People rarely, if ever, give thought to bullying, especially in this side of the world.
Why? Because bullying isn’t something we think of as a problem.
But the truth is, bullying can have severe consequences. And since childhood experiences shape who people become as adults, the consequences of being bullied can linger on and affect a child’s adult life as well.
Childhood bullying can lead to depression, anxiety, low-self esteem among kids. And when these kids grow up, they may struggle socially because of the experience they have had in the past.
So, it is important to stop concealing this menace under the pretext of “kids do this stuff. Its fine!” and finally start the conversation around bullying.
And, when talking about bullying, it would be unfair not to go by this incident that occured in the recent past.
A Lookback At the Scarsdale Incident
The Scarsdale incident took Pakistan by storm a few weeks ago. The news made waves on social media and #Scarsdale became a top Twitter trend and remained there for several days.
We are past that incident now and distracted by other things, but that tale of bullying is forever recorded in the pages of horrific history.
This incident was a first of its kind. At least no other such incident had ever caught the public eye at this scale. And now that we have had a sneak peek into an environment that allows and fosters such bullies, it’s important to stop and take a look at what led to this incident.
Boys and girls fight and fall out all the time. But to assault a girl, punch her, kick her, pull her hair, and on top of all that, videotape it – that’s a whole other level of messed up.
There are many reasons for bullying, ranging from low self-esteem to anger issues and more. But pride and extreme lack of empathy were two of the strongest factors that influenced the Scarsdale incident.
The way the bullies abused the victim with a smile pasted on their faces, refusing to let go, and snapping pictures all along gave off whiffs of extreme pride.
But that was just one of the factors. The Scarsdale incident was marked with targeted violence. And the fact that the girls were having the time of their lives while assaulting a little girl showed the extent to which some people have been desensitised to violence.
The content we consume today has desensitised almost all of us at some level. But the indifference of the attackers revealed a kind of desensitisation that comes from extreme lack of empathy.
This uncovers a sad reality. Our inherent moral values, the fitrah (nature), have been altered to the point we can often not feel the pain and hurt that any other normal human being would.
These bullies came into the limelight because their videos went viral. However, the mindset that was at play at Scarsdale may already be an epidemic. And many children may be falling victim to their peers’ high levels of pride and low levels of empathy every day.
What Empowers Bullies to Do What They Do?
Bullying flies under the radar most of the time. But generally, one out of three teens are bullied worldwide . That’s almost 33% of young people being victimised by this menace.
Bullying leads to life-long consequences. Kids who have fallen prey to mean bullies suffer socially, emotionally, physically, and academically. In fact, if bullying isn’t stomped on, it can lead to kids committing suicide.
According to a research by Yale University, victims of bullying are 2 to 9 times  more likely to consider suicide than non-victoms. There are multiple reports of kids committing suicide after claiming they are being bullied.
Bullying can no longer be brushed under the rug. We need to address this problem and at least try to tone it down. But before that, we need to eliminate or alleviate the root cause of bullying.
Remember, bullies are not born. They are made.
Therefore, we need to identify and rectify the underlying systems that create bullies before attempting to do away with this menace.
The Parenting System
The parents of the Scarsdale bullies bailed the kids out. And if that wasn’t bad enough, they also threatened the victim’s father with terrible consequences if he filed a complaint.
And that’s our problem #1.
Kids are made into bullies, often due to the parents’ neglect and unreasonable support.
Some kids today have the confidence to do whatever they want simply because they know their parents will bail them out, even if they killed someone.
The unconditional “don’t worry beta, I am here” approach adopted by many parents today has spoiled the younger lot. And we can see the results.
Additionally, parents are responsible for instilling strong moral values in their children and ensuring they absorb these values completely.
But many modern parents often leave their kids to schools or household staff without a second thought to how these kids will develop the emotional intelligence and values they need to become good humans.
Besides that, the extreme focus on academics with zero thought given to character-building has also pushed the youth towards destruction.
A kid may be engaged in all sorts of immoral activities, but as long as they come home with As on their report card, the parents won’t bat an eyelid about what’s happening.
This may be a bitter reality for some, but the truth is the parenting approach often determines whether a kid will become an evil bully with no empathy or a normal human being.
And if we want to fight bullying, we first need to fix the parenting system and adopt the right tarbiyah (coaching and guidance) approach that instils strong values in children and makes them accountable for the wrong they do.
The Schooling System
Anyone who has been through school knows this: our schooling system is in shambles. And the product of this ruin is what we saw in Scarsdale.
Schools have become business institutions where students go to pick up the education their parents have bought for them. There is no element of nurturing, tarbiyah (coaching and guidance) evident in modern curriculums.
The parents are not instilling moral values. The schools are manufacturing educated robots. Then why were we so shocked at the lack of empathy the Scarsdale bullies depicted?
Yes, academics are important. But dozens of doctors, engineers, and technicians participated in creating tools for mass murders to aid the Nazi holocaust. This shows that academia is not enough to nurture people into becoming emotionally intelligent.
But unfortunately, our schools have steered away from moral education and are only restricted to conventional subjects. Teachers are only concerned with delivering the information they were paid to deliver and have long retired from being spiritual guides.
And it is not their fault.
The kids no longer look up to their teachers as guides and mentors, but only as employees hired to do a certain job – teach the subject they expect them to teach. And so, moral, life, or religious advice from a Math teacher may not be well received.
Most importantly, people of authority in rich-people schools are often afraid of their students.
And the reason ties back to pride and power.
All of these factors have come together to foster an environment such as Scarsdale’s – where big kids can corner and beat up an eighth-grader as dozens of spectators watch and enjoy.
What to Do?
Rectifying the schooling system is a long process. What can we do today to make sure bullying can be toned down going forward? Foster a mindset centred around empathy and kindness.
Many of us may not have kids right now, but knowing what can be done today can help us leave better humans in this disastrous world.
Bullying stems from lack of moral values. So, the first step towards squishing this issue is to prioritise character building as much, if not more, than academics.
What values should we learn and teach?
We may have two options when looking for a ground to drop our moral anchor on: the modern worldview and the Islamic worldview.
The modern worldview is popular right now. But it is collapsing on itself. And it has to. Humans cannot dictate laws for humans.
The best way forward is to try and anchor our values in Islamic principles. Since this is the law that has come from A Higher Power – God Himself.
Allah SWT says in the Quran, “the Qur’an was sent down as a guidance to the people with Clear Signs of the true guidance and as the Criterion (between right and wrong).” [Quran 2:185]
Good akhlaq (manners), empathy, and compassion – these traits are the essence of the deen we have removed from our lives.
The Prophet SAW highlighted the importance of akhlaq (manners) in his farewell Hajj sermon:
“Indeed, your blood, your wealth, your honour, is as sacred for you as the sacredness of this day of yours, in this city of yours, in this month of yours… Behold! Indeed the Muslim is the brother of the Muslim, so it is not lawful for the Muslim to do anything to his brother, which is not lawful to be done to himself.” [At-Tirmidhi-3087]
So, we need to adopt the fundamental Islamic values and instil them in our future generations. Doing this may help us build forces to fight the mindset that allows bullying and steer the society towards a better, brighter future.
 “New data reveal that one out of three teens is bullied worldwide,” UNESCO.org, Oct 1, 2018.
 “Trauma experience of youngsters and Teens: A key issue in suicidal behavior among victims of bullying?” Farhat S. Himani J. Sanila R. Hoor T. Fatima A., NCBI – Pakistan Journal of Medical Science, Jan-Feb 2014.