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Filipino children are back in school. As much as we consider schools as havens where children can learn safely and in safety, there is inevitably concern about bullying.
Beyond the typical banter of children, bullying is the act of repeated aggressive behavior in order to intentionally hurt another person emotionally, verbally, or physically; there is intent to force one's way on another through a pattern of harassment and abuse.
Spotting Victims of Bullying
Anybody can be bullied. However, children who allow bullies to repeatedly harass them are the ones who tend to get picked on. The problem is that - precisely out of fear - victims seldom report what is happening to them.
There are warning signs, however. They could come in the form of physical evidence, such as torn clothes or school materials, unexplained bruise or even extra money requests. Parents and teachers could also take note of behavioral changes like reluctance to go to school, loss of interest in school activities, mood shifts or sudden temper outburst, isolation of oneself, or rapid underachieving.
Who are bullies?
In my guidance and counseling practice, bullies are often described as physically stronger and cunning. They easily find fault in others, are indifferent towards others' needs, and show antisocial tendencies.
But bullies need help as much as victims do. Research from the University of Arizona suggest that bullies are often exposed to domestic violence and have fewer adult role models. Although the victim-turned- bully issue is controversial, studies show that bullies compensate for their own victimization through violence towards others. Bullies have unmet needs for self-power, recognition and respect that they perversely gain through a display of intimidating behaviors. They view fear as respect towards them and they derive satisfaction from the reaction and sufferings of their victims and bystanders.
Sometimes bullying goes on unnoticed until someone discloses it to stop the injustice. Here is where the bystanders come into play.
Bystanders come in different forms. They include those who witness bullying, assist the perpetrator, and/or defend the victim. They, too, may also be affected emotionally and morally by what they see or are aware of. Some typical expressions of shame and guilt come out in counseling, such as: "I feel responsible for what happened as well," "Was I a bully too when I jeered at her?", and "Am I a bad person for not stopping what I saw?"
What can be done?
House Bill 5496, or the Anti-Bullying Act of 2012, requires that anti-bullying policies be included in every school's student and employee handbook and posted in school websites and school walls. The bill requires schools to submit their anti-bullying policies to the Department of Education (DepEd) and for bullying incidents in schools to be reported to division superintendents. The bill also allows DepEd to impose sanctions on school administrators who do not implement anti-bullying policies.
While the bill is commendable, the issue of bullying requires a broader perspective that should include providing guidance for the bully rather than mere punishment.
Whether you or your child is the victim, the witness, or the bully in a bullying episode, the most important thing is to open up and talk to a teacher, school counselor or psychologist.
Victims of bullying can be counseled on ways to stand up and better protect themselves. Bullies themselves will need counseling in order to help them channel their aggression and attain their need for self-respect in more productive ways. It is also important to prepare students with options for intervening in bullying situations as part of their own moral development.
To combat bullying, we need to invest time to educate and train teachers, students and parents and provide support mechanisms. Taking this time may be the best investment we can give to create a safe school environment for our children.
Vanessa Laura S. Arcilla is a member of the counseling and assessment divisions of the Psychological Association of the Philippines. She was former Head of the Guidance Center of San Juan De Dios Educational Foundation and former Director of the Guidance and Testing Center of Olivarez College-Paranaque.