Shopping for school supplies, ironing uniforms, and setting alarms: these activities are the main focus of most Egyptian families during this time of the year.
With back-to-school season upon us, and parents psychologically rolling their sleeves for a year brimming with classes and homework, many fear for their youngsters’ mental wellbeing. For children, formative school years can often be looked back on as ‘golden’ years, or ‘the best time of their lives’, but they can also often be perceived as a temporal blackspot in the memory of many due to experiences of bullying.
Bullying has been a constant issue in most schools, whether physically, emotionally, verbally, or online. In 2018, UNICEF revealed that 70 percent of Egyptian children aged 13-15 are victims of bullying, following which, Egypt approved draft amendments to criminalize bullying.
Luckily, there have been numerous campaigns as well as individual efforts in recent years to eradicate bullying. In 2018, Egypt launched its first national campaign urging children, parents, and caregivers to speak up against bullying, and sharing tips and advice on ways to counter bullying. Several artists supported the month-long campaign under the slogan #ImAgainstBullying, including Egyptian director Amr Salama, Egyptian actress Youssra, in addition to Mona Zaki and Ahmed Helmy, who are both Egyptian actors and UNICEF’s Egyptian Goodwill Ambassadors.
More so, Tara Emad, also a young Egyptian actress, has been vocal about bullying. Last year, she launched her own podcast ‘Bullying Explained’ as part of a university project to raise awareness against the negative impact of bullying. Through her podcast, Emad highlighted her eagerness to see anti-bullying prevention programmes in schools nationwide.
For parents who fear for their children and wish them a safe and enjoyable school experience, there are multiple ways to help reduce the phenomenon of bullying.
Speaking to Egyptian Streets, Hanan Ezzeldin, Founder of The Family Hub, explains that bullying should be dealt with early on, otherwise, students may struggle with the repercussions throughout their lives. Ezzeldin, who is a positive discipline educator with a Master’s degree in education from Acacia University, has created a platform that supports parents in raising mentally and emotionally balanced children.
Ezzeldin stresses that it is important for parents to believe their children and validate their feelings when they reach out for help. In an open environment, children need to feel supported, heard, and believed, to feel confident enough to speak about their issues.
“Tell them that you understand that they’re hurt, and then, when they are calm, start looking for solutions. Teach them how to say ‘stop’ even if it’s not easy. Start boosting their confidence and pointing out all the positive attributes that they have,” she explains.
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Having said that, there are also parents who struggle with their children being bullies, while others are completely unaware of, or are in denial, about their children’s behavior outside the domestic space.
“Role model kindness from day one. Make sure that they are not showing physical, emotional or social signs that something is different or wrong. The more we are communicating with our children, the more we would be able to read the signs that there is something wrong or ‘off’ about them,” says Ezzeldin, who prioritizes parents’ engagement and interaction with their children in their activities by hosting playdates and interacting with other families, as solutions to helping their children become better.
“Children will normally not feel excluded or feel the pressure of mental abuse if they feel supported and surrounded by loving families,” she adds confidently.
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Ezzeldin strongly believes that constant awareness, communication, and an emphasis on kindness at home and in schools is the key to getting rid of bullying in schools.
Heeding such messages are NGOs, such as Safekids, a Cairo-based organisation that delivers psychosocial services against child abuse. It hosts workshops, activities, and counselling sessions covering topics such as, self-awareness, gender-based violence, bullying, among others. Safekids is currently organising ‘Back to school’ awareness workshops about sexual abuse and bullying.
“The more consistent the message is, the more kids see us modeling positive behavior and attitudes. The less parents will use physical and verbal abuse with their kids, the better off our children will be,” she stresses.
“It really does take a village and every single member needs to participate to eradicate bullying.”
If you are a student facing bullying or a parent struggling to deal with your child who is being bullied, contact the Child Helpline for help at 16000.
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