Bullying tactics develop with modern technology
The recent reports of bullying both in the Western Cape and across the country are very disturbing.
Bullying and school safety in general are issues of great concern to me, and about which I exercise my mind regularly as to how best to address them. Respect for human dignity is one of the values enshrined in our constitution, and bullying is a denial of this.
Bullying behaviour is typically when a child or group of children misuse their power to hurt other children or exclude them.
There are the "traditional" types of bullying, namely physical abuse, verbal or written abuse and social abuse, such as when learners gossip about each other, exclude each other from a group or reveal personal information about a learner with the goal of humiliating them.
But bullying tactics have now also developed with modern technology, and now also include cyber-bullying. Cyber-bullying is the wilful, deliberate and repeated harm inflicted by using computers, cellphones, and other electronic devices.
More recently, the internet and the increased use of mobile devices has provided an arena for this type of bullying which includes name-calling and using social media platforms to send threatening messages, emails and viruses, hacking and posting one's picture or video on the internet without permission.
As recent news reports have shown, cases of cyber-bullying can spread fast and become viral in a matter of hours.
Any form of bullying can have dire consequences, and as schools, parents and educators, we have to respond accordingly and in a timeous manner.
In March this year we issued guidelines to all schools on social media and social networking in public schools and I would encourage all officials, principals, educators and SGB's to study these.
The guidelines are designed to create an awareness about some of the opportunities presented by social media for learners, educators, parents and schools within the learning environment, and address the potential benefits and risks associated with these tools, provides guidance on the use of social media between learners, learners and educators, as well as between a parent of a learner and an educator at a public school, and most importantly it assists public schools to develop their own policies in order to regulate the use of social media and social networking at these schools.
The guidelines can be found on the WCED website https:/wcedonline.westerncape.gov.za under "Circulars".
The WCED's also has a Safe Schools hotline that is available to schools, teachers, parents and learners to report all school crime and abuse, and aims to contribute to a safe and crime-free school environment. Learners, parents and teachers may phone our Safe Schools Call Centre for counselling and advice on 0800 45 46 47.
Children can also call Childline SA on 0800 055 555.
Parents are key to identifying behavioural changes in their children which could be as a result of being bullied. I therefore appeal to parents to keep an eye on their child's behaviour. If your child seems withdrawn or angry, investigate the reason for these changes and speak to the class teacher immediately if the matter is school related. Parents can contact the nearest District Office if they are not happy with the response of the school.
I also urge parents to be vigilant, keep the channels of communication with their children open and monitor their internet usage. Often a parent could be completely unaware that their child is a bully or is being bullied. There is help for both.
The WCED provides guidelines on the WCED website on how to deal with bullying. The guidelines cover types of bullying, the consequences of bullying, how to prevent bullying, support for victim and how to change the behaviour of bullies.
These guidelines can be found on the WCED website - https://www.westerncape.gov.za/general-publication/bullying-school
It is important to remember that the bully often comes from a background where there is insecurity, little parental involvement, and inconsistency in actions of parents. These learners are often subjected to physical punishment and emotional outbursts. Before formal counselling is necessary, the bully must come to the realisation that their behaviour is always going to have negative consequences until it changes.
It is crucial that the rights of learners are respected and protected and that learning environments are created where learners can, free from abuse, make full use of their learning opportunities.