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Bullying on the rise: education ministry urges students to break the silence

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School bullying is on the rise in Cyprus with 25 per cent of students reporting being targeted, amid growing concerns from the education ministry on the phenomenon which is leaving children with traumas and potentially dangerous ways they may react to it.

Senior officer at the education ministry’s psychology department Dr Ernesta Papakosta told the Cyprus News Agency that “school bullying is something that has been concerning us for years now.”

A study carried out by the University of Cyprus psychology department’s professor Dr Kostas Fantis on behalf of the education ministry, revealed Cyprus’ school bullying statistics ranged between 20 to 25 per cent.

According to Papakosta, the research showed boys bully more than girls, however there is a growing trend of more girls bullying. Most cases take place in high school, between the ages of 11 and 15.

“Lately, we have increased awareness of bullying in schools. I think we’re in a better situation, but the school system needs to report these instances more often.”

Asked if victims speak out, she added the aim is to “break the silence” because in cases of bullying where there is unequal balance of power, it is more difficult for children to talk about what is happening.

Teachers, parents and psychologists should urge students to come forward, while Papakosta highlighted parents should also be mindful of any behavioural changes they may see in their children, and always keep an open line of communication with them.

Victims of school bullying tend to be those with lowered self-esteem, children that are very anxious, feel different or come from overprotective families, Papakosta explained. As a result, the students may have irreversible trauma or make an attempt on their own life, she warned.

Where those that carry out the bullying are concerned, Papakosta details there are a number of reasons they bully but they often come from families that have a lot of violence. It is common that those students come from homes “where violence is used to resolve differences, or families with very strict parents that use a very violent approach to solve problems.”

It has also been observed that bullies stem from homes with problems in how the family functions or have issues with individual temperaments, she added.

“The individuals themselves who engage in bullying should also receive treatment and a pedagogical approach.”

Bullying leaves a slew of negative consequences in its wake, including problems in learning and mental health. As such, the education ministry is taking the issue seriously and taking action with programmes rolled out in school across all stages, including primary and secondary schools, Papakosta said.

The focus is on prevention, and such actions are also carried out in pre-school too.

The first epidemiological research in Cyprus was carried out in 2010, which showed school bullying was at around 17 per cent. Since 2010, there has been a spike in the increase, which reflects a trend observed in other countries too, she added.

Asked why the figures have gone up, Papakosta said there were “social, school and individual reasons” that led to this.

Giving a definition of bullying, she described it as “a phenomenon where there is an inequality of power, that is, the perpetrator is stronger than the victim. This could mean power taking many forms because someone may be a good student or not a good student, physically stronger, an athlete or has more friends, etc. Bullying is aggressive behaviour that is done deliberately to cause pain, is often repetitive and contains a power component.”

If it presents at very young ages in kindergarten Papakosta noted, which there have sometimes been isolated incidents, then it has a very poor prognosis, and a lot of work needs to be done.

Asked also if there are organised groups of students who engage in bullying, she said that “there are but they are sparse and we need to work to prevent it.”

Papakosta urged parents to be vigilant, to talk to their children, to listen to them, to be concerned if the child shows differences in behaviour, if they suddenly refuse to go to school, if they have signs of abuse and if so, to make a complaint.

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