By The Nation
School bullying doesn’t make headlines as much as political bullying. The story of an autistic child getting pushed around by fellow students won’t stay on the front page as long as a report about someone getting assaulted in an ideological argument.
What people tend to forget is the likelihood that what happens in school won’t stay in school – traumas suffered earlier in life help form the mindset and behaviour carried on throughout life. Thus a classroom incident can shape and harden political belief. And the school bully who demeans others is apt to maintain into adulthood the same cold aversion to empathy and understanding. We know of no specific evidence connecting youthful bullying to political aggression, but anecdotally they would appear linked.
The current social-media uproar over the cruel mistreatment of an autistic fourth-grader in Phayao has got the attention of the government. Adding to the concern is a survey by the Mental Health Department indicating that Thailand owns another dreadful world record – the highest incidence of school bullying.
Personalities are broadly shaped by what happens early in life. By the time a child reaches school age, any intolerance he has developed for others might be channelled into counterproductive competitiveness, mean aggression and even overt violence. Schools and parents will argue they are not teaching kids to be like that, but bad environments can be unintentionally created, and school bullying can occur because of issues being overlooked.
Schools can unwittingly promote discriminatory attitudes. Even the teacher might join in mocking students who can’t keep up with their lessons. Grading is regarded as a means to promote competitiveness, but it’s a system in which the line can easily be crossed, resulting in students being demeaned and disrespected. That in turn can leave the injured party stressed, depressed and angry. Abrupt disinterest in attending classes would be the milder outcome, suicidal tendencies the worst. Both bully and victim can develop social disorders and a greater chance of engaging in criminal activities.
The sensitive problem of school bullying can only be addressed through the joint efforts of everyone in society, led of course by teachers and parents. They’re the ones who have to make sure kids are nurtured with love and care, are seldom bored and are as shielded as possible from negative influences. School activities should encourage mutual trust, equality and participation.
Brawls between students from rival schools are primarily caused by peer pressure, misguided pride and the desire to show off, but individual students who bully classmates are demonstrating a fundamental lack of empathy. Envy and jealousy are natural elements of growing up, but most untoward incidents stemming from that are wholly preventable.
Children who learn at home from
bigoted parents that they are superior to others have to be gently reconditioned to see themselves as amicable equals. It’s easier to teach kids to be physically tough than to teach them to use their strength to help weaker peers, but we have to try. Children can be rebellious, but they have a way of absorbing what they see adults doing. School bullying is not caused by the urge to rebel. It’s a symptom that begins with minor, barely noticeable issues that feed on ignorance and complacency.