So earlier last week, I ran into an interesting article by Paul R. Smokowski and Kelly Holland Kopas. It was about School Bullying and its significant long-term impact on a child, with particular focus on the United States and with reference to the recurrent gun violence in schools. What boggled me wasn’t just the fact that there had been more than 15 school shootings in the country in 2018 so far, but my attitude towards the news. I felt almost… nothing. Almost like it had happened so many times already that I considered it quite normal. This sudden realization left quite a bad taste in my mouth as I began to wonder how unsympathetic and messed up our so-called modern society had become.
I already get the feeling this is gonna be one of my more serious articles.
Most of us know that bullies come from a place of either neglect or aggression at both home and school, and turn to transfer that aggression unto people they perceive as being weak. Also, being bullied during your teenage years tends to leave a much more lasting impression on one’s mentality into adulthood. So I started thinking about my younger years, focusing on the bullying aspect (no relation to gun violence) especially through secondary and high school in Cameroon. I had moments where I was bullied, as well as many people. But with the years having gone past, I realised that very few of us who grew up into adulthood developed lasting negative or antisocial behaviour as a direct result of bullying.
So this made me ask a couple of questions ;
‘Why have I read about so many cases of school bullying having serious long term effects for children in the Western world?’
‘Why is the reality here so much different from my reality back in Cameroon?’
‘Do these long term effects also happen in Cameroon? Except we don’t address it nearly as much as people in the Western world do?’
I am pretty sure there are many different answers to my questions above. But using my own personal reality growing up, I was finally able to come up with two significant theories as to why the school bullying dynamic in Cameroon may not be as negative in the long term as it is in the Western world. I am no expert on behavioural or psychological matters, I’m just a guy trying to get a possibly valuable observation across. I will attempt to explain my theories in my own words.
So bear with me.
Theory 1: Rarely does School Bullying happen amongst Peers.
Cameroonian society, like most African societies, takes age and social hierarchy rather seriously. For example, if you’re speaking to a person that is significantly older than you – or in a higher position of authority, chances are that you’ll refer to them using honorifics such as Mr. or Mrs, Uncle/Auntie (no relations), and not on a first name basis. One of my first culture shocks when I arrived in Ireland was that I could refer to my lecturer on a first name basis. That shit blew my mind sideways at first, but I got used to it pretty quickly.
This also applies in a school setting up to a certain degree. Students in a higher class tend to assert their superiority over students in a lower class – collectively. Students in First Year obviously get bullied the most, while those in Sixth or Seventh Year are the ruling bodies of the school, and therefore don’t get bullied. Not so often do students in the same class outright try to bully one another. Tease, yes. But bullying in order to establish some level of physical or psychological dominance, not so much in my experience. And even when it happens, the bully’s acts are frowned upon by his peers.
I have noticed and read that a lot of school bullying in the Western world happens between peers and students in the same class. I believe that being bullied by peers leaves an even longer lasting negative impression on the victim. This may be due to the fact that the victim is experiencing mistrust and marginalisation from the very peers he believes should be more sympathetic towards him. And as you can imagine, having to experience bullying from the same peers year on year on year could lead to some serious low levels of self esteem and antisocial behaviour in adulthood. In even more extreme cases, suicide.
So if you’re being bullied (in schools in Cameroon), chances are that all of your peers are being bullied as well by those in classes higher than yours. In some way, this can be a source of comfort as the feeling is mutual among all your peers and not just a case of one person being bullied. So the class being bullied can form a sort of fraternity called The Order of the Bullied and cry together if they have to.
Theory 2: The Bullied usually gets a Chance at being the Bully.
This second source of comfort arises due to the fact the victim knows very well that he won’t stay in First Year forever. He’s definitely gonna work hard, pass his final exams, and move up to Second Year. That was the mindset of me and all my peers. In Second year, the student now has a psychological option, but not an obligation to bully the new First years. But of course, most people wouldn’t pass on the chance to get a taste of superiority after experiencing all that pain. The Second Year student might still get bullied by the Third Year student, and the Third year student might still get bullied by those above him and so forth. But that’s okay. Because he knows that he’s not at the bottom of the food chain anymore – That unlucky First Year student is. In a strange way, I believe that this system evens out the Bully/Bullied dynamic quite nicely, as it ensures that every teenager gets a chance at being both the bullied and the bully.
I know it may come as a bit of a shock to Westerners, but playing bully is almost a kind of culture in many Cameroonian school settings. We don’t really refer to it as school bullying where I’m from. We usually refer to it as a ‘stage’ amongst me and my friends as we see it as part of growing up and find it easier to get on with it I suppose. So very rarely does adult negative behaviour come about as a result of school bullying, but other factors. So subconsciously, most kids that find themselves in a position where they are being bullied know that they will soon get their turn. So they endure.
Conclusion & Disclaimer.
Now we’re at the end of another article that was supposed to be a pretty short one :). Despite the two points above, School Bullying is still a very serious issue especially in this day and age. The existence of new and often indirect forms of bullying such as social and cyber-bullying can have even more devastating effects. So it remains our duty as adults to be sensitive to such behaviour in children and help them become the solution to bullying.
Please, note that my observations are not necessarily representative of the rest of the country, just my own personal experience and my peers around me. But I can only hope this article may open the doors to an even more indepth study into School Bullying, and contribute in some way to the efforts of experts trying to find a long term solution to the problem.
PS. If you thought the article was informational, please do let me know in the comments. Also do comment about your reservations, experiences or anything that could encourage further discussion. And oh, don’t forget to share with your friends.
Thanks you XX