x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Bullying on the rise among Emirati children

A recent workshop helped parents identify when their child was being bullied and how to deal with it.

DUBAI // Bullying among Emirati children is on the increase - especially in those age 7 and older.

It can take the form of physical attacks, damage to their belongings or even sexual abuse, according to the Community Development Authority (CDA).

"There is a clear rise in cases, though it is not clear if this is due to an actual increase in bullying or just more willingness to report these cases," said Fatima Mohammed Al Zaabi, the head of the social inclusion unit at the authority.

Ms Al Zaabi conducted a workshop last week during the Roads and Transport Authority's School Transport Conference to help parents identify when their child was being bullied and how to deal with it.

She believes the prevalence of mobile phones with video cameras could act as a catalyst to bullying.

"You can find many videos on YouTube that demonstrate incidents of bullying," she said. "The reason for these incidents is the attention the bully is receiving from the camera makes him want to be the centre of attention."

Showing a video of a small, thin child picking on a boy much larger than him, she said: "You can see here that the bully is picking on someone twice his size, just to be on camera. It is very clear that he keeps looking back at the camera and performing for an unseen audience."

Children who are bullied at school often go home with unexplained injuries, lost property or damage to clothing, books and other belongings. They might suddenly lose friends and avoid social events, and they can have lower self-esteem and depression. They might also lose interest in school, leading to falling grades, and start faking illnesses.

"Bullying can have lasting psychological effects on victims," said Ms Al Zaabi, with children ashamed to talk about being bullied to teachers or family.

"Building your child's self-confidence is the best way of preventing bullying," she said. "Parents must address this issue more seriously.

"Show your child continuous support in what they do. This will build their confidence and show that they have skills and abilities. Letting them participate in activities is very important - it builds social skills and independence."

Teaching a child how to handle an altercation is equally important, she said. Maintaining eye contact can have more of an effect than words, for example.

"What do you do when the victim and the bully are siblings?" asked a woman at the workshop. "Sometimes I can't tell if they are playing or fighting, or if the child who is complaining is the victim or just the first to complain."

"Give your children clear instructions, show them that certain actions will not be tolerated and punish them without hurting them," said Ms Al Zaabi, adding that in such cases, better supervision was needed.

At the workshop, Umm Abdulla asked how to approach the parent of a bully.

"Every parent will be protective of their child," said Ms Al Zaabi. "This is only natural but you must act calmly and try to have an intermediary, such as the school administrator, present.

"Make sure that it is clear that you are trying to help both children, and not attacking the bully."

In many cases, a bully is acting out because he is a victim, too.

"Bad parenting or being in abusive surroundings can lead a child to bully others. It is just as important to help the bully," said Ms Al Zaabi.

"Talking and showing forgiveness is the first step to interacting with the bully, then you need to try to teach them life skills such as forgiveness and apologising.

"They must also learn that strength and power comes with respect and responsibility, not by fear and abuse."

"This is a very important subject that, for many years, people have been ignoring," said Umm Mohammed, an Emirati mother of three who attended the workshop.

"I'm glad to see that the Government is addressing this and that there was a good turnout."

malkhan@thenational.ae