By Annalise Kempen
Do you realise that bullying is a form of child abuse?
It is so serious that the legislature specifically mentions it in the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 where “abuse”, in relation to a child, means any form of harm or ill-treatment deliberately inflicted on a child, and includes bullying by another child.
Bullying should therefore not simply be regarded as anti-social behaviour by a naughty child which we laugh off as being part of childhood. Neither should it be confused with teasing when a few friends team up to "make fun" of their peers. One important difference is that teasing never involves physical or emotional abuse, which is why we need to get behind the reasons why children bully, so we can help them before more serious harm is done and victims suffer more severe trauma.
What is bullying?
The Lexico dictionary describes “bully” as “a person who habitually seeks to harm or intimidate those whom they perceive as vulnerable” (www.lexico.com). Dan Olweus, the creator of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme in the United States, defines bullying in his book Bullying at school: what we know and what we can do as follows: “A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending him- or herself.” He highlights three important aspects about bullying namely that it:
- is aggressive behaviour that involves unwanted, negative actions;
- involves a pattern of behaviour repeated over time; and
- involves an imbalance of power or strength (Violence Prevention Works, Nd).
Bullying is even equated to the concept of harassment which is a form of unprovoked aggression often directed repeatedly towards another individual or group of individuals (Cyberbullying Research Centre, Nd). The Protection of Harassment Act 17 of 2011 defines harassment as “directly or indirectly engaging in conduct that the respondent knows or ought to know -
(a) causes harm or inspires the reasonable belief that harm may be caused to the complainant or a related person by unreasonably -
(i) following, watching, pursuing or accosting the complainant or a related person, or loitering outside of or near the building or place where the complainant or a related person resides, works, carries on business, studies or happens to be;
(ii) engaging in verbal, electronic or any other communication aimed at the complainant or a related person, by any means, whether or not conversation ensues; or
(iii) sending, delivering or causing the delivery of letters, telegrams, packages, facsimiles, electronic mail or other objects to the complainant or a related person or leaving them where they will be found by, given to, or brought to the attention of the complainant or a related person; or
(b) amounts to sexual harassment of the complainant or a related person;..” (See more below.)
Why does someone become a bully?
There is often a perception that someone who bullies has an inferiority complex or low self-esteem. According to Violence Prevention Works (Nd), there are interrelated reasons why someone bullies, which include that such individuals:
- have strong needs for power and (negative) dominance;
- find satisfaction in causing injury and suffering to others; and
- are often rewarded materially or psychologically in some way for their behaviour.
In an attempt to prevent bullying and allow for early intervention, it is important to identify the characteristics of potential bullies who may:
- have a positive attitude towards violence and the use of violence;
- have a strong need to dominate and subdue other learners and get their own way;
- be impulsive, aggressive or easily angered;
- lack empathy towards learners who are bullied;
- show defiance and aggression towards adults, including teachers and parents;
- be involved in other anti-social or rule-breaking activities such as vandalism, delinquency and substance abuse;
- have greater physical strength than others in general and the learners they bully in particular (especially in boys); and
- be more likely to report owning a gun for risky reasons, such as to gain respect or to frighten others (Violence Prevention Works, Nd).
Are you a bully?
Even when someone displays dominating behaviour, that does not mean that he or she is a bully. Yet, it is important to know whether you are a bully and find ways to eliminate such bullying tendencies or behaviour. Even adults can be bullies in the workplace. Sometimes someone can become a bully as a form of “defensive” behaviour because they are being bullied. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you bullying because it makes you feel powerful?
- Are you the “kingpin” because you are liked or because people are scared of you?
- If you are bullying, think about how it would make you feel if someone was making fun of you, harassing you or stealing your lunch money? It would probably make you feel awful, afraid and alone (Childline, Nd).