Sunday, June 19, 2011

School bullying

School Bully

Bullying by children in schools has serious mental health effects on the victim and the bully. Up to 25% of high school students report being victimised by bullies. 13% of victims have considered suicide. In rural India 31% of middle school students report being bullied (Kshirsagar 2007). Bullying is twice more prevalent in coeducational schools than in girl schools. The prevalence of bullying increases from 13% in the 3rd grade to 46% in the 6th grade. Bullying is higher in classes with more retained students.

Bullying occurs in a variety of settings that are an extension of your child's school life. Bullying can occur face to face, by texting or on the web (cyberbullying). Bullying is not a phase of growing up, it is not a joke, and it is not a sign that boys are being boys. Bullying can cause lasting harm - to the victim, the bully and the bully-victim (children who are bullied and also bully other children).

Bullying takes many forms
  • Verbal: Name calling, teasing
  • Social : Spreading rumours, leaving people out of groups on purpose, breaking up friendships
  • Physical : Hitting, punching, shoving (5% in Indian schools)
  • Cyberbullying

When is it bullying? It’s bullying when there are three features to the interaction
  1. Imbalance of power: People who bully use their power to control or harm. The victims may have a hard time defending themselves.
  2. Intent to cause harm: The person bullying intends to harm the victim
  3. Repetition: Incidents happen to the same person over and over by the same person or group
It’s not bullying when there are
  • Mutual arguments and disagreements
  • Single episodes of social rejection or dislike
  • Single episode acts of nastiness or spite
  • Random acts of aggression or intimidation

Effects of bullying

Those who are victims are at a high risk for mental health problems
  • Higher risk of depression and anxiety with increased thoughts of suicide
  • More likely to have health complaints
  • Have decreased academic achievement
  • More likely to miss or drop out of school
  • More likely to retaliate (12/15 shooters have a history of being bullied)
Bullies are more likely to manifest behaivour problems that continue into adulthood when these behaviours manifest as criminality
  • Higher rates of alcohol/substance abuse
  • More likely to get into fights, vandalise property
  • More likely to be abusive towards partners, spouses or children later in life.
Bully-victims are the worst affected. They develop both mental health and behavioural problems

Is your child being bullied?

If your child has any of these features it is very likely they are being bullied in school
  • Comes home with torn clothing or missing belongings
  • Appears sad, moody, depressed or anxious especially on returning home from school
  • Prefers to be alone
These symptoms are also likely in victims of bullying
  • Is afraid of going to school
  • Vomiting
  • Sleep disturbances including insomnia and nightmares
These symptoms are commonest in victims
  • Frequently falling sick
  • Headaches
  • Bodyache is the next most common symptom in female victims. In male victims nightmares are the next most common.
Is your child a bully? Consider these common traits of bullies
  • Become violent with others, gets into physical or verbal fights
  • Get sent to the Principal’s office often
  • Has extra money or new belongings which cannot be explained
  • Will not accept responsibility for their actions
  • Need to win and be best at everything

Do’s and Don’ts

For parents whose children are victims of bullying (Carr-Gregg 2011)
  • Tell the your child to ignore the bullying. This allows the bullying and its impact to become more serious
  • Blame your child or assume that they have done something to provoke the bullying
  • Encourage retaliation
  • Criticise how your child dealt with the bullying
  • Contact the bully or parents of the bully
  • Communicate with your child
    1. Listen carefully. Ask who was involved and what was involved in each episode
    2. Empathise and reinforce that you are glad your child has disclosed this
    3. Ask your child what they think can be done to help
    4. Reassure your child that you will take sensible action
  • Contact the teacher and/or principal and take a cooperative approach in finding a solution
  • Discuss the matter in a face-to-face meeting. Stay calm. Take along any evidence you may have gathered. Ask three key questions
    1. How will this matter be investigated?
    2. How long will this investigation take?
    3. When will you get a follow up meeting to discuss the results?
  • Contact school authorities if bullying persists and escalate your communications up the chain of command. Here’s where your paper trail comes in useful
Every child deserves an education free of fear
  1. Carr-Gregg M, Manocha R. Bullying - effects, prevalence and strategies for detection. Aust Fam Physician. 2011 Mar;40(3):98-102.
  2. V .Y. Kshirsagar, Rajiv Agarwal and Sandeep B Bavdekar. Bullying in Schools: Prevalence and Short-term Impact. Indian Pediatrics 2007; 44:25-28


  1. This is so true. Schools need to have a "zero tolerance policy" towards bullying (cyber bullying included). Its ridiculous that 'smart' kids think they are breaking in a freshman by ragging. While movies and tv shows are suppose to have a message about bullies, they reinforce the behavior in some ways. I am amazed at the number of new tv series with this theme!!!
    Thankfully, in our school district the schools are really strict about this and tho there are around 1300 - 2000 kids, we've had low incidence of bullying.

    Among girls, there is the clique and tho' they may not be physical, it can be really bad.

  2. Yes, as far as schools go the prevalence of bullying mostly depends on the attitude of the administration. The administration has a major influence on the outcome of any anti-bullying program. Many schools don't recognise verbal, social and cyberbullying as such. The victims, by definition, can't do much about this. That's why parents need to know what to do.

  3. Thanks for this post on a very relevant issue Doctor. Indeed bullying is often trivialized and overlooked in India - until something tragic happens. As parents it is important to maintain open lines of communication with the child and to help them build their confidence and self-esteem so that they will learn to handle bullying with courage and good sense.

  4. Communication is important to know what is going on in your child's life. However, current evidence shows your child may not be able to do much on their own to stop ongoing bullying. Parental intervention is a necessary duty.

    As far as prevention goes the child would do well to have at least one friend in the class/school. Having even one friend greatly reduces the chances of being bullied in a new school.

    It is repeatedly seen that even one onlooker, intervening on behalf of the victim during a bullying incident, is enough to stop further bullying. You could teach your child be that one.

  5. This is very nicely written and kind of sums it all up. I have been reading a lot about bullying myself and one of the statistics showed me that more then 2400 children below the age of 14 takes their life every year in India. That was a really disturbing statistic. Me and a group of my friends started this organisation called Anti Bullying Ambassadors where we do workshops in Schools to helps kids fight bullying and learn more on the issue.

  6. Thanks Ankit. For the year 2010 the official number of deaths by suicide in children upto 14yr age is 3130 ( How do schools get in touch with your organisation?

  7. My son too has of late been having problems with classmates as well as bus mates. Requested the teacher to intervene sympathetically since my son's grades went down drastically in class. He too gets depressed at the idea of going to school and gets physically sick. Teacher spoke to some of the boys (his class has all the toppers) and these boys (apparently of the same group) all complained that my son passed lewd comments which is absolutely absurd since he is quiet and a loner. He doesn't now even want to study on account of this. What do you suggest we do. He is our only child.

    1. First - focus on the bullying. Has it stopped since the teacher's intervention? If not go to the next step under DOs above.

      Second - ascertain the specifics regarding the 'lewd comments'. Don't ignore that. You need to ascertain the facts.

      Third - get professional help for your child. The school counsellor should be able to guide you.