It was April of this year when the death of 15-year-old Lufuno Mavhunga rocked the nation. Lufuno committed suicide after a bullying incident and had to endure bullying at school. Seeing her story and watching the video that trended for weeks after her death brought tears to my eyes, I was once Lufuno.
The Stop Bullying website defines bullying as the repeated and intentional threats, physical assaults, and intimidation that occur when individuals or a group exert their real or perceived difference in power or strength on another. A study done by the 1000 Women Trust found as many as 57% of children experience bullying in high school and another done by the Kings College London found that victims of bullying experienced more psychological stress and were at a higher risk of depression, suicidal thought, and anxiety disorders throughout their adult lives.
As much as I loved going to school for the learning and seeing my friends, I dreaded every single day of it. Waking up almost every day with swollen eyes after a night of silently crying myself because of words that were said to me or about me kept replaying in my mind and pretending that I was okay when I wasn’t.
I grew up with low self-esteem. I never saw myself as beautiful or even worthy of love because of the comments that I was subjected to every day. My first suicidal thought came in Grade 6 – someone had made a remark about how big my head was and everyone who was within ear reach laughed. Now this wasn’t the first time they had said something about my head… I still get comments like that today, but I think I had reached a breaking point, I couldn’t pretend anymore.
I never had the courage to go through with it, but the idea of not having to endure the misery and darkness I carried in my heart felt perfect. I didn’t realise just how much I had internalised everything and carried it into my adulthood. The crippling anxiety and not being able to build and maintain relationships I believe are some of the effects of the experiences I had.
When Lufuno trended on social media many people the same age as me, younger than me and some even older started sharing their stories. It begged the question of when will enough be enough? How many beautiful souls need to be lost for people to understand that that one word or tweet you say at the expense of someone else can be so damaging?
The Life Orientation class that brushed through the issue once every year only had one thing to say which was to tell an adult and that to always try to understand things from the bully’s point. They apparently were people who were hurting inside for whatever reason and because they couldn’t deal with the hurt they acted out by bullying other people, a sentiment I never understood.
Why was I expected to understand when they could not understand and see that they were hurting me too? Why did I need to be subjected to years of trauma because they were going through something?
However, I am glad to see that the content under the tips on the how-to stop bullying title on most online articles and books I have read has evolved from just telling an adult or keeping calm, to actually coming up with interesting ideas for parents and schools to deal with bullying that protects the victim.
1. Opening the communication line and noticing the signs
My mom only found out that I was being bullied in school because I burst out in tears one day during a silly argument I was having aunt. Now I know that this isn’t true for everyone, but having that conversation with my mom was difficult. It felt like I would be burdening her with my problems. I don’t blame her but I sometimes wonder if maybe I had ever felt like I could speak to her about such things she would have found a way to solve the problem earlier.
Stopbulling.gov says asking your child how their day was and talking about bullying directly such as asking if they are scared of going to school are some of the ways to open the communication line and making it easier for children to address the issue. Some of the signs to look out for include being distant, losing interest in school and grades dropping and unexplained injuries.
2. Consistent and immediate repercussions for bullying behaviour should be enforced in schools.
The simple keep calm and walk away doesn’t always work; schools need to create rules and make sure that learners ensure that the person who is bullying understands that is inappropriate, why it is inappropriate, and what the repercussions are for engaging in the behaviour.
I am not an expert in any way but I believe as a society we can work together to help eradicate bullying in our schools and create a safer environment for learning and growing up.