Kids and bullying: Understanding the psychology

Ingy Deif, Friday 2 Jun 2023

Ahram Online talks to experts about the psychological factors that lead to bullying among youngsters.

children in Egypt (UNICEF)


Psychology informs us that though we tend to see children as innocent, some psychological factors may drive children to bully one another. 

According to Dr Radwa Abdel-Azim, dance movement therapist & consultant of psychiatry at Kasr Al-Aini University, the reason for bullying can differ from one community to another and may even be genetic.

"It actually may run in families as in the case of pathological lying and stealing, and could be aggravated by disruptive family environments (addict or antisocial parent, domestic violence, etc., for example)," she said.

On the other hand, Abdel-Azim points out that bullying is part of an emotional and behavioural disorder that carries depression at its core.

Pathologically, many children who lack prosocial skills and the ability to express their frustration with their environment at home and school act out their attempt to control other territories by being aggressive to others and polarizing bystanders around themselves and the victim.

In recent years, Egypt has been increasingly focusing on the issue of bullying.

In 2018, Egypt's National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and the Ministry of Education launched the country's first national anti-bullying campaign in cooperation with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) to protect children from physical and psychological abuse.

In 2020, prison penalties against bullying were included in the country's penal code.

The penalties include a prison term of no less than six months and/or a fine of EGP 10,000 to EGP 30,000.

If the offence is committed by more than one person, or if the offender is related to the victim, penalties can be increased to a minimum of one year in prison and/or a fine ranging from EGP 20,000 to EGP 100,000.

In October 2021, the Egyptian House of Representatives approved a legislative amendment that toughens penalties against bullying disabled people, raising the maximum sentence to five years in prison.

 The Al-Azhar Observatory for Combating Extremism (AOCE) has also warned of the dangers of bullying at schools, citing UNICEF statistics which suggest that up to 70 percent of Egyptian children experience bullying by their schoolmates.

Laila Edrees, a cognitive-behavioural therapist and freelance parent educator, stresses that the general guidelines for dealing with the problem of bullying involve listening carefully to the child and responding with comments that validate their feelings.

"The child needs to see that you feel his anger or pain, never trivialize the act or tell him comments like: ‘this is a simple matter’ as this surely would frustrate him and make him feel lonelier," Edrees said.

The parents, she said, should then ask the child how they would prefer to act or deal with the situation. Then they should suggest remedies while maintaining the child's illusion that he/she came up with the solution themselves.   

Bullying research has focused on the social construct of the bully and the lack of a safe environment in their surroundings.

Speaking of the effects of bullying, Abdel-Azim pointed out that the bully, the victim, and the bystander are all affected by such a morbid triangle.

"When these incidents force themselves within the kids' community, anxiety prevails, and it is well established that anxious children fail to learn. Anxiety hinders new information processing and blocks memory. So, you could imagine how a young boy would feel when surrounded by other children threatening his existence while a few bystanders observe him. Such a child tends to feel unsafe in a way that threatens his self-boundaries. He also suffers a blow to his self-esteem and self-image," she said.

Abdel-Azim stressed that all parties of the triangle benefit from management: the bully, the bullied (victim), and the bystander (who participated by watching without intervening).

"Maximum benefit occurs when the school, the home, and the specialist participate together in managing the problem. These kids greatly benefit from psychotherapy. They also benefit from learning prosocial skills to improve their ability to communicate and express their frustration and anger instead of acting it out," she said. 

Abdel-Azim also noted that attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression, as well as anxiety, are associated -- especially at a young age -- with bullying among children. 

In these cases, she said, some medications may play a role hand in hand with other forms of treatments.

Finally, Abdel-Azim noted that implementing a management plan that addresses the issue of bullying takes time and that consistency is essential for preventing the recurrence of such behaviour.

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