viral videos of students engaged in savage fights across social media. Then come the dreaded reports of stabbing incidents resulting in serious injury and sometimes death.
Much of this anti-social behaviour and other crime we are told by experts stems from bullying.
Bullying is not a new problem in our society and is in many other places beyond classrooms. But it seems to have reached new levels of venality and cruelty in the social media age.
It’s not a popular topic or an issue we tackle head on, except to vent our outrage when a news article recounts the grim account of a victim’s story.
Some contend that bullying is simply part of life and that learning to deal with it is part of the learning experience for school-age children. Some suggest the sooner a child toughens up, the better. How ludricrous!
Last Friday, students and staff of the Frederick Smith Secondary School who have witnessed and suffered the effects of this scourge took a stand. They declared a commitment to a zero tolerance approach to bullying at their school.
This should be applauded, supported and emulated at other institutions across this country.
At the launch of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme which focuses on counselling, education and raising awareness, Chief Education Officer Dr Ramona Archer-Bradshaw warned that bullying is a learned aggressive behaviour that can have devastating consequences.
Archer-Bradshaw said: “It goes beyond taking away money, it goes beyond hitting someone. It can include spreading rumours, verbal assault, engaging in practices such as excluding a child from a group to hurt him or her or any other gestures or actions that occur in a less visible manner. One may say that such behaviour was prevalent years ago, and while this is true, access to cyberspace today has granted us real-time viewing of bullying and other negative behaviours with sometimes devastating consequences.”
These consequences, experts say, include long-lasting mental and physical scars. Victims also suffer from anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and psychosomatic symptoms, which may persist into adulthood.
The revelation from Archer-Bradshaw that some parents have been encouraging their children to take weapons to schools, telling them to “defend yourself if anybody trouble you”, is disturbing.
Said Archer-Bradshaw: “This practice needs to stop. Weapons have no place in school and I urge parents to desist from this practice. I urge parents to help us in this fight against violence, search your children’s bags regularly.” Clearly more adults need to be enrolled in the Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme.
The responsibility of protecting children from being bullied or preventing the raising of bullies starts in the home. Parents have a duty to teach their kids to be respectful of others, how to handle conflict, how to walk away, and how to forgive others.
As a society, and as families, aiding and abetting bullying can have serious, even deadly consequences for all of us.
We need to face up the problem by putting a stop to where it starts, be it on the school ground, at home or in the neighbourhood. It is not acceptable to verbally or physically abuse another person for any reason. As long as this is tolerated, we will always have bullying to contend with.
All of us – parents, family members, peers, teachers, even bystanders – must stand together with a common commitment to report, intervene or offer assistance when we see one or more people inflicting physical or psychological distress on another person.
We have a collective responsibility to the next generation of Barbadians to ensure their safety and security at school and in society. Our communities must become places of zero tolerance against bullying and violence.
We stand with the students of Frederick Smith, a school that has received more than its fair share of juvenile violence, against bullying. As the song goes, you’ve got to be carefully taught to hate and fear. Bullying can be unlearned, too.