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5 December 2020

The unseen harm of bullying

Saturday 14 March 2020 | Written by Katrina Tanirau | Published in Weekend


The unseen harm of bullying
Maine Teaka and Miss World Oceania Tajiya Sahay wearing their crowns. 20031307.

Teachers and parents play a big part in addressing bullying – but young people who have experienced it firsthand are stepping up to teach children to be kind to each other.

From Monday to Friday, nine-year-old Maine Teaka is awoken every morning by dread.

As soon as she opens her eyes, she thinks about the day before when her classmates said unkind things to her just because of the ways she looks.

Now they’re calling her the coronavirus girl.

She loves school but doesn’t want to go, and cries into her pillow.

At another house, Louise Hay is having her daily struggle with her sons.

It’s not about them sitting in front of the telly when they should be eating breakfast and brushing their teeth – they refuse to go to school.

In the end, because of the sheer terror she sees in her little boys’ eyes, Louise caves and lets them stay home.

While putting her school uniform on, Tehina Pennycook can’t help but stare at the screen of her mobile phone.

With tears rolling down her cheeks and her heart beating so fast it feels like it will jump out of her chest, she’s reads the comments over and over again.

She wonders how people who she calls her friends, can be so mean online but so nice to her face.

Bullying comes in many forms but the official definition is to intimidate, seek to harm or coerce someone who is perceived as vulnerable.

The behaviour is often repeated and habitual.

These are the stories of young people who have been traumatised by bullying.

Nine-year-old Maine Teaka is a textbook example of someone who knows what it’s like to be bullied.

Since she started school in Rarotonga, she has been targeted because of the way she looks – she is of Cook Islands Maori and Chinese heritage.

This week, her older sister Patricia Taea took a stand and outed those who with sharp tongues have spoken unkind words to her sister.

Lately, the little girl has been called the “coronavirus kid”.

Patty shared her sister’s story, not for sympathy, but to stand up to bullying and raise awareness and she’s proud of the way people responded.

She believes education starts at home and she is proud of the way people, especially parents have responded.

On Thursday Miss World Oceania Tajiya Sahay took Maine a special gift – her very own crown.

Sahay knows what it’s like to be the victim of bullying and she is passionate about raising awareness, through sharing her own experiences.

“At school I was bullied because of the way I looked. I wanted to make Maine feel special and 100 per cent agree with awareness around bullying,” she says.

“Through my health and wellness programme, I’ve discussed with the children about taking care of themselves and of others, lifting others up and not tearing them down, accepting others and being kind.”

Unfortunately for Louise and Alex Hay, their family’s relocation to Rarotonga was cut short after her sons were subjected to bullying and discrimination so bad, it resulted in their refusal to attend school.

In 2011, the Hay family uplifted their lives in Australia. To meet migration criteria, they bought a house and a café.

“Initially we sent our sons to the local school, they were aged eight and 10 at the time,” she says.

The bullying started from day one when their youngest son Nick was badly beaten by some of the other children.

“We went to the school straight away to see the principal but were told that the boy responsible for beating our son was from a very good family.”

The boys lasted one term at that school and were pulled out and enrolled at another school.

This was where their eldest son Hugo was bullied so severely that, in the end, he refused to attend any other school on the island. “Hugo was picked on because he was the pale, freckled, blue-eyed redhead,” Louise says.

“He was not sporty and the kids took great pleasure in tackling him to the ground.”

Hugo spent his time at school alone in the library at lunchtime, because he had no friends and was socially isolated.

His education suffered significantly and, nearly 10 years later, he still hates reading.

In 2013, they made the heart breaking decision to sell their house and business and move back to Australia.

Both boys returned to Australia with serious anger issues. They required psychological support from health professionals for a number of years.

But despite the awful, unjust and nasty experiences they endured, Louise says there has been a silver lining.

“My children experienced something that not many white people have to face, people making judgements on you as a person because of the colour of your skin,” she says.

“We as a family see this as a gift. It has deepened their empathy, consideration and celebration of difference in all people. They judge people on the quality of their character not the colour of their skin, I pitched that from Martin Luther King.”

Louise wants to make it clear that racism is not something unique to the Cook Islands.

“It is prevalent and a terrible problem in Australia. The way our First Nation people are treated is an absolute disgrace,” she says.

Her and her husband Alex will definitely visit Rarotonga again, but she is not sure about their sons.

Tereora College year 13 deputy head student leader Tehina Pennycook experienced bullying in her childhood that has caused ongoing challenges with low self-esteem, anxiety, pressure and fear.

She hasn’t only been subjected to bullying, but has witnessed it first-hand through social media and physically within school and outside.

Through the years Tehina has learned to deal with the challenges of bullying. She still suffers from anxiety at times but manages to get away from having attacks that used to plague her.

“I joined Girl Guides and became a member of the church. I had God in my life and it made me a stronger person, including surrounding myself with the right crowd,” she says.

Now Tehina is driven to push the anti-bullying message.

“I want the victims of bullying to overcome the challenge like I have. I want to start now so I can prevent bullying in the future.”

She also wants to help those who are the bullies.

“They probably need help too. Being human, there’s always reasons and influences that make us who we are,” Tehina says.

“Bullies need help just as much victims do. They need to be led onto the right path.”

At Tereora College, they have created a system of an anau class, which is a mixture of students from all year levels.

This is to build a bond within all ages.

“They say we are all brother and sister. There is also a peer support system which year 13s run with the year nines. A bonding session every Thursday for 40 minutes, which accomplishes the goal of building a healthy relationship between the seniors and juniors,” Tehina says.

“Students who follow values, should be an influence to peers. Students who understand and follow the values of caring, discipline and respect, should show these values out in public. Make your peers understand what it means. Be an influence for your peers to do good and be kind.”

Most of all, Tehina believes that parents and teachers need to be able to recognise the symptoms of a victim of bullying and that they have a responsibility to teach their children good habits and values.

Parents and teachers need to share their thoughts with other adults on how they deal with children who experience or witness bullying.

“Parents and teachers need to teach their children the consequences of being a bully and what the effects are,” she says.

“Teaching students at a young age, will influence them to grow into a better people.”


Some warning signs may include:

· He is reluctant to go to school or outright refuses to go.

· She frequently reports headaches, stomach aches or feeling sick, but there appears to be no underlying medical reason.

· He has trouble sleeping and frequent nightmares.

· She shows little interest in hanging out with friends and avoids social situations.

· He comes home with unexplained injuries.

· She appears to have low self-esteem, shuts herself in her room, seems irritable.

· He reports that books electronics or other belongings are lost or destroyed.

· She eats less, sometimes skips breakfast or dinner, or binge eats.

· His grades are declining – he seems uninterested in school.

Be aware that sometimes a child may not show any sign they are being bullied.

How you can help:

· Stay tuned in to what is going on with your child in school, talk to them regularly.

· Be interested in their school day and ask them specific questions about bullying.

· Talk with your child’s teachers and principal – they are experts and they care!

· Talk with other parents about solutions that are working for them – remember, this is not about blaming the bully, but about making things safer and happier for all the kids.


School violence and bullying

Bullying is intentional and aggressive behaviour occurring repeatedly against a victim where there is a real or perceived power imbalance. Bullying behaviours can by PHYSICAL, including hitting, kicking and the destruction of property; VERBAL, such as teasing, insulting and threatening; or RELATIONAL, through the spreading of rumours and exclusion from a group.

(source icons from 20031329)

Pacific kids who say they have been bullied

Pacific kids who have been in a physical fight

Pacific kids who have been physically attacked

Source: United Nations Special Representative