‘The school years’ I call them the golden period of any child’s life. A life beyond care; life then revolves around only a few things – studies, friends and play. Teachers and friends make up the world. Whatever the teachers say is sacrosanct. Friends are the most important after parents and siblings, sometimes even more important. But what if the same people make you recoil? What if they make you feel life is not worth living? So a dead-end for many students – ending up in depression, even leading to suicide. Yes, this is what bullying at schools can do to a child.
What does ‘Bullying At School’ Mean, Anyway?
Is it a fight with friends, a scolding or ridicule from a teacher, or something more than that? Though I had heard and read about it, when one of my friend’s son faced it in school and I saw his condition, then the consequences of bullying at school hit me hard.
Mustansir used to be a happy and cheerful child. The younger of the two sons, he’s the apple of his mother’s eyes. Though naughty and mischievous, as boys usually are, there never were any complaints from school about him. But last year something happened in school, and he is not the same anymore. A student of class VII in a prestigious school in NCR, his parents thought, their son was quite set and just a couple of years more and then they would be relieved of the school years forever. But they were unaware of the storm brewing inside Mustansir’s mind.
One day his mother got a call from the school, that he wasn’t feeling well, and she should pick him up from school. Mustansir cried on the phone and begged her to take him back, as something bad had happened with him. His teacher and friends had failed him. The parents did not realize the seriousness of the situation.
They decided to let Mustansir fend for himself, they didn’t believe in mollycoddling and wanted their son to become strong. Feeling let down by parents, friends, and teachers, Mustansir decided to commit suicide once he got back home. And he wrote the same in his computer class. It was then that everyone realized something had gone wrong. But it was too late. The once lively child stopped smiling altogether. He had lost trust in the teachers, classmates and even his parents. He was bullied. And no one understood how he felt. Not even his parents.
My friend and her husband later found out that he had been ridiculed by his teacher for getting less marks in an exam. He was scolded in front of everyone, classmates scoffed at him. After class, he became the center of jokes from even closest classmates. This bullying in school was the first time for him. He was lost. He couldn’t handle it. And to top it, his parents did not realize he had been bullied at school!
Mustansir is at home now. He quit school and doesn’t want to go back anymore.
His world now is his room. His mother spends most of her time with him at home. She has stopped going out too. Her heart broke when her son lost his trust in her. Her eyes well up whenever she narrates what happened with him. There is both concern and guilt. Though things are improving with time she says, there is a long way to go. Bullying in schools needs to be addressed. She had almost lost her son to it.
How Did they Bring Mustansir Out of His Depression?
Mustansir was taken for counseling. They stopped sending him to school. The Vice-Principal of his school was helpful. She helped with the child psychologists’ part. Both the parents started spending most of their time with him. Since his father is out on official trips most of the time, she took it upon her self to be by her son’s side. Though Mustansir hasn’t started trusting her back completely, she is hopeful.
I ask her, what does she suggest to stop bullying at school. Here is what she thinks should be done. Be more sensitive: She says teachers need to be more sensitive. They are like Gods for most of the students. Reprimanding or ridiculing them for anything in front of the classmates amounts to bullying. Labeling a child or passing judgment about him, can leave an indelible mark. Even if they are doing it for the child’s sake, it is not right. They can talk to the child separately.
1. Look Out for Signs
As parents and teachers, you cannot be indulging the child all the time. A little bit of sternness is required. But watch out for any untoward change in the child’s personality. Since the teachers at school and parents at home deal with the child closely, they will be able to grasp any behavioral change.
2. Keep the Communication Open
Don’t brush off the child’s complaint. Listen, find out the reason and then try to set things right for the child. Teachers and parents need to work together on keeping the communication open and as transparent as possible. Bullying in school needs to be handled collectively.
3. Be Realistic and Reasonable when Setting Rules
This applies to both parents and teachers. Kids are kids after all. Rules are meant to keep children away from harm. But if the effect is otherwise, then rethink about them. Also, don’t expect kids to behave like adults.
Mustansir has a long way to go before his life turns back to normalcy. I wish his heart heals faster and he can love and trust like before. And I hope that this horror of bullying at school becomes a forgotten and closed chapter in his life soon.
So, apparently, there is National Bullying Helpline set up everywhere, except in India. Isn’t that strange?
By Tasneem Dhinojwala