More than half of parents polled in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt said their young children have experienced bullying, mostly at school.
The number is higher in the Middle East than the global average, and it is estimated that across the globe one in three young teenagers is bullied at some point, according to the findings of a Cartoon Network study in partnership with YouGov.
In 2019, the National Bullying Prevention Centre in the US said one out of every five pupils had reported being bullied.
More than 3,000 parents of children aged between six and 12 were surveyed in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt and more than half of them said they had observed an increase in cyber bullying.
A majority of parents, nearly three out of four in the UAE, said they felt confident their child’s school was doing everything it could to address and prevent bullying, although confidence among those in Saudi Arabia was a little lower at 63 per cent.
Verbal bullying was the most common in the UAE, followed by psychological and cyber bullying.
The most common reasons for children being bullied included their weight or body size, lack of social skills, nationality and not having the latest gadgets.
“In the past year, parents across all markets seem to have observed an increase in cyber bullying among children — highest in Turkey and [Saudi Arabia] at 68 per cent and 67 per cent respectively. While in UAE also it is high at 62 per cent, and 58 per cent in Egypt,” the report's authors said.
“According to parents across markets, ‘loss of confidence’ is observed to be one of the top most long-term impacts of bullying, followed by ‘leads to anxiety/depression’ and ‘self harm’. In Turkey, parents also feel that it leads to ‘excessive aggression’.”
Learning to combat bullying
Cartoon Network Mena launched the latest edition of its Buddy Network campaign this week to raise awareness about the harmful long-term effect of bullying.
In the UAE, 59 per cent of parents said their children were bullied at school, while 65 per cent of parents in Turkey said the same.
Lisa Johnson, principal at Dubai's American Academy for Girls, said the school was working to tackle bullying, but reining in cyber bullying remained a challenge.
QR codes have been placed all around the school building where pupils can anonymously report bullying directly to the principal.
“We have a strategy where pupils know all of the different caring adults that can respond to bullying. I wanted to make sure that there was absolutely no grey area and that if something happened, a pupil would know where they could go or who they could send a message to.
“I would still say that probably 80 per cent of our bullying incidents, particularly in secondary school, involve cyber bullying.
“The pupils have devices and even at school they do a lot of work on their computers and iPads, so it's very tricky to monitor it really closely.”
Ms Johnson said the issue was difficult to control due to the way pupils can set up unlimited anonymous accounts online.
“It's about building a culture that’s not tolerant of bullying,” she said.
The school has a peer support network in which pupils in secondary school are trained by external experts on how to prevent bullying of others and respond when they are being bullied themselves. Ms Johnson said the group had grown beyond the core goal and was now a tool to help pupils thrive in all parts of life.
“It flourished and grew into a programme that would also help pupils with transitioning from one division to the other and now they talk about lots of issues, not just bullying or moving from grade to grade, but things that challenge teenagers in general,” she said.
Parents polled in the survey blamed jealousy, unsupervised internet usage and copying behaviour seen on TV and video games for the behaviour of bullies.
The survey also found that people hesitated to report incidents as they were embarrassed or feared retaliation.