School bullying may not seem that big a problem – after all, children are children, and any adults’ attempts at controlling and organizing their inner hierarchies are most likely doomed to failure. The main problem is that children almost universally, no matter what school we are talking about, in what country, following which legislature, belong to something that can be called another plane of existence – at least they perceive it this way.
When at school, there are two sets of relationships at work: the one among children and the other between children and adults. Grown-ups are perceived as foreigners, as unwanted intruders in their world, their attempts at finding something out and influencing the inner workings of their world are treated with suspicion, derision and, sometimes, outright hostility.
This is the main problem in dealing with bullying: spotting it may turn out the hardest part of the equation. Children often perceive bullying as their internal, personal problem and are very reluctant to ask adults, both teachers and their own parents, for help and advice. The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that most adults find it easier that way as well, for no matter how many anti-bullying policies schools and governments introduce, bullying remains elusive, and most adults have only a very vague understanding of what they are supposed to and can do about it.
Which is a shame, for bullying is very far from being a harmless horseplay though it is often depicted like that. Bullies sometimes terrorize their victims for years through anything ranging from stealing to verbal and physical abuse or public humiliation. As a result, it may lead to all kinds of psychological and emotional traumas, leaving deep scars that can run through the person’s entire life, ruining his or her chances in future and, in extreme cases, leading to murder or suicide. In other words, bullying is anything but harmless – it is this tendency to overlook and ignore it, to treat it as a fact of life that has always been and is never going anywhere that keeps bullying alive and thriving.
So how does one spot bullying? There are numerous telltale signs – and if we look out for them, we will be able to notice them and make the job of bullies harder. Injuries a child has trouble to explain, lost or damaged clothing or other personal things, inexplicably declining grades, school skipping (especially if previously the child was always eager to go to school), changes in eating and sleeping habits, unsociability. Self-harm, running away from home and suicide attempts also count, of course, but when it comes to this it already becomes clear that something is very wrong – which means that it is small things that adults should look out for.
But first of all we all should understand one thing and make children understand it: bullying is a serious problem. It is not a matter children should sort out among themselves. They should get used to the idea of asking the adults for help, for reporting bullying when they see it done to others. Otherwise the situation is never going to change.