How seriously do we take our children’s complaints about bullying?

Here's how we should respond when children raise their concerns

By Asha Iyer Kumar

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Published: Thu 25 Jan 2024, 8:54 PM

It’s with a heavy heart that I begin this column today.

An emotional letter we received last week from a young reader in response to my piece on bullying elucidated her bitter experiences in college where she was ragged and was left defenceless because the culprits belonged to privileged families with political clout. I was disturbed by two things – the failure of the college management to take timely action and the fact that the student, even after years, hasn’t got over the horrific ordeal.

It makes me wonder: How seriously do we take our children’s complaints about the kind of treatment they receive from people in school and other places? And how do we respond to them?

Rough behaviour in young children is not uncommon since they still have a lot of domestic tantrums left in them, which they bring along to school. It often manifests as pushing, shoving or pinching those who are timid, and if left unbridled, it will give them a sense of domination over those who cannot resist or challenge them. It is natural human tendency to find satisfaction in wielding power over others, and only if those who are subjected to the ill-treatment bring it to the notice of parents and teachers, and more importantly the errant children are admonished can this be stopped from growing into a bigger menace as they grow up.

But then again, how many times do parents or teachers take complaints from children seriously enough to take remedial action? Of course, young children tend to exaggerate and many of their grievances may be less graphic than what they make them out to be, but we need to pay heed. What they make sound like a mountain might only be a mole hill, but even that is bad enough in this scenario.

Do not shrug off children’s complaints as silly whines; do not ask them to ignore or endure abuse; don’t make them feel guilty of being a sissy; don’t hold them responsible for others’ actions. Listen. Patiently listen to what they have to say, and use your parental reasoning and intuition to assess how true their words are and offer them solace. Address their fears and concern by promising to take up the matter with whosoever and promise them that they are safe under your wings; that nobody can harm them when you are there.

We parents (and teachers) are their emotional refuge and their bolsters. Whether it is our seven-year-old reporting to us that someone ‘did a bad thing’ to them or our teen telling us that a classmate bullied or beat them up or a 20-year-old in college complaining of discrimination and victimisation by teachers or fellow students or a married daughter narrating incidents of harassment in her husband’s home, pay heed and promise to protect them.

We don’t expect the world to be always kind and forgiving, and we must teach our children to brace for the rough terrains out there and fight it out, but that doesn’t translate to tolerating abuse in any form. We cannot let our children down by saying “figure it out yourself”; we cannot fail them by brushing off their concerns as made-up or magnified. Rain or shine, we must hold an umbrella for them.

It’s only when they are convinced that they have a place to confide, confess, complain and seek redressal without being misjudged will they begin to trust us as their greatest allies in life. And that trust is the foundation of any bridge we may want to build between two generations. Until next, happy parenting.

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