School is a space and an environment that is a significant part of the most important years of a person’s life, the stage which holds implications on all dimensions of development. Across all societies of the world, the importance of education and schooling has been realised and is being promoted through all means and to all extents.
A school is one of the first exposures a child receives as they step out of the limited and protective environment of their home. This exposure is not only in terms of education, knowledge and information but also peers, other mates, diverse perspectives, views and opinions. Our peers and the friends we make during our school hold immense significance in our lives, not just during the schooling years but in some cases throughout life.
Parents also send their children with the assurance that they will be adequately treated and taken care of. Schools should aim to be that safe space and environment which helps a child flourish and build efficiently in all possibilities.
However, there are different ways this flourishing experience can be compromised, and in turn, can have serious negative implications. One of the ways is the dreaded term “bullying”. Bullying is a dreaded scenario because it is sad to think what makes children indulge in such acts and what kind of a psyche makes them inflict such harm on others.
On the one hand, peers can be our companion; on the other hand, they can be the source of a child’s nightmares. Bullying is broadly defined as a desire to hurt and the execution of a harmful action. It is characterised by repetition and either a physical or a psychological power imbalance (Farrington, 1993, Rigby, 2002, Smith and Brain, 2000, Smith and Sharp, 1994). It may come in the form of verbal abuse, physical aggression or relational victimisation.
The first two forms of bullying have sometimes been called “direct bullying” as they include directly aggressive behaviour. Relational victimisation is the manipulation of peer relationships in order to exclude someone (Wolke, Woods, Bloomfield, & Karstadt, 2000). The last form of bullying can lead to isolation, loneliness and consequently serious negative outcomes, which may not be manifested physically but can be worse than that.
Cross-sectional research on the effects of bullying on psychological health has consistently found that bullied children exhibit poorer emotional adjustment in early to late adolescence, indicating an association but no direct causality (Alikasifoglu et al., 2007, Baldry, 2004). Hence, children who are bullied have a higher risk of depression and anxiety over the following school year (Bond, Carlin, Thomas, Rubin, & Patton, 2001).
Experiencing any type of bullying victimisation corresponds with higher levels of depression and suicide ideation for females and males. These effects can be coupled with lower levels of academic attainment, self-esteem and social functioning (Hawker & Boulton, 2000; Schwartz, Gorman, Nakamoto, & Toblin, 2005). Recent studies also suggest that bullying is related to sleep disturbances.
Moreover, on the other end, a study by Rivers et al. (2005) suggested that observing bullying at school predicted risks to mental health over and above that predicted for those students who were directly involved in bullying behaviour as either a perpetrator or a victim. Observing others was also found to predict higher risk irrespective of whether students were or were not victims themselves.
Additionally, cyberbullying cases are being reported in schools these days, and with the pervasive influence of social media, it is creeping into the lives of children and adolescents. Web series such as 13 Reasons Why have managed to spark a debate on the prevalent bullying of all forms among adolescents and the loss it can lead to.
Therefore, in conclusion, one of the immediate areas to intervene in the arena of school mental health is the detrimental impact of bullying and how not just to lessen but eradicate this practice from the school environments, and instead teach our children to be kind.