The 2020 World Children’s Report, published by the Jacobs Foundation, notes that the aspects of life children rate highest in most countries are their family, their home and the things they have. One aspect with a low rating in almost all countries was classmates, and in many countries children rated the feeling of being listened to relatively low.
Community Keepers, a non-profit organisation concerned about the state of mental health in South African schools, establishes consulting rooms staffed by counsellors, social workers and psychologists on-site at primary and high schools across Cape Town and the Cape Winelands.
Speaking at the start of international Anti-Bullying Week (16-20 November), Community Keepers CEO, Gerrit Laning said: “Bullying is a very real problem inhibiting learners’ opportunity to thrive emotionally, socially and academically. In some cases they are simply dropping out of school to escape the torment.
“It’s diabolical to imagine that learners’ lowest ratings on their ‘happiness scale’ are classmates and not feeling heard. We must ask how we reached this point and what we are going to do about it.
“Schools, the place where learners go to be nurtured academically and socially, that are not taking a very firm stand against bullying, are effectively broken. Culture doesn’t change overnight. It takes a long-term approach and concerted effort. Like weeding a garden, you simply have to keep at it.
“At Community Keepers, listening is high on our agenda. We have a two-pronged approach: hosting workshops for learners, educators and parents that table challenging topics in a safe space and therapeutic counselling for learners who need to resolve previous trauma and build resilience. Our workshops get quite lively as we table some hair raising topics and challenge deep-seated assumptions, attitudes and behaviour. As an NPO we partner with schools in marginalised communities, but bullying is rife across all communities. We all, each one of us, need to do some introspection, daily.”
According to a media release by Community Keepers, bullying is targeted behaviour that is repetitive and persistent. It can have long lasting effects on learners’ mental health and academic performance. Signs to look out for are prolonged sadness, low self-esteem, social isolating, anger outbursts, self-harm and suicide ideation.
“It is all about power and, often, the bully is the one who has the low self-esteem. Ironi-cally, both parties need an equal amount of therapeutic intervention.
“There is a myriad of ways that bullying takes place including verbal abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, cyberbullying, bystander bullying or even something as subtle as social exclusion, shaming or derogatory eye contact.”
It’s important to emphasise to parents the difference between bullying and conflict. Bullying is repetitive behaviour.
What can schools do?
School leaders should communicate to all pupils and staff that bullying is unacceptable and describe the impact it can have on individuals. It’s also important for schools to respect, promote and celebrate diversity within and outside of their school community. Schools can reduce bullying by teaching educators, parents and learners social and emotional skills and reinforcing these skills throughout the curriculum.
A school culture built on co-operation, tolerance, healthy relationships and careful conflict resolution helps learners to feel supported and encouraged.
“It is very important to focus on a whole school approach,” concludes Laning. “School leaders, governors and trustees, staff, educators and parents all need to work together to prevent bullying. The grounds staff, bus driver and tuck-shop-tannie must be included in the effort. Whole-school really does mean the whole school.”
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