Juvenile Suicide Due to Bullying

Two years ago I started pondering on this issue of bullying and the consequences it has on the lives of innocent students who go to school to learn how to use their gained knowledge to make a positive impact on the world.

This week, negative news was the highlight of my internet shuffling and it caused me to write this post. My experience and how the news brought back memories of the past where many lessons were learned, is not the point here, even though I was a student in South Africa from 2014 to 2019 and spent six years of my life there. Today I’ll try to explore what I think is happening to our schools based on this week’s heartbreaking news of a student named Lufuno Mavhungu, a 15-year-old South African girl who took her own life due to bullying at school.

I was incredibly triggered by the video circulating on Twitter and decided not to repost it here because I see it as intoxication. That’s also the real world in 2021. So instead, you can read the story in a local newspaper article here.

I may not be currently attending any school, but I know what happens and what it’s like to be victimized. And to understand the subject better, I went to read about the causes of suicide ideation in adolescents. I was glad to agree on many points with this article by The Lancet in their published study on global variation in the prevalence of suicidal ideation, anxiety. They touched little on typical bullying as we know it, but used the expression ‘peer victimization’ more often to describe a major cause of suicide. You will be surprised by reading the statistics, that the highest pooled prevalence of suicide ideation in adolescents aged 12–17 years was in Africa (20.0 -21.0 percent).

Foremost, what is bullying?

For those who may have adopted the erroneous or watered-down definitions currently propagated online, bullying is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as the abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger, more powerful, etc. The second definition is an adjective used to describe something prone to or characterized by overbearing, mistreatment and domination of others.

When reading these definitions, I realized you cannot be bullied by someone weaker than you or with less power or influence than you. Bullying is not in question when the confronting parties are equal on all levels, so I suggest using this word carefully when trying to talk about people disagreeing with you on something you said or did, whereas they normally treat you with respect (the respect we give to someone we consider equal to us).

Now that we have got the definition, how can we help get rid of bullying and cyberbullying in schools, so something as tragic as the suicide of Lufuno will never happen again?

This article is really a proposal about what could be implemented to create a learning environment that deals with this socio-educational challenge in a way every student can easily take part.

Not every student has the mental strength to take action; they need help.

In 2019, a similar scenario drove me to write a whole research paper trying to design a solution to stop bullying at higher education institutions. Only this time we’re talking about teenagers and having been a teenager myself, I feel like they’re no different from young adults in college in handling a hostile environment; hence the responsibilities of learning institutions to help eradicate this issue remains the same.

Here are results from my two years of unexploited reflections on the topic:

Just as a state is called to protect its citizens along with defending its people’s rights, so is an educational institution called to provide a safe learning environment for their students, not just in terms of site security but also in promoting values that treat people like gold. A safe learning environment also means that each person who enrolls at the institution deserves to be respected and protected by the said institution.

The strong ought to sustain the weak (Book of Romans 15, Bible).

On school premises, we sometimes witness a student mistreating and abusing another student with no remorse, nor empathy from the surrounding parties. No one seems to care about any code of conduct anymore. Are we teaching kids to be less human?

Schools cannot be complacent because violence and crime have grown so much we can’t remain passive without becoming enablers ourselves. This means that if people cannot be safe in school, then no one is safe anywhere. If teachers started leading by example, there would still be hope for a better society in the future or else criminality would get worse.

What would be a good solution?

Well, we know that it’s better to be safe than sorry. So what if, instead of dealing with prejudices, we focused on preventing them from happening?

A good move would be to introduce a “Let Love Lead” standard in the existing codes of conduct and raise awareness among the students, staff and leaders of movements, so everyone can take part. Love is the essence of what makes us human. It is the basis of all interpersonal relationships bound to be healthy.

Without love, we cannot truly empower anyone for anything. Success at making this a standard will influence other kinds of institutions to do the same.

A great code should articulate that:

With the new social media influence on mental health and student development altogether, the most pressing problem is privacy protection. Cyberbullying and physical bullying can become a plague within a learning institution if not addressed rapidly. When confidential information of any kind is easy to get directly from the institution (like student names and addresses) by third parties, it is very unethical and can put one’s life in danger.

This week I blamed both parents and the internet for being the reason why bullies thrive and why suicide looks like the easy solution to victims. But in truth, schools have a greater responsibility. Parents can’t control everything their kids deem acceptable; social media and peer influence do.

If the content or conversations we have online don’t reflect any respect for people’s right to live and be appreciated for who they are, we’ll keep glorifying abuse in the name of “freedom of expression”. Now, after a fight, you’ll have a kid like Lufuno and many others who’ll believe their life is over because of the way things escalate online.

What would be a good solution?

We should promote a Peer Privacy Protection Policy (PPPP) among the students and staff to raise awareness and to make everyone work towards a common goal. Here are two ways to implement this:

But implementing this could be a challenge…

Well, it’s true that adopting this way of doing things can be demanding, and may not be embraced by all at first, due to fear of failure, or the number of efforts and resources needed to have such a level of control over the situation. But it’s not really about control; rather it’s about love and consciousness. If we wait for many more deaths before we try everything we can to change things, what does it say about us?

Education is supposed to empower people to be better on all levels, and this model might be a successful way to do it.

I pray that Lufuno’s suicide will instill in us the sense of responsibility as a society to set the standard high in our homes and educational institutions, so that respect is never optional.

May Lufuno’s soul rest in peace as well as all the other teenagers who were intoxicated in committing suicide due to bullying.

If you feel like more could be said and you want to add your solution to this piece, or maybe you just need to vent, chat to someone about this global issue, why not send me a direct message on Twitter where we can discuss this?

To us, being more empathetic!

Originally published at https://theppsclub.substack.com.



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Priscille B. Fatuma

Priscille is a freelance writer, fiction writer, podcaster, content creator & marketer. She loves books, movies, long naps, TV series, and dogs.