Bullying and its Impact on Young Minds
In July 2016, a 14-year-old boy returned from school, went to the terrace of his apartment block, and jumped to his death. Investigations revealed that he was bullied by a schoolmate who travelled with him in a private school van. In another instance, a class 9 student studying at a reputed private school in a metro city reported suffering physical and psychological trauma due to alleged harassment by his classmates. The incident came to light after they called for medical help, when their otherwise soft-spoken and well-mannered child turned violent. Bullying and being bullied exists everywhere in India, yet it is hugely under-reported.
What is Bullying?
Bullying refers to an unwanted aggressive behaviour involving real or perceived power imbalance. This is often repeated or has the potential to be repeated over time, causing serious and lasting problems for those who are bullied. It, therefore, becomes important to identify any indications of such behaviour right at the onset.
Physical bullying is the most commonly reported due to the involvement of violence. It is basically the use of physical strength or influence to intimidate someone and force them to submit to something. Any kind of repetitive, aggression oppression, torment or physical harassment comes under this. Verbal bullying includes name-calling, teasing, passing unsolicited remarks, taunts and sexual comments and threatening. Social bullying involves the purposeful spreading of rumours, social isolation, passing judgement on a person’s looks and behaviour etc. A new phenomenon of bullying has emerged with the rapid use of technology and the internet, this is known as cyberbullying. Here, victimisation and aggression happen over an electronic medium, which in the worst cases can lead to suicide.
According to a study on online bullying among youth in the age group of 8 to 17 years, India has the third highest bullying rate among 25 countries. Physical bullying is also a rampant issue in schools across the country. More than 42% of students in the age group of 9 to 13 and as many as 36% between the age of 13 and 17 are victims of bullying in Indian schools. Academic ridicule seems to be a common theme with kids often labelling those who score low as a “failure.”
Many reports of cyber-bullying or online trolls have surfaced in the recent past primarily due to the growing exposure of children to various online platforms. While social media platforms provide an opportunity for people to network with family, friends and peers, it often comes with a dark side. ‘Technology and Adolescent Mental Health’, a book that details the challenges and opportunities presented by the intersection of mental health and technology highlights how children and adolescents, the main players involved in cyberbullying, have shown high risks of depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. The pressure of presenting oneself in a positive manner and comparing one’s life to another on social media leads to victimisation and online bullying.
Bullying and friendship
Bullying among friends, also known as relational bullying, can be hard to detect. It involves spreading rumours, social exclusion or belittling someone over how they look or behave under certain circumstances. The fact that it is subtle and done between the smiles and laughs of friendship makes it worse. For those who are bullied by friends, the experience can become more traumatic because it amounts to a breach of trust. The child or teen may also feel reluctant to open up about such friends because it seems disloyal, or because they’re afraid of losing them altogether.
Impact of bullying on children
Bullied children and young adults often lose out on quality learning, as they are unable to come to schools or colleges in the right state of mind and shy away from reporting incidents due to lack of support. Their emotional trauma surpasses the physical assault in many cases.
A survey covering 9,000 men aged between 15 to 49 years, across the seven states in India, published by International Centre for Research on Women and UNFPA observed that exposure to violence and discrimination during childhood lead to boys internalising bullying as acceptable behaviour. Many victims of bullying indulge in self-harm to forget the mental torment they face. Most do not share their burden with their parents for fear of blame and silently suffer from anxiety, depression, and seclusion.
Bullying instils fear and self-loathing, and being a target repeatedly can damage the child’s ability to view themselves as a desirable and an effective individual later in life. Not only this, such trauma in the early years of life can lead them to make fewer positive choices and act less often in defence of their own happiness.
The Role of Parents and Teachers
Some signs that parents should watch out for include a sudden change in behaviour, trouble in sleeping, lack of appetite, lack of interest in activities they once enjoyed, and a deteriorating academic record. In some extreme cases, the bullied can exhibit violent behaviour or suicidal tendencies. Adults who come across bullying in any form should intervene and stop it before the situation gets out of hand. Some ways to do this could be as follows.
- Parents and teachers should consider any such reported incidents with utmost seriousness and offer complete moral and emotional support to the victim.
- Children and young adults model what they observe and experience around them. It is, therefore, imperative for the elders to reinforce positive behaviour and intervene if any cases of bullying are observed. To stand aside and leave it for children to sort it out by themselves at all times can send a message that the behaviour is being condoned.
- Avoid labelling children (both the bully and the victim) and help them understand the aftermath of bullying instead.
- Online literacy and safety must be advocated from a young age, and parents, educators and teachers must provide active awareness about cyber safety for children.
Bullying is Punishable by Law
The 2007 Raghavan Committee report lists out various recommendations to control ragging and bullying in schools and colleges. The report categorises ragging as an abuse of human rights.
On the recommendation of this report the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has ordered the setting up of Anti-Bullying Committees in the schools. The committees have the authority to warn, suspend and in extreme cases, rusticate the bullies.
To tackle bullying in colleges, an anti-ragging notification was issued by the UGC in 2009. The notification defines ragging and instructs the colleges to engage trained counsellors to deal with the incidents. It is mandatory for each college to set up anti-ragging squads and take swift action in the reported cases.
Bullying and related harassment can be reported under various sections of the Indian Penal Code. Some of them are section 506 (Punishment for criminal intimidation), section 323 – 326 (causing hurt and grievous hurt and the punishments for the same), section 304 (in cases resulting in the death of the victim of bullying or ragging, section 306 (abetment of suicide)
There is no separate law to deal with cyberbullying in India. However, section 506 and section 507 of the IPC which deal with criminal intimidation may be applicable to cyberbullies. In cases involving defamation of the victim by the bully, section 499 is applicable. The Indian Penal Code now includes stalking, sexual harassment and harassment in general through electronic means under section 354 A and D of the IPC. Section 66 E of the IT Act dealing with punishing the violation of privacy can also be applied in such cases.
Not all forms of abuse leave physical bruises and bullying is one of them. Working together is critical for both identifying and solving the problem.