Bullying in UAE schools causing 'sleeplessness and depression'

Schools need regular campaigns to hammer home that ill-treatment is inexcusable, experts say

Bullying is a problem everywhere and among all age and gender groups. Getty
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Regular campaigns to hammer home anti-bullying messages are crucial to preventing young people from harm, psychologists said.

More than half of parents believe bullying is their greatest worry, with unaddressed torment from peers often leaving mental scars.

“Bullying, no matter the context, can have a significant negative impact on a child’s wellbeing,” psychologist Tanya Dharmashi, clinical director at the Priory Wellbeing Centre in Dubai, said as the country marked Anti-Bullying Week.

While it's important to encourage your child to be assertive and to feel empowered, it's just as important to know when you the parent must step in and take control of the situation

“It can be both physical and emotional and will take a real psychological toll on the victim, even over a short period of time.

“Children may become distressed and anxious, refuse to go to school, become increasingly withdrawn or isolated and experience struggles with low self-esteem and depression.”

A campaign throughout this month by Cartoon Network Middle East, with sessions and workshops for more than 1,000 pupils aged five to 12, is an example of what can be done to counteract a bullying culture.

Experts said in-school bullying can impact on academic performance, sleep patterns and cause psychosomatic symptoms, such as stomach aches and headaches.

A 2018 poll of more than 64,000 Dubai pupils by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, the emirate's private school regulator, also found 11 per cent of children - more than 6,000 - did not feel safe in school.

Ms Dharmashi said parents and teachers can look out for tell-tale signs children may be worried about facing school bullies.

“Headaches, troubled sleep, falling school grades and physical marks can all be common signs of bullying,” she said.

“In more severe cases and without intervention, bullying can lead to chronic depression and anxiety, low self-esteem, learned helplessness and relationship difficulties.

“Young people and teenagers in particular can exhibit self-harming behaviours in an attempt to regulate this mix of difficult emotions.”

While parents are mainly happy with child safety in UAE schools, more than half have bullying concerns.

Another poll by Axis Communications on UAE school safety found 92 per cent of parents were satisfied with existing school security measures, but 52 per cent said bullying was their greatest concern.

“Open communication with parents is absolutely key,” said Ms Dharamshi.

“It’s crucial your child feels that they can not only approach you if they are being bullied, but that their concerns will be met with respect, validation and supportive action.

“While it’s important to encourage your child to be assertive and to feel empowered, it’s just as important to know when you, the parent, must step in and take control of the situation.”

Bullying is a global issue in schools, with UK anti-bullying charity the Diana Award conducting a study of more than 1,000 11-16-year-olds revealing similar problems to the UAE.

The charity’s survey of 2018 found 57 per cent of children will experience bullying of some degree during their school life in the UK.

Of those, 78 per cent are left with feelings of anxiety that are detrimental to their academic performance.

“If children have intense emotions and turn to self-harming, a less painful form could involve ice,” said Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg, a consultant psychiatrist in the UK.

“By holding ice really tightly, it feels like it is burning but will not do damage. As the ice melts they might feel their tension melt away.

“Remind your child it's normal to experience strong emotions such as sadness, anger, fright and anxiety, but explain how these feelings don't last.”