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A Calmer You, by Sonal Kalra: Is your child a bully?

Most of you would answer, ‘No’. Most of you need to recheck.

columns Updated: Sep 15, 2018 16:18 IST
Sonal Kalra
Sonal Kalra
Hindustan Times
A Calmer You by Sonal Kalra,Sonal Kalra column,Sonal Kalra Hindustan Times
Two out every three kids are indulging in aggressive behaviour, or witnessing it without doing anything about it. (istock)

The numbers speak for themselves. One in every three school-going children in our country is believed to have been exposed to bullying by fellow students. What’s really alarming, therefore, is that two out every three kids are indulging in aggressive behaviour, or witnessing it without doing anything about it.

Last week, a friend forwarded me a chat in the Whatsapp group of parents of ninth grade students in one of Delhi’s most prestigious schools. In that chat, a parent was recalling details of how her 13-year-old daughter refuses to go to school because of the bad behaviour of her classmates towards her. This is a school that parents would have given an arm and a leg for, to get their child admitted in the first place. And all those parents could outdo each other in terms of how educated, affluent, aware, progressive they are. No, wait, how aware they think they are. Because if you are not aware of the behaviour that your child displays in school, there’s precious little to gain even if your level of knowledge can make you write a thesis on global economic policies.

To their credit, all parents in that group seemed concerned about the trauma being faced by this victim, but most seemed to suggest that bringing it to the attention of the class teacher would solve the problem. Till the mom of the girl wrote that she has already taken it up with the school authorities several times, and despite their advice or counselling, the children just don’t care. They don’t care!!

So the problem, people, is in accepting in the first place — both by those students and their parents that their behaviour amounts to bullying, and that correcting that behaviour is not a choice. It HAS to be done. There’s even legal recourse with an anti-bullying law, but it is applicable more to institutions of higher education than schools. Primarily because it is assumed that school students are anyway bound strictly by the authority of the management. And that’s precisely why schools can’t get away with saying that the students don’t care. But that’s also why the role of parents in understanding the severity and urgency of the problem is foremost.

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I discussed this with some parents of pre-teens and teens, and surprisingly enough it turned out that a lot of them did not even consider what they called ‘normal, mischievous behaviour’ as aggression or bullying. So, let me put it here in the simplest terms. The most common ways in which bullying happens in schools include.

Constantly poking fun at a particular classmate – especially picking on his/her physical traits, mannerism, or an inability to display confidence while speaking. I know of a kid who stammers out of nervousness when the teacher asks him to read out something in the class, and a particular bunch of kids always laugh loudly whenever his turn comes. If your kid is the one laughing or mimicking, it’s not ‘sense of humour’. Just clarifying.

Excluding a particular student from group activities. Not letting them join in while having lunch, playing a game, doing a project, planning parties, even while deciding seating in the class. A seventh grader neighbour’s reply, when I asked her about why a certain newly admitted girl isn’t invited to her birthday party, simply said, “she’s not in our squad.” Then whose..umm..squad is she in? I asked. “No one’s,” she shrugged. Well.

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Mocking a fellow classmate on social media platforms, such as Whatsapp chat groups, Instagram, Facebook and what not. Spreading rumours about a certain classmate having a crush on, or proposing to another, despite knowing that it makes them uncomfortable. And of course, physically intimidating or hitting a fellow kid.

Let me address the last one first. Most of us would agree that it is unacceptable that one kid hits another. What we forget is that when our child was three years old and had come back from school or the playground one day complaining that he was pushed by another toddler, a lot of us had replied – “Toh tum bhi usko push karo. Don’t be scared of him.”

The idea at that time was to prepare your child to face the world ‘bravely’, to not let him or her be darpok. I have seen parents proudly proclaim – ‘Maine keh diya hai – rotey huye ghar nahi aana. Koi ek mare toh tum do maaro. That’s the only way to survive in today’s world.’ And then the same people many years later shake their heads on reading news items about violence in road rage incidents and say – ‘Ho kya raha hai duniya ko?’

Are you getting my point? The trolls that we see on social media today, the hatred that we see out on the roads, the negativity and violence that we constantly crib about now, is not unconnected to how we may have — intentionally or otherwise — let the seed of aggression nurture in kids around us. Turning our faces the other way when our own children bully others, and demanding the core values of compassion, politeness and good manners from adults around us is convenient, but hardly logical.

In a nutshell, if you are parent to a young, impressionable child, do the following, if not more:

1. Observe how your child behaves with her friends. If she cracks a joke at another kid, see if that kid is laughing at the joke or not. Even if the whole group is laughing but the target of the joke is sheepish and uncomfortable, it’s time for a chat, with your own.

2. If there’s a newly admitted child in your ward’s class, ask your son/daughter to offer to be their friend. Your kid could be in that position someday.

3. If the school teacher or another parent complains about your kid being a bully, never ever take it lightly. Not for them, but for yourself, your child, and the sake of a future society with well-behaved, well-mannered adults.

Sonal Kalra’s pre-schooler told her she got pushed in the park by another kid. Before she could give them a lecture on bullying, she saw that the kids were helping each other by ‘pushing the swing’. Failed activism. Mail her at sonal.kalra@hindustantimes.com or facebook.com/sonalkalraofficial. Follow on Twitter @sonalkalra.

First Published: Sep 15, 2018 16:17 IST