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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 October 2018

We should work as a community to tackle the problem of bullying

Eradicating bullying requires the efforts of all in society – and the asking of some difficult questions, writes Fatema Al-Thawadi
Bullying can negatively affect even those who only witness it
Bullying can negatively affect even those who only witness it

Imagine your child being afraid to walk in the hallways at school every day. Or even more shocking, imagine that your daughter or son is a bully who seeks out another child and pushes him or her around on a repeated basis. Acknowledging that either your child is being bullied or that he or she is the bully and lacks empathy for others is hard for any parent.

Imagine further what each party in bullying looks like. Take a second to think about what a bully feels like and what his or her home life might be like. What do their victims look like and how much pain and suffering do they experience each day?

Bullying is pervasive and occurs with more frequency in the UAE than in several other countries. Abu Dhabi Education Council reports that 60 per cent of teenage boys are victims of bullying in the capital. This is somewhat higher than in the US (50 per cent) and almost three times that in China (21 per cent).

What is bullying? A widely-accepted definition is that “a person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself”.

One key element of bullying is that the behaviour is intentional and intended to harm. Bullying also implies that there is an imbalance of power or strength in the relationship. ­Finally, bullying is not an isolated incident: it is behaviour that happens again and again over a period of time.

There are different kinds of bullying. It can be verbal, physical or non-verbal. A more recent phenomenon, cyberbullying or online bullying, takes place via email, social media or elsewhere over the internet.

In the past, when the school day was over, the victim could go home and escape his or her bully. With cyberbullying, children are now being victimised online. So in effect, schoolhouse bullying has now invaded children’s homes and other personal spaces.

It may surprise you to learn that both parties of bullying actually need help and support. Dr Young Shin Kim, professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, points out that stopping bullying is not a child’s responsibility. It’s our responsibility as adults to create anti-bullying environments in which children agree to speak out if they experience or witness bullying. In a lecture titled Bullying Experience in Youth: Nature and Intervention, one of a series of talks organised by the Sheikha Salama Bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation in Abu Dhabi, Dr Kim presented research showing that even bystanders – the children who witness bullying – can be negatively affected by it. She went on to express the importance of each of us taking steps to stop bullying whenever possible.

Schools should implement anti-bullying training programmes for all staff, parents and students. Teachers should establish anti-bullying rules in their classrooms. Parents should regularly talk about school life with their children and teach them how not to be a bully and how to speak up if they are bullied or see others being bullied.

It is the responsibility of parents, teachers, social workers, health care workers and other key adults in children’s lives to ensure that both parties of bullying receive help and on-going support. Parents, with the assistance of social workers and child psychiatrists, must help the victims of bullying to increase their self-esteem and express their feelings. And the bully must be taught how to seek attention in positive ways and to communicate more effectively.

The entire UAE needs to be aware of the prevalence of bullying, understand how to detect it and be prepared to take steps to eradicate it.

Fatema Al-Thawadi is a childcare supervisor and the author of two children’s books: Journey in the Desert and Khalid and the Nursery. She is also a fellow of the Shamsa bint Mohamed Al Nahyan Early Childhood Development programme, a project of the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation and Yale University