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Are schools in Dubai helping victims of bullying to speak up?

Summary: Dubai Police has introduced 'special patrols' around schools, encouraging pupils to look at 'policemen' as a support system.

Sarwat Nasir

Victims often find it difficult to tell someone about the incident as they may feel embarrassed or ashamed it is happening to them.

About two weeks ago, an innocent 13-year-old boy was stabbed to death by a teenager student in Dubai. He was playing with his bicycle near his house, when a group of youngsters attacked him, as reported by Khaleej Times earlier.

Even though such incidents are rare in Dubai, especially among students, this specific tragedy raised several concerns among parents about "are our children safe?" or "are our children being bullied?".

Khaleej Times had also reported several stories in the past, where students revealed how they were physically assaulted by bullies. One incident was where Australian expat Natalia Siam, 10-year-old at the time, was pushed down a flight of stairs by her bullies, causing her to fracture her leg and put her in a wheelchair for six months. Another tragic incident was when Emirati student Majid Abdalla Salim Almheiri was attacked by a group of bullies for being half Filipino. They cut his wrist and called him "dirty blood".

About one and a half week after the stabbing of the 13-year-old, the Dubai Police introduced 'special patrols' around schools, encouraging pupils to look at 'policemen' as a support system, instead of being afraid of them. But are schools doing enough to spot a student that is being bullied? Can some bullying incidents go unreported to authority figures?

One school has eight counsellors

"Dubai has an integrated approach in dealing with any suspected cases of bullying, where all key stakeholders are informed and supported throughout the process. Our well-qualified team of eight counsellors spearhead the support process and they are reinforced by the pastoral care team. However, our most significant strategy in counter-acting bullying is through the embedding of the Approaches to Learning skills (ATLs) that are found at the heart of the IB programmes," according to Giles Pruett, deputy head of school at GEMS World Academy.

"Besides, the GEMS World Academy's Dubai pastoral leadership team engage students in learning through assemblies, advisory lessons, positive education and intervention programmes, such as the innovative use of student Peer Mentors. Our student leaders coach their peers in areas such as emotional intelligence and conflict resolution and this programme is recognised by the IB as one of the best in the world.

However, one Dubai teacher said even though schools may have certain programmes and counsellors put in place to ensure the wellbeing of students, some incidents may not come into light, as victims could be "too afraid" to speak up.

"I would say that around 60 per cent of bullying does not get reported to adults. Teens, especially children, are too afraid to approach an adult when he or she is getting bullied because they always feel they are at fault. Other times, they think they will be punished if they report it - punished by the adult and the bully again," the teacher said.

"In my class, I remember an incident where a group of students were picking on another student. She was a shy girl and didn't speak up to her bullies, but I could tell something was wrong. I think teachers need to be able to identify any kind of problem that may exist in his or her classroom and take the appropriate action."

Students seek anti-bullying programmes

Students should feel confident in reporting bullies to their parents and school authorities - this is the message from other UAE pupils to kids who may be victims of bullying.

Khaleej Times asked students how they would respond to bullying, and many responses encouraged victims not to feel guilty and report any incidents to authority figures.

One student, Himanshee Bhargava from GEMS Our Own English High School in Sharjah, said schools should organise more anti-bullying programmes to help with the issue.

"Although, I have never personally experienced 'bullying', it has become quite recurrent in and outside the school premises," she said. "Students use physical, verbal, emotional or online pranks to torment their peers.

"At times, neglected or over pampered children too indulge in such offence. To overcome such nasty behavior, schools should organise awareness programmes on discouraging bullying by making such incidents punishable and making students realise on the severity of consequences it has on the vulnerable. Students at this age should be taught to empathise with each other to evolve into better human beings."

Amena Mohammed Bakir, another student at the GEMS Our Own English High School, said bullying is a "big problem" and can leave youngsters with many emotional scars.

"It can make kids feel hurt, scared, sick, lonely and embarrassed. If any one bullies during school hours, the way out is to tell an adult or teacher to stick up for the kid being bullied and tell the bully to stop," she said.

"No one is perfect. You are good how you are, so ask someone whom you trust. Friendship also helps to fight bullying and to deal with bullying after school hours. The following steps can be taken - ignore the bully and, if you can, try your best to ignore the bully's threats. "

A student in Sharjah, Dia Menon, believes that a victim should "maintain eye contact" with bullies.

