Cyprus Mail

Youth: ganging up and exclusion



Exclusion: youngsters can be inordinately cruel to each other, causing mental agony particularly for teens also coping with changes to their bodies. When stealth bullying turns active on social media, it can result in self-harm or even suicide. As adults, exclusion victims say loss of confidence carried into adulthood, affected relationships due to mistrust and fear of abandonment.

It can stem from racism, body shaming, elitism, sexism, faux superiority over a perceived nerdy victim possibly led by jealousy of a better, quieter achiever. Or herd instinct, obeyance to an Alpha the excluders wish to emulate, who perhaps has underlying complexes of their own.

Ignoring and separating aren’t usually violent, ganging up is. Using confrontation and intimidation, a weaker, more sensitive child is subjected to pushing or hitting, kicking, insults, or the theft of possessions or pocket money. I’ve known some of both.

Teachers have a responsibility to safeguard children in the school yard and speak with parents when a behavioural problem arises. Behaviour and correction conversations need delicate handling and early intervention; indications of unacceptable behaviour, signaling need for correction, can show early.

I’ve done school bus/school yard duties and have seen how even small children can be mean, troubled, or just selfish. A boy of six used to spit surreptitiously on the back of the heads of children going by then swiftly turned his back letting another child take the blame, watching the ensuing row with satisfaction. Petty thieving had pre-primary youngsters crying when their break goodies often disappeared. The culprit was an apparently happy little girl, who waited until the others had gone to play and, humming to herself, opened bags, rummaged in them choosing what she wanted. When I gently explained that it was wrong to take someone else’s things and leave the owners without their treats, and asked why she did that. The answer was a simple ‘I love chocolate.’ Mild, yes, but still stealing.

And what about the child who played with a male and female doll innocently taking on the roles of mum and dad vocalising the row, fruity words included, that the parents had had the previous evening?

Teachers are not exempt from exclusion tactics like one who preached Christianity while trying to have the child of an unmarried couple sent elsewhere from ‘her’ school until two of us resolutely intervened and stopped it. Coming from a mother who grew up under foreign occupation and a home constantly pulled apart by enemy soldiers that, young as she was, she defied, I was taught to stand up for myself if I was right and to apologise if I was wrong. I was a skinny runt, but I learned to handle bigger bullies by willingness to stand my ground and not back down and always sided with children also bullied.

A nice, gentle girl at our second-level school lived with her hard-working, widowed mother and crippled brother in a poor home smelling of damp and wood smoke as did her clothes. My close friends refused to include her; I chose to stick with her and became excluded too. One day as we sat in a field they came to pick a quarrel. A former next-door friend whom I’d known all our lives, said she would make me dance when I objected to insults they threw at the other girl, taking a thick branch from a furze bush she beat at my legs. I refused to dance. My horrified mother sat for ages tweezing small thorns from my shins before informing their decent mothers, who chastised them.

It’s important that a child can confide in parents, trust them not to be judgmental, listen to their side and take action; passivity doesn’t help. Some kids need time to share problems, give them time and support. Teachers need to face up to school authorities lax in attending to problems such as when a disruptive child comes from an influential or authority level home. When I sent a boy to a head for being constantly troublesome to the detriment of the other paying students, I was told to ignore him, his father was a tough policeman who would come shouting at the staff.


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