x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Bullying is still a persistent and difficult problem

In the battle against bullying in the schoolyard or on the web, awareness is key

The despair youngsters feel when bullied by peers, either online or at school, is often noticed by teachers and parents much later.
The despair youngsters feel when bullied by peers, either online or at school, is often noticed by teachers and parents much later.

Bullying in schools is a serious problem. Statistics published by the OECD in a report on student well-being revealed that more than one in four 15-year-olds in the UAE reported being bullied “at least a few times a month”. The effects of bullying can vary from a decline in academic performance to dramatic changes in personal habits and withdrawal from family life or social groups. Victims often talk about the long-term emotional, social and mental effects that have followed them into adulthood.

Campaigns launched by the Ministry of Education have encouraged victims to speak up instead of suffering in silence. Some schools in the UAE have already taken the initiative of recruiting school-based psychologists, social workers and counsellors, to help educators and parents support and empower children who may have been exposed to bullying. But the problem is no longer limited to the schoolyard, since technology, in the form of smartphones, has opened the gates to online interactions. The rise of cyberbullying presents new challenges.

In short, bullying presents enormous difficulties for pupils, parents, teachers and educators. One expert told The National that the fact that one in four students had been bullied showed that schools needed to do more, while also admitting that schools are often understaffed and overstretched. There is, of course, one small crumb of comfort in all of this. Bullies rely on their victims staying silent. The very fact that pupils here are prepared to talk about what is going on suggests the taboo is being broken and that eventually the tide can be turned.