BULLYING IN Bullying in South African schools is prevalent among teenagers and it can lead to suicide, writes Philisiwe Ntuli. A study shows that 9.5% of all teen deaths are due to suicide. Many children suffer long years of unhappiness because other children bully them. That's according to Cassey Amoore, counselling manager of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG). Depression is considered the leading cause of suicide among teenagers. Amoore says teens may develop depression due to external environment factors. Bullying has severe consequences and long-term effects on the child's mental and physical health. Amoore warns that the effects of bullying can last a lifetime and cause a great deal of pain and misery. BULLYING & DEPRESSION In order to curb bullying in schools, Amoore conducts workshops and seminars educating parents, teachers and all adults concerned with the mental health of the youth, to take action and do something about it. In her talks she stresses the need for schools to have anti-bullying policies in place. "The pain caused by bullying doesn't end when school is over. Bullying is a cowardly, brutal and humiliating thing to do to another human being," says Amoore. She adds that it is difficult to come to terms with and can be so overwhelming that the only option is seen to be suicide.
A victim of bullying, Sandile Maphumulo, knows how depressing this can be. It all started when he became involved in a fight over stolen money with schoolmates. They had been playing a game and they suspected he had stolen money from them. One day, two members of the gang slapped him in front of his schoolmates. "I could not fight back because I knew it was going to turn into conflict. I was not scared of the two boys who had slapped me, but I knew the other members of the gang were going to attack me," Sandile recalls. He was not the only pupil to be attacked by the gang, yet nothing was done to stop the harassment. HE BECAME WITHDRAWN This did not only affect his self-esteem; he became withdrawn. He just could not pay attention to anything. To cope with depression, Sandile started smoking and drinking. He was always uptight. In the end he did not make the grade. "I was stressing too much about these guys. Even during exams I could not study. There was just no way I was going to pass. I regret everything — I should have asked for help." Sandile had never heard about SADAG before and the programmes they run to educate the youth about bullying. His school is in the rural part of KwaZulu-Natal and there are no anti-bullying policies in place. In fact, the pupils have never been exposed any information about bullying and how to deal with it. "I did not know counselling was going to help me. I wish I had known earlier. My mother did not know anything about it." Luckily, Sandile did not think suicide was the solution.
"I just wanted to be far away from them (bullies), they had caused enough damage in my life. I am starting to pull myself together, but it's not going to be easy. I still have nightmares." (He started having nightmares during the early stages of the abuse.) Amoore's mission is to make parents and teachers understand that bullying can result in suicide. "Yet bullying is a learned behaviour; if it can be learned it can be changed," says Amoore. GIRL BULLIES EXIST This is not only rife among boys; girls too use different methods to bully each other. Educational counselling psychologist Professor, Jace Pillay, says there used to be a perception that only boys resort to bullying tactics. "It's jealousy and envy that make girls resort to bullying. They find a way to harm the reputation of the other girl," Pillay explains. He says research shows that children who do not cope with bullying think suicide will be an option.
TAKE BULLYING SERIOUSLY Pillay says it's time schools took bullying seriously and develop a code of conduct that will be useful in dealing with this problem. "This will help the children to know what the acceptable behaviour is." There must also be support for teachers in a classroom context for them to able to deal with bullies, and it must be included in the curriculum. They must spend a few minutes in class tackling the issue of bullying because it poses a threat in the lives of the children. "Most schools sweep it under the carpet instead ot dealing with it." Pillay also attributes this form of violence to expensive gadgets, such as cellphones and iPods, that children bring to school. "Other kids cannot afford those gadgets so they steal from their classmates and then a fight erupts." THE ROLE OF TEACHERS * Teachers should set an example by treating children with respect. • Never pick on physical characteristic or a difference when disciplining a child. * Teaching children to be assertive and boosting every child's self-confidence will help them deal with bullies. • All schools should have anti-bullying policies that seek to protect all children, and that all forms of bullying are totally unacceptable within the school. * It is also important to be aware of the needs of a child who is bully. * Bullying behaviour is sometimes a sign that the bully is experiencing problems at home. * Indicate to a bully, that their behaviour is unacceptable. In addition, be prepared to work with the bully to help them find alternative ways of behaving.
Research shows that most children, believe that when they report bullying to a teacher nothing is going to be done to stop it. WHAT PARENTS CAN DO * Be open to the possibility that your child may be being bullied. * If you suspect something may be wrong, ask. * Listen to your child. * Take him/her seriously. * Never blame the child. * Reassure them they were right in telling you. * Don't promise to keep it a secret. * Discuss practical ways to solve the problem. * Teach self-confidence, assertiveness and social skills. * Enrol kids in extramural activities to help them widen their social circle. * Never expect kids to work it out on their own. * Talk to teachers and other parents. If there is one bullied kid, there will be others. * Don't accept complacency from the school. Insist on an investigation. WARNING SIGNS • Social withdrawal. • Grades deteriorate. • Fear of going to school, being at school, walking to and from school. • Crying to sleep. • Nightmares. • Changes in eating habits. • Refusal to say what's wrong. • Excuses for not going to school. • Being moody for no reason. • Bullying siblings. • Showing aggression. IMPORTANT SYMPTOMS 75% of children who have committed suicide tell someone first. In Gauteng, the Youth Risk Figures indicate that 13.8% of children have considered suicide as an option. According to the National Youth Risk Survey: • 25% of youth had experienced feelings of hopelessness • 19% had considered suicide • 17% attempted suicide. KM The person may threaten to take his or her life. They may: • Say nothing matters, or "I wish I was dead." • Be deeply depressed. • Feel hopeless, lose interest in work and withdraw from friends and family. • Have a sudden change of mood. • Prepare for death. For example, he or she may make unexpected changes or will give away personal belongings give some warning of their intentions to a friend or family member. WHERE TO FIND HELP SADAG has trained counsellors available 8am-8pm Mondays to Sundays, including public holidays.They also have a toll-free suicide crisis line open 7 days a week from Sam to 8pm on 0800 20 50 267 080056567 or 011 783 1474. Teens can also SMS 31393 for help. CHILDLINE 0800055555 0114841070 021 7628198 051 4303311 .^ffiS Crisis line Johannesburg Cape Town Bloemfontein