New bullies waiting in cyberspace


Have you ever met a bully? Sure you have! We all still remember the ones we first encountered at primary school; and if we weren’t victims ourselves, someone we each knew was.

And since we all became adults we have come across our former intimidators and persecutors –– some having gone through a metamorphosis to become pristine examples of a good citizen, others yet remaining as brash, forbidding and terrifying as they ever were, with a select ring within this latter group having now made a fine art of browbeating and hectoring.

Some of us recall our mothers and grandmothers smothering us with love, comfort and consolation after an encounter with these juvenile terrorists. They were the angels of the devil, we were told; to be kept far from, for our own safety, and because they were cursed.

Today, some scientists suggest our tormentors may have been suffering with some form of mental disorder.

Analyzing data on children ages six to 17, included in the 2007 United States National Survey Of Children’s Health, researchers found that more than 15 per cent were identified as bullies by a parent or guardian, and that children with mental health disorders were three times more likely than their peers to bully others. The researchers, who also focused on the link between specific mental health disorders and bullying, concluded that depression was associated with a three-fold increased risk of being a bully, while a diagnosis of oppositional defiant disorder increased the risk six times.

“These findings highlight the importance of providing psychological support not only to victims of bullying, but to bullies as well,” advised study author Dr Frances Turcotte-Benedict, of Brown University and a fellow at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island.

She added that to create successful anti-bullying prevention and intervention programmes, there was a definite need for more research to understand the relationship more thoroughly, especially, the risk profile of childhood bullies. Bullying was defined as “repetitive aggression involving a difference of power between the victim and perpetrator or intimidator”.

And, a United States nationwide survey in 2011 found that 20 per cent of American high school students had been bullied during the preceding 12 months, many a victim of the bullying becoming quite traumatized. It is not unknown that the bullied are at great risk of mental health illness and, on occasion, of suicide; but the study’s conclusion that the bullies themselves need to have their mental health status assessed “as a matter of urgency” is reasonably new –– for all the devil’s imps they were portrayed to be a long time ago by the grandparents of the victimized.

Quite recently we have been hearing of the anti-bullying programme of the Supreme Counselling for Personal Development, hopefully, to reduce the incidence of juvenile intimidation in Barbadian schools and, as the organization’s chief executive officer Shawn Clarke suggested, across the country as a whole.

We recall Mr Clarke’s youth-based charitable organization just last year releasing its own findings from a survey on The Prevalence Of Bullying In Secondary Schools In Barbados, carried out in nine secondary schools with a representative sample of 1,121 respondents –– a report on which was delivered to the Ministry of Education and the said schools taking part in the questionnaire.

The Barbadian survey determined that bullying was not only carried out physically, but through other forms that were verbal, racial, sexual and exclusionary; and the wilful damaging of personal property and the spreading of ill rumours were not exempt. The report revealed that the bullying could take place in the presence of teachers, in some cases, and could persist even when teachers themselves and parents attempted to intervene.

The disturbing report even showed that although some teachers –– and older students –– wanted to go to the aid of those being bullied, they were reluctant for fear of being bullied themselves.

Maybe, Mr Clarke’s Project Rescue for at-risk children at secondary school is working admirably quietly right now, which possibilty we should all embrace, but we would be the happier if the public at large could be apprised of the latest development, with concrete evidence of its growing success. For we now have a new form of bullying with us –– through cyberspace. Regrettably, unconscionable adults are even among the perpetrators. But the fallout nonetheless has been dire.

Not so long ago a 12-year-old girl in the United States committed suicide because of cyberbullying by another 12-year-old and his mate, a 14-year-old. The boys were subsequently arrested and charged by the police. Of course, this cybercrime not only prematuredly snatched the life of a young girl, it most negatively impacted the lives of the three families involved and their communities at large –– and, only God knows, for many years yet.

The mobile phone, the accepted window to the world and to knowledge, has become a door to cyber-intimidation and death. Clearly, the fight against bullying is far from over. Mr Clarke and his Supreme Counselling for Personal Development project need all the help they can get –– from all of us!

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