Bullying in the Bahamas

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Crime in general seems to be rising in the Bahamas, and people there believe bullying in the Bahamas is one reason that could increase crime. News reports say there is more crime and more bullying.  There are several programs around the country, and there is a push to get a comprehensive law, as well as a cyberbullying law, in place to deal with the problem. Physical bullying as well as cyberbullying – the use of social media – is getting more attention on the islands. There seems to be more programs springing up with bullying information available on how to handle bullying. Stories and examples abound about the state of affairs, but there seems to be more activity to prevent and solve the problem as well.

The Problem

In 2012 the Anti-Drug Secretariat of the Ministry of National Security in the Bahamas produced bullying statistics that showed 26 percent of boys and 17 percent of girls in high school had been physically bullied. The numbers came from a university study in which   2,634 students in 44 high schools had been interviewed.  The writer of the article perhaps rightly points out this does not include those that have been verbally bullied, nor does it take into account those fearful of speaking out. Some estimate those numbers to be much higher.

A similar study in 2011 showed the statistics on bullying in the Bahamas of those who have been bullied at least once at 43 percent. The same organization compared numbers to 2008, and said in spite of programs to curtail high school bullying, the numbers had not declined much. The surveys by the National Anti Drug Secretairat, linked drug abuse and crime to bullying, and called for creation and enforcement of programmes to deal with the problems. Middle school bullying seems to be a problem in many areas but it is high school bullying that gets the most attention in the Bahamas. The article called for a nobullying policy as well. Raising bulling awareness, and finding ways to stop bullying are the goals of many of these programs. They feel to prevent bullying one must raise awareness.

Definitions

It is not hard to define bullying in the Bahamas, or anywhere in the world as the same definition fits. In general. The types of bullying in the Bahamas are basically verbal, physical or over the Internet. it is belittling or abusing another person who is weaker, whether that weakness is real or imagined.  Most often it is teasing, calling names or otherwise saying hurtful things. This can be because someone is just different, or appears weak. It can also be based on religion, gender, sexual orientation or race. Sometimes people are ignored or excluded by groups as a means of bullying. Having property destroyed or stolen is also a possibility. Finally bullying can end up as physical violence, and all the other steps lead to that violence. These characteristics of a bully seem universal, and experts say resources are needed, Primary bullying begins in childhood, and increasing bullying awareness seems to be a great start in how to stop the problem.

The Internet

With the advent of the Internet cyberbullying has also become an issue. Facebook bullying is a common means of internet bullying. Facts about cyberbullying are emerging as it is a new thing in the Bahamas. Text messages, emails, and Snapchat are other forms of cyberbullying.

The Bahama government website gives several tips and ways to handle Cyberbullying. It notes that it is a new phenomena, and one big difference here is that girls are just as often as boys to be bullies. Girls are more likely to be involved, either as victims or bullies, online than boys are.  In regular school yard bullying it is usually more boys than girls that are the culprits. The history of bullying has changed with the Internet and the effects of that are still being discovered. Cyberbullying laws still do not exist in the Bahamas.

Impact on society

While bullying may be seen as kids just being kids to some, there does appear to be long term effects in many people. A study done by Kings College in London, UK, followed 7,700 students from adolescence through adulthood over about 40 years. Their research showed people who had suffered from bullying had poorer physical and mental health, and had less cognitive function at age 50. These people were more likely to be unemployed, make less money and have trouble maintaining healthy relationships.

“We need to move away from any perception that bullying is just an inevitable part of growing-up. Teachers, parents and policy-makers should be aware that what happens in the school playground can have long-term repercussions for children,”  Professor Louise Arseneault, senior author said in quotes about bullying facts.

Controversy

There are a lot of opinions and theories about what causes bullying in the Bahamas. Often bullies have been bullied, and that is one reason. Another thought is that they are trying to win approval. A UNICEF study and “toolbox” designed to “protect children from all forms of school violence,” suggests that even corporal punishment can lead to bullying.

The study notes the Bahamas has a law against physical punishment outside the home – but still allowed it at times  inside schools, and the Bahamas has no laws against either physical or verbal bullying.  The UNICEF report alleges that if teachers in a position of authority are allowed to physically punish students, it basically condones the idea that violence is acceptable. While it is a political piece, it is still an attempt on how to deal with bullying.

Shame

Often bullying in the Bahamas happens in the teen years of a person’s life, when they are finding their place in the world. They may be ashamed to tell anyone, or feel powerless to stop what is happening. The Crisis Center of the Bahamas recommends parents and teachers watch for tell-take signs that a child is being bullied and intervene if possible. One of the best ways to handle bullying is for an adult to empower the bullied person. Here are some signs to look for.

  • When clothes or property is damaged to stolen, or children have unexplained bruises or scratches.
  • Start having trouble with homework, or a big change in this area.
  • Using different routes to school, or finding excuses to stay out of school.
  • Nightmares.
  • Becoming irritable, easily upset or emotional
  • Withdrawing or avoiding social activities

Sylvana Giachero, a psychologist in Uruguay who does conferences in Latin America and the Caribbean, says the most important thing with these signs is to see a change in behavior. Any of these things can happen once or twice and not mean anything. If you see a sharp or sudden change, and it seems to be a developing pattern, that is when you should be concerned. She recommends parents talk to children and then to their teachers. Teachers of course should be watching for the same patterns of behavior. Giachero has also lectured at many universities, as well as given her presentations on the local level.

The Bahaman government health website also says children can get involved in helping victims of bullies. It says children should speak up for victims, and report what they see to parents or trusted adults. Reporting it is hard for children, as no one likes a snitch, but if it is done enough, it will help, the report says. Sibling bullying can also be a problem, and if bullying signs are not caught, it can even be hidden from parents.

The bully

There is also the question of why people bully, or why do they adopt this aggressive behavior.  What is a bully? Traditional wisdom was that it was a lack of security, but many now think it is to win the approval and standing among one’s peers. While many have offered suggestions to help spot a child who is being bulled, Bahama-Health magazine lists things to watch for to spot a bully. Some signs or characteristics of a child being a bully include:

  • Violent behavior, physical and verbal fights with others often
  • Gets in trouble at school often
  • Has money or new items that cannot be explained.
  • Blames others and refuses to take responsibility
  • Has friends who are bullies
  • Has a great need to be the best, beyond normal competitiveness.

Again, it should be patterns that are observed. Any of these things can happen as an isolated incident with a reason all its own. If parents see this happening with their child, they should talk with the child and perhaps get counseling.

Dealing with bullies

Bullies do what they do to make themselves feel better, and to make their victims feel worse. If they do not get the reaction they want, most of the time they will quit their behavior. The Nassau Guardian newspaper gives several tips for dealing with bullies. It says to realize what type of bully you are dealing with, as some are verbal and some are physical. Knowing this can help you mount a defense. It suggests you avoid the bully as much as possible. It also suggests not showing any reaction to what the bully says or does. It also recommends reporting bullies to parents or teachers.

Adults

Bullying does not stop with childhood. If the problem is not addressed early on, the person will stay a bully all his life. Also, victims will usually remain victims until they develop coping skills and bullying cases will continue. Workplace bullying, or office bullying is common for adults just as it is for children. Often at work bullying can threaten one’s job or livelyhood, so there is more at stake in these cases.

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