Many of us have faced bullying in some form or the other, at some point in our lives. It can happen randomly or regularly to anyone. Bullying – a menace that’s everywhere. It can occur anywhere, even in the best of schools, and leaves a scar on almost everyone involved, from the targets to witnesses—and sometimes even on the bullies themselves. It does not matter if you are a student, a teacher, a parent, or a professional, victims face different intensities of bullying depending on the age and form of the incident. Maximum cases, though, are reported among school students.

Various studies and reports from around the world term it as a staggering statistic; considering how bullying can affect a person’s overall wellbeing in the days and years that follow the episode. The most alarming side of this unhealthy practice is the inflated self-view of students carrying out bullying (termed as bullies) and the effects of this behaviour on people who are the targets (termed as victims). Victims often suffer from sleep issues, loss of self-esteem, anxiety, and depression; elevated emotional distress that can sometimes lead to severe health problems later. Bullies, in many cases, are prone to become antisocial or have adulthood troubles, with violent behaviour patterns and abuse becoming a significant part of their habits. Some of them may take to substance abuse as well. The increased dependence on gadgets and media has increased cyberbullying and cyber-attacks that have become a pervasive problem affecting students across the world and can slowly become a dangerous pandemic.

Schools often struggle to take a stand against bullying. Media coverage, the role of parents, internal politics, and the resolve of the management, all play a part in this dilemma.

It is time we found ways to redefine schools, work spaces, and homes to reduce this unhealthy practice. Unfortunately, teachers, many times fail to catch the first signs of bullying or to address it in time. The usual practice of letting go of a bullying attempt with dialogues such as kids will be kids, boys will be boys and such need to be shunned completely. The biggest message we must pass on to children is that no one can get away after a bullying incident, irrespective of the grade or intensity. Bullying can be of various types– mental, physical, emotional, psychological, cyber, verbal, and more. The most common one we see these days is children mocking people with disabilities or of a chosen gender. As much as we are becoming more inclusive in various spaces, children must first be taught the lesson of acceptance, to embrace and include people of different skin, ability, or gender into one fold, and to consider everyone as equal.

Teaching empathy, kindness and compassion are vital social skill sets. Social-emotional learning should be mandated in every classroom from primary grades to help develop these skill sets. Parallelly, schools should teach about personal boundaries and how to guard and respect them. Introducing children to diversities, conflicting ideas, and diverse cultures early on, help them understand the plethora of emotions. Knowing how to defend themselves without getting offended and without offending others leads to the growth of healthy relationships.

Creating better homes, schools, and work spaces that encourage building connections beyond color, caste, and personal belief systems are encouraged to nip bullying at a very young age. Students and teachers, parents and wards should foster a sense of community in their respective ecosystems. The sense of belonging and mutual respect reduces the urge to bully or see the other person as lesser or different.

Identifying gateway-behaviours is essential for every parent and teacher. Repeated behaviour patterns can signal the beginning of bullying nature in a child. Some of the key behaviour signs one should look out for are eye-rolling, prolonged staring, name-calling, ignoring or excluding intentionally, laughing at cruelly, spying, stalking, causing physical harm, pushing a person to cry to find sadistic pleasure, and such. Some of these may not be direct bullying behaviour, but if we can stop kids and make them understand the consequences at the first instance, we could mitigate the chances of it growing into problematic issues later.

Framing, forming, and implementing anti-bullying laws and practices in schools and strictly adhere to them backed by an anti-bullying legal framework helps immensely. It is vital to emphasize to stop bullying to protect students and teachers alike, as sometimes teachers also become targets of bullying attempts by children. Frequent awareness programs should be run among educators and children at periodic and regular intervals so that children are reminded of the repercussions if they commit one.

Schools must find ways to reduce this problem. This includes educating all teachers, staff, and administrators and making them aware of the different forms of abuse and bullying. The approach and strategy of the school should be such that teachers, staff, and students alike are taught ways to prevent bullying, about the consequences of bullying, and the legal ways to handle bullying. Unless we redesign and recreate spaces for expressions and talents without fear, we seldom will see healthy and competitive ecosystems around us. Nurture your child to hold and hug one another looking beyond differences and diversity.