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"Bullies broke my son"​- Bullying in teens.

TW- mentioning of suicide

"Bullying broke my son" I read the headline. The read for this metro ride home was an article about Arvey a 15-year-old kid's death by suicide. A queer kid, a student of DPS Faridabad, and much like a lot of queer people; a victim of bullying. The article was a triggering read, the kind of adversity he went through and the insensitivity school authorities exhibited. This was a cherry on top of the exhaustion I had after a long week. I got off at the next interchange station and was dragging myself to the other platform. That's when I saw him, proudly stomping down the flight of stairs, one of the bullies from high school. We exchanged a knowing glance and something within me just dropped at that moment. I experienced a wave of anxiety that slowly pulled me into a series of flashbacks from way back. This is one example of what it feels like to be a survivor of bullying.

Instances of bullying are way more common than one might think. Before we get into that, let's first establish what bullying actually is. According to the American Psychological Association (APA) bullying is an aggressive, persistent threatening, or verbal abuse directed towards other people especially those who are younger, weaker, or in a relatively disadvantaged situation. The statistics around bullying are alarming. According to a report published in the Times of India over 40% of Indian students till 8th standard has reported being victims of bullying. (TOI,2018)

(image credits- republicworld)

As I boarded the metro home post-encounter, I took a trip down memory lane. I recalled the time I finally mustered up the courage to walk up to the authorities and how upon being pulled up, the bullies had intended it to be a joke. This is one of the most rampant ways bullying is cladded and normalized; a “harmless joke”. However, empirical data suggests the opposite. It has been established that victims of bullying face grave mental health issues. Anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem are quite common and in some cases, there have been reports of psychosis, self-harm, and even suicide. Evidently, bullying is not as harmless nor is it as funny as it is normalized to be. More often than not, the victims of bullying are not able to speak up against or even talk to anyone about it. Hence, it becomes all the more imperative to be wary as a caregiver, parent, educator, or school staff.

Here are a few signs that I wish parents, caretakers, and educators noticed in time:

  • A sudden change in behavior without any noticeable reason (appearing more reserved or sad or more irritable,)

  • A sudden drop in scholastic and co-curricular performance or attendance.

  • Coming up with new reasons to not attend school.

  • Coming back home with a damaged, missing, or torn book, bag, etc.

  • Visible signs of physical violence (cuts, bruises, scratches, etc)

  • Troubled sleep and/or nightmares

  • Experiences a loss of appetite

  • Appears anxious and suffers from low self-esteem and self-confidence.

(image credits- Huffpost)

If you notice some or all of these signs in your kid it might be the time to talk to them about it. However, if you directly ask your teen (“are you getting bullied”) it may backfire. Here are a few subtle ways around it:

  • “I see that you haven’t been eating, is there anything that has been bothering you?”

  • “With whom do you chill these days during free slots ?”

  • “I recently came across this article on school troubles, it was a good read. What are your thoughts around…”

  • “There’s this person at work and we don't get along well. Do you have someone at your school you don’t get along with?”

(image credit- ubitto)

As I reached the station I had to deboard at, it occurred to me, we can’t just keep focusing on the victims. If we have to address an issue we have to look at both, the cause and the effects. The real problem is the perpetrator rather than the victim. If it is important for parents to know the signs of their kid being bullied, parents must also know if their kid is bullying others. On my walk back home from the metro station, I obsessively read about school bullies. Here are a few signs I found to be common:

  • Displays hostile aggression; tries to be dominating, hits younger siblings (feeling frustrated and angry is okay but aggression isn’t).

  • Preoccupied with exclusiveness and popularity; marginalizes other groups

  • Blames others

  • Has a predominantly aggressive group of friends

  • Observes a family member excluding or hurting others; if they see it at home chances are high that the kid would recreate the response in school and elsewhere.

As I came across these facts, the followup question was why? Why would a kid indulge in bullying? And this time, academicians came to the rescue. The very next day I approached one of my faculties who taught us the basics of school counseling. These are a few reasons she emphasized on:

  • The child wants to fit in with a group of friends who are picking on one classmate.

  • They are getting bullied at home or at school, and are trying to regain a sense of power by acting aggressively toward others.

  • They are looking for attention from teachers, parents, or classmates, and haven't been successful getting it other ways.

  • They are by nature more assertive and impulsive than their peers.

  • They have a tendency to perceive the behavior of other kids as hostile, even when it is not.

  • They are not able to completely grasp how their behavior is making the victim feel. This is particularly true of younger kids.

(image credit- kids health)

With that being established a parent would be left wondering if my kid is bullying others, how do I go about it? And no, punishment is not the solution. On the contrary, it would only make things worse. The best way to go about it is to talk to them. Be open to hearing them out and addressing the issue head-on. Having this conversation would equip you to take calculated steps to come up with a long-term solution. These steps may include sensitizing them and drawing clear expectations in terms of the kind of behavior that you expect from them. You may also want to reflect on yourself to rectify any biases. It's good to check in with yourself from time to time; has my behavior been ideal?

Arvey's death echoes the failure of the conversations and laws around bullying. The need to improve our approach towards bullying is underscored by the many Arvey (s) that are sacrificed. Stories around bullying are just too numerous to pass.

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