Bullying recently hit the headlines in the Malaysian press.
Is it such a terrible country given that this inhumane and brutal behaviour that goes on in 402 schools? Not at all. Bullying is as old as life itself and it happens anywhere there is a group of individuals coming together to create new order. It happens anytime the physically bigger character oppresses the weaker one by intimidation. We see it in the animal kingdom. And shockingly, we also see it in the home.
We cannot insulate our children from bullying anymore than we can insulate them from racism and other less-than-acceptable practices of our society. What we can do as parents is to build their defences against the wrong, protect them, and teach them to make the right choices.
A year after my last child was born, I suffered cancer for the first time. I had to give up my high-paying job, and as I was the main breadwinner, we had to give up our beautiful home and beautiful life in Knightsbridge. My second son Kit lived with my in-laws in South East London and would take the train to a new school in Maidstone. He was 12, and it was a difficult age for a London boy who looked Asian to settle into a provincial school where the students had come up together from primary. Maidstone was also a predominately white-collared, white town.
The verbal bullying did not bother Kit much, because he had such a lovely life at home. School was just a small part of his day. His grandparents doted on him. His grandfather was always waiting for him to come home from school to do something fun together, be it computer games, watching a programme on TV, go to the shops, visit friends and spending lots of time with his father. Life was good, and pathetic little creatures did not take away Kit’s shine.
The words of the bullies never hurt him. But one day, Kit was accosted on the bus by a group of boys because he refused to give them what they demanded: a conker. It was just an excuse to start a fight. My son fought them and came off badly, one against so many.
I wasn’t told about that incident until much later, when it had been resolved, because his father took the decision not to worry me (I would have been demented with worry and rage).
Instead, his father taught him to face up to his bullies. Kit got on the same bus the next day and looked at the boys who beat him up the day before straight in the eye (knowing that his father was following the bus in his car). The bullies never troubled him again, because fundamentally, all bullies are cowards who pick on easy targets.
This was a lesson my children’s father learned when he was a boy. He was forced to join the sea cadets by his mother, and had to wear a cute sailor uniform. The bus that took him from the sea cadet meetings passed through rough parts of town, and he was picked on by the tough guys. And it was from these skirmishes that he learned to face bullies down is the only way, rather than running away.
Thus, the most important thing is TALK TO YOUR CHILD. Make him feel safe at home. Remember, bullying is often sustained, over time. If you are close to your child, you will be know very soon that something is wrong. Therefore, always stay close to your child.
My late mother-in-law used to say, so long as your spirit is not broken, you will be fine. You are ten feet tall with an armour of steel when you have your family behind you all the way. Wise words. Her son’s physical bruises have healed with no lasting damage (and my son’s too).
Thus, defence against bullying is about the love in the home, not avoidance. Love your children, and never be the bully at home.
Main photo: my children’s father and my youngest son, Jack.