"Bullying is a highly talked about subject but the awareness of how to deal with it is not familiar. An important step towards standing up to bullies is maintaining eye contact. If you break eye contact or look away, you have handed over the power to the person you are being bullied by," she said. "If it continues, seek support from your school counselor, teachers or any adult. Also, avoid frequenting areas in the school that are less supervised. Cyber bullying is very common and can be avoided by informing your parents. In case you are getting messages from unwanted people it is important to block them online."

How to tackle psychological impacts on students who are bullied

Dr Amy Bailey (Clinical psychologist and head of psychology kidsFIRST Medical Center, Dubai)

Children who are bullied are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. There may also be a decline in their academic achievement and school participation. They are more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school. A very small number of bullied children might retaliate through extremely violent measures.

Studies have shown that children who are bullied can experience negative effects on their physical and mental health more than 40 years later. Bullying has been linked with post traumatic stress disorder. The harmful effect of bullying remains even when other factors including childhood IQ, emotional and behavioural problems and parents' socioeconomic status were taken into account. It is therefore important that we take bullying seriously and not just brush it off.

If a child is being bullied, they may find it difficult to tell someone about this as they may feel embarrassed or ashamed it is happening to them. Sometimes they feel they are somehow to blame or feel scared that if the bully finds out that they told, it will get worse. If your child does share then it is important they are praised for doing so.

Because the term "bullying" might be used to describe such a wide range of situations, there's no single approach to suit all scenarios. Factors such as the age of the students involved, the severity of the situation, and the specific type of bullying behaviors will help determine the best course of action.

In general, however, ensure you listen carefully and respectfully, explain why children bully so child does not blame themselves (often bullies are being bullied themselves in some area of their life), try to problem solve how they can respond and create a safety plan if happens again.

Work to restore the child's confidence and remember that bullying is often a repeated behaviour so follow discussion up with your child. It is important not to advise a child to fight back as this can escalate the situation. Instead they should be encouraged to walk away from the situation, hang out with others, and tell an adult.

School-based programmes are important to raise awareness of the impact of bullying. These need to consider not only the individual reasons as to why a child may bully but also need to target bullying as a "group process". As such, interventions against bullying should be targeted at the peer-group level rather than solely at individual bullies and victims.

How do you deal with bullies during and after school hours?

A major problem

Bullying is one of the major problems one can have (whether face to face or online). When people face this problem they rarely would know a solution to the problem, mainly, if it is faced in school. No one understands what to do but there are some solutions to this problem which are, I would inform a teacher about the incident, so she can take action. I would inform my parents so they can take strict action towards the act. I would also inform the parents of the child who bullied me so they know about what their child is doing and can change their child's behaviour.

Trisha Sayani(Gems Our Own English High School, Dubai)

Numbers are rising

Nowadays, the number of bullies are increasing. The first thing I do when someone troubles me verbally or physically is complain to a teacher or an adult. If we do this then the adult or the teacher could contact the bully's parents and this could result in a change in the bully's character. Strict punishment from school also will help reduce bullying.

Irfan Mohammed (Our own English High School, Sharjah)

Be patient

The best ways to stop being bullied is by not reacting at all. Being patient and letting go of the things said and done. Having no reaction but instead agreeing to the person in a kind way to whatever is being said will make the scene calm and the person to stop bullying. But the most important of all this is to never take it to heart nor keep anything in mind of what is being said against you and to take it always as a lie. This slowly will lead to being less bullied to or maybe a complete full stop of being bullied, creating a beautiful friendship to blossom and a better human being.

Zion George (Westminster school, Sharjah)

Stop them

I never have to deal with bullies in my school. We should speak to a trusted adult if we are being bullied or see others being bullied. They can give us comfort, support and advice. The best way to address bullying is to stop it before it starts.

Zahra Juzer Gandhi (Our Own English High School, Dubai)

KT Nano Edit

Curb the menace

Bullying can play havoc in a youngster's life, not just physically, but emotionally, too. Effective steps need to be taken, therefore, to end this menace. Communication gains importance here. Equally important is the child's faith in his parents and teachers, as it gives him the confidence to confide in them. Better use has to be made of the Dubai Police's 'special patrols' around schools, and students should be encouraged to look at these policemen as a support system.

sarwat@khaleejtimes.com

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Publication:Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Feb 4, 2018
Words:1936
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