Speak up for the voiceless: we must put an end to bullying in schools, workplaces
The case of a child in Australia and a TV presenter in the UK have started conversations to tackle all forms of bullying
A mother's love for her child is one of the most potent forces in nature. Last week, Yarraka Bayles posted a video of her 9-year-old son, Quaden, distraught after yet another "freaking" day of being bullied at school. The footage shows the bullied schoolboy crying his heart out while voicing ideas about harming himself. Posting this video was a mother's sincere and desperate cry for help.
The clip has been viewed more than 16 million times and offers of support for Quaden have flooded in from around the world.
A similar case was recently reported in the UAE too. A video of a young girl being bullied at her school in Dubai was posted on the internet. After viewing the clip, a concerned schoolgirl, Jawaher Wejdan, bravely sent the footage on to the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, declaring that she always wants to "speak up for the voiceless". The bullies were later identified and removed from the school.
These, however, are just two instances where concerned citizens and the power of social media helped bring about potentially useful outcomes. But more often than not, bullying goes unreported and unresolved. How many children like Quaden cry themselves to sleep harbouring ideas of self-injurious behaviour? A study by Unicef, including more than 100,000 participants across 18 nations, reported that two-thirds of schoolchildren had been victims of some form of bullying.
After Flack's death, the British Government have called for social media to help prevent bullying
We are in the midst of a global mental health crisis, and being bullied during childhood is a key contributor to this sorry state. Childhood victimisation experiences such as bullying have a direct relationship with the development of severe mental health problems. A study published in Schizophrenia Bulletin, suggests that the strength of this association is in the same ballpark as the link between smoking and lung cancer.
Unfortunately, bullying doesn’t stop in the schoolyard. Earlier this month, Caroline Flack, presenter on the popular TV show, Love Island, took her own life. The British tabloid press has been heavily criticised in this case, over its relentless negative and, at times, cruel coverage of Ms Flack's personal life.
In many ways, this is similar to the hounding that the late Princess Diana experienced, and the more recent harassment of the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle. Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, described his wife's treatment by sections of the British media as "bullying". He went on to say: "We won't and can't believe in a world where there is no accountability for this."
After Flack's death, the British Government have called for social media to help prevent bullying. Members of the business community have asked businesses to rethink advertising in certain British tabloids. Flack's suicide has also prompted several hair salons across the UK to launch a systematic boycott of "toxic" celebrity-gossip magazines.
In the world of sport too, cases are on the rise of players being bullied, racially taunted and abused by supporters.
Last week, the Porto striker, Moussa Marega, left the pitch after a large section of the opposing team's (Vitoria de Guimaraes) fans began chanting racist abuse. Despite the support of his teammates, it was just too much for the French-born Malian striker who eventually left the pitch, in his own words, hurt and humiliated. Players across Europe routinely experience similar harassment.
Beyond sporting stars and celebrities, though, the regular world of work also has its share of bullying. Workplace bullying is a rising issue and it undermines the significant efforts made towards promoting workplace well-being.
We can have an office space to rival Google's, with a gym, games room and beanbags galore, but if we are bullied at work, all those perks are worthless.
Research in the US suggests that workplace bullying is on the rise. A survey by Monster.com run in 2008, and again 2019 reported an increase of 19 per cent in the rate at which employees were affected as either the target or witness of workplace bullying.
The incidents were already high back in 2008, with 75 per cent of employees affected. However, by 2019, ninety-four per cent of the 2081 employees surveyed reported having been bullied in the workplace.
The most frequent source of bullying in 2008 and 2019 were managers, with bullying most commonly taking the form of aggressive emails, being shouted at, and harmful gossip. The UK's Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, a body that regularly receives calls about bullying and harassment in the workplace, reports similar data.
We need more kindness in schools, media, sports fields and workplaces. Beyond zero tolerance for bullying, we also need to promote compassion and concern for the well-being of others. If we can't be kind, we might at least be curious as to why not? And if we can't be positive towards others, we might do well to follow the Arabic adage: “Say something good, or remain silent".
Justin Thomas is a psychology professor at Zayed University
Updated: February 23, 2020 07:45 PM