Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. – James Baldwin
An incident of alleged bullying resulted in the tragic death of a 12-year-old student in the past week. Our heartfelt condolences to the parents, family, friends and everyone who is grieving at this point. We aim to take a wider society-wide perspective at the underlying issues in today’s article.
Aggression starts early in childhood – when they start fighting over toys and sharing things and so on. However, a critical developmental milestone is that a child should learn how to control and master their anger and aggressive impulses early on. When they fail to do so, it may have lifelong negative consequences for the child, the family and society at large.
These consequences include crime, assault, and killing others. Indeed, it is estimated that every single day, 227 deaths occur from violence among young people below the age of 19 years. Nearly 2million violent deaths occur every year; with one intentional homicide occurring every 60 seconds. This is truly worrisome, especially as it pertains to our young ones. How does this come about?
Several factors influence a child, and the ecological theory of Bronfenbrenner explains this easily, as multiple layers of influence that shapes the growing child. At the heart of this model is the microsystem – comprising the home/family and school environments which is the foundational building block. It then progresses outwards to include external environmental factors such as societal values and practices, culture, laws etc.
‘Do you know who I am?’ ‘I will beat you’. ‘I will humiliate and destroy you’. Indeed, a former senator was allegedly reported to have threatened a female senator that he will beat and impregnate her (cue I will rape you) over a disagreement. ‘In this office, I will ensure you are finished’. Do this sound familiar? Do we not see the thread of violence linking them all?
Thus, there is a societal culture of aggressive behavior and bullying that cuts across every sphere of life: From the privacy of homes to the slums and rough streets, extending to the corporate world, the academia, and even the floor of the national assembly and political thuggery. It is ubiquitous. How then do we expect children reared in such environments not to grow up into bullies themselves, who justify might and use of force?
Indeed, there is an intergenerational cycle of violence whenchildren are exposed to intimate partner violence at home or have themselves being bullied in the past. They then perpetuate the cycle by also bullying others. And many others are secondarily influenced to begin to see it as the norm by seeing that it achieves desired objectives, and it carries no negative consequence.
How do we break the cycle?
Society-wide interventions: There must be zero tolerance for assault in the public space or within the private space in the form of intimate partner violence. vulnerable children must be protected in homes, schools and on our streets. No excuses.
Parents/Families: Teach your children not to settle disagreements or negative feelings with violence. Nurture them in a loving environment where they don’t see routine violence as a natural dispute resolution strategy. Monitor online presence and provide regular guidance and monitoring as well as check on them and their cycle of friends. Be very clear with them about what is acceptable behaviour and what is not…especially as they grow older. Encourage them to be self-confident and to speak up when things are not going well….either directly affecting them or that they observe happening to others. Bullies thrive on intimidating others and cowing them into silence. And then be there to support them consistently.
Schools: Adequate measures must be in place to prevent, identify early, and nip bullying and aggressive behaviours in the bud. Where can vulnerable children go for emotional support in our schools? Are teachers trained to provide psychological support? Do they understand developmental psychology of children and adolescents under their watch? Are their school mental health professionals in-school or on retainership to see children who may need professional evaluation and help? Do we wait for tragedies to occur before running helter skelter? Are school counsellors still in existence? Are they fit for purpose?
Media: Professional reporting and media scrutiny should ensure laser focus on all public figures who fall short of public civility. They should not be able to wave it away and allow their misdeeds to be forgotten.
Government/Regulatory Authorities/Law Enforcement Agencies: Standards must be upheld, and regulatory agencies should not look the other way. So many schools should be sealed off. That they remain in existence for years is an indictment of regulatory bodies. Law enforcement agents should learn civility and stop harassing citizens. Cases of assault – especially intimate partner violence should not be treated with levity and banter by the police.
Tribune Article for the column “Your Mental Health & You”
Thursday, 9th December 2021