A counselling psychologist in the Department of Educational Foundations, University of Lagos, Prof. Ngozi Osarenren, speaks with GRACE EDEMA on bullying
We are confronted with more cases of bullying in schools. What causes bullying?
It’s difficult to place your hand on one particular cause, but some students who were bullied as junior students believe it is their turn to bully once they become senior students, so it is like passing on the torch. It’s a tradition that must be adhered to. That aside, when you see a student bullying another student, there is this deep element of inferiority complex; deep element of inferiority complex, although it may manifest as superiority complex, but it is actually that that person has a vacuum to fill. That person has some shortcomings. That person is angry with himself and the surroundings and because there is somebody that is junior to him, somebody he feels he is bigger than or she is bigger than, “I have to let off steam through that way.”
You talked about inferiority complex. How can students who have inferiority complex be helped?
It is in the national policy on education. Our schools are supposed to have counsellors. They are supposed to have practising counsellors not that one random woman would be paraded as the school counsellor when she/he has no training whatsoever in counselling. At this level, the children are impressionable. The children are also very weak so they need somebody or some people that would help them in, one, confidence building, two, in assertiveness training. The counsellors should constantly have group counselling for the students. They have to make them understand the dynamics of life, the dynamics of school life in particular, the values, the cardinal values that are expected from every child in a school setting.
So, it goes beyond going to a school where you pay high school fees, it goes beyond going to a school where you sit in air conditioned classroom. It goes beyond that. What we are interested in, what I’m particularly passionate about is to help this young people to build self-confidence, many of them are afraid. Many of them can’t take care of themselves, many of them do not even understand what it means to be in school. They need to be moulded, they need to be directed, they need to be informed of what is expected of them and that is the work of the counsellor.
What are those things parents do that affect children?
At home you see, most parents do not have time for their children and children at this level, a key factor during adolescence is when they rely more on their friends than families. The period of adolescence is when the adolescent rely more on friends than families and usually when I teach my students and go anywhere to give a talk, what I insist and I encourage them to do is for parents should make themselves available. We have to make ourselves available and it starts from the home. Are we teaching them those things that would help them stand their ground? Are we teaching them and helping them when they are outside the home? Would they be able to stand whatever comes along. So, it has implications for the socialisation and upbringing of the child in the home, parents should start looking inwards. Yes we need to look for money, we are looking for money for our children, we have to make sure our children have what they need, we have to ensure they have anything that is required, yes but beyond material things, they also need psychological support and social support. They need that from the home because if they are from the home where they have imbibed confidence, it will be difficult for you to move them around. It would be difficult for you to shake them, it would be difficult to make them turn out to be who they are not; so the home they are coming from is very important but unfortunately like I said, most parents particularly mothers have lost what it is to bring up their children properly.
Why is it that most students who are victims don’t open up to parents and others around them?
Because they have not been able to have somebody they can trust. That is why I’m saying parents should always make themselves available as those friends they need because they will always talk to their friends. They will talk to their friends and when they do, you don’t hush them, you don’t send them away, you listen to them, patiently listen to them and if like I said earlier on, in the school a professional counsellor is there regularly having group counselling and also individual counselling. They will come around they will come because they know, once they are sure that if they tell you something, it will remain with you. They will come and talk to you, they will and we should encourage them to talk, we should encourage them to talk not by shouting, no.
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Not by shouting because you see, when you shout, you put the off. ‘Tell me what happened!’ “Please tell me what happened? you see the two tones are not the same, because when I say, ehnn come come come, you must tell me what happened, you must tell me what happened to you, what is it, what happened to you?!, “What happened to you, please tell me now so that I know, please now, please. There is no way you will use the second tone that I have used and the child will not confide in you and once the child knows that anything he or she is telling you will not become public discussion and once they are sure they will be protected, they talk.
What is the way out of bullying especially at the school level?
You see, when we were in school, there was bullying, but the problem is that what we have now is as a result of the present society. The way things are now where parents condone the inadequacies of their children, parents don’t scold their children when they misbehave and in some of these schools, the teachers are also afraid to talk to the students because the parents have made the teachers to know “that you’re in this school because we are paying school fees, it is because we are paying school fees and you know the millions we pay, that is why you are able to get your salary so you cannot talk to my child anyhow.” So, it goes back to the parents and the school because if a parent talks to your teacher in a condescending manner, the management of that school should call out that parent and if they are not ready, let the parent take his child and go. Many schools now focus on commercialisation. Like how much can we make. It’s the amount of money we are going to make, the number of students that will determine the money we are going to make.Even when a student is insulting a teacher before you as a principal, as a school owner and you keep quiet and you ask yourself what society is that child being prepared for and you ask yourself what kind of home. In those days if teachers said they were going to report you to your parents, you would be afraid because your parent would come to the school, punish you and the school would still punish you. Now, if the school punishes, the parent will come, in some cases with thugs or soldiers and come and discipline the teachers and beat the teachers and the school owner or the principal will be begging the parent and you ask yourself, is that how low we have gone? Is that how low we have gone? Those are the issues.
I want you to advise all the stakeholders; school owners, teachers and the parents on bullying?
First and foremost, every school should have zero tolerance for bullying and let it be displayed everywhere in the school that we have zero tolerance for bullying. We are all human beings. It is animals that you treat anyhow and when a student is bullied, that student should be protected and the school should protect such a child and the bully should be made to face the music no matter whose child he or she is.
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I remember when I was a youth corps member in Navy Secondary School in 1986, one of the day students, the father then was a judge and he got a report, the son with some of his friends went to a neighbours house, stole something and went to sell it in Alaba market and when the man heard, he came to the school before assembly and said he wanted to see his son. They brought out this boy on the assembly, he flogged him, in fact the flogging he gave that boy on the assembly was much. He was a judge in Lagos State but how many of this afternoon rich parents can do that?
Parents should show examples. Teachers should also show examples. Schools should have it displayed that we have zero tolerance for bullying and schools should have counsellors, have proper counselling unit to help students. It is in the national policy of education, it is unfortunate that maybe because the people who are supposed to ensure policy assurance are not doing that because no school whether public or private should function without counsellors, professional counsellors not naming one or two teachers as counsellors. When we get a bully, that bully should be made to face the music, that bully should be punished but before you punish him or her (the bully) you have to let him or her understand the reasons behind the punishment.