One morning last week, I was going through my daily ritual of reading the international news headlines of the day, when a headline caught my eye. It was entitled “Impact of childhood bullying still evident after 40 years.” The article was about a long term research project done by King’s College London, UK, where a group of 7,771 individuals were studied from adolescence to adulthood to understand the effects of bullying. According to this study, members of the group who were bullied were more likely to have the following ramifications: poorer physical and psychological health and poorer cognitive functioning at age 50, be unemployed, earn less and lack good social support because they could not maintain a healthy relationship. Shocking? Maybe.
Bullying though not acceptable has become a social norm, commonly described as “a part of life.” As you are reading this blog now, there are probably behaviors that you have developed from as early as 7-10 years old (if you think really hard) to help manage times when you feel vulnerable due to having been bullied. In my personal experience, I’ve realized that teachers can help significantly. A child can sometimes be labeled as not a hard worker, apathetic, or not living up to their potential. While internally this same child is depressed, nervous or has created a defense mechanism so he/she is unnoticeable in the classroom due to fear of drawing unwanted attention to his/her self. As a result the child feels like a victim and is resentful, which then leads to aggression, depression and later in life a sense of entitlement because he/she feels that their education was taken away from them. How do we get out of breeding these “entitled” individuals in our communities? The characteristics of a bullied child need to be identified through a qualified assessment but one must also pick up on subtle cues early. In order to do this, we need high quality/qualified educators that are trained to identify characteristics of children who are victims of bullying. It’s not rocket science to understand the domino effect. Lack of education leads to lack of skills, lack of skills to lack of jobs, lack of jobs leads to finding less desirous ways to fulfill basic needs and then the vicious cycle of crime begins.
As The Bahamas’ current crime situation has reached what seems to be a catastrophic level. The approach the current Government has taken is that it is time to be proactive and not reactive. In 2012, a survey on violence and bullying was conducted in The Bahamas in 44 secondary private and public schools by the Anti-Drug Secretariat in the Ministry of National Security. Of the 2,634 students who participated, results showed that 26% of males and 17.2% of females reported being physically bullied. Of course, if you were to walk through a secondary school today you would realize that the number indicated is a minuscule comparison to what actually happens. Fear of being labeled a “snitch”, “cry baby” or the feeling of being embarrassed, especially in young males makes it almost impossible to be forthcoming about being bullied. Where is the outlet? Some individuals manage unscathed because they have a strong support system or excel at an extracurricular activity. More focus needs to be placed on the small group of children that lack social support systems. Teachers, instructors, and parents should be trained to identify the characteristics of a child who is being bullied, so that interventions can be recommended to address the needs of the child being bullied and so that bullying can be stopped.
Bullying is only one facet to the bigger picture of how to tackle crime. The research done by King’s College London on childhood bullying shows that there needs to not only be a long-term investment in preventing and identifying bullying, but also a collaborative effort towards educating communities in this facet of crime. Sensitizing children, instructors and parents of the effects of bullying should begin at the pre-school level, because it is not only what happens in the classroom that can be damaging to a child, but what happens outside the classroom that plays a crucial role in the cognitive development of a child. It starts early!
Childhood bullying with its rippling long lasting effects should be tackled as a facet of crime! Educating children, educators, and parents is THE solution! The common answer to the question of how to fix crime, lack of education and social skills in our country is that it must start in the home. Ok. We have the answer to the test. Why are we still failing?