Dealing with bullying in school
In a talk at a private school on how the youth could better manage media today, a parent asked what I thought of the Cybercrime Prevention Act (Republic Act No. 10175).
Its intentions seemed noble, I replied, but like many other people, I questioned the provision imposing more severe penalty on libel in cyberspace than in print, and the clause authorizing the Department of Justice to clamp down on websites deemed offensive.
The parent then narrated the heartbreaking story of how her daughter was repeatedly bullied by classmates and so-called “friends” on Facebook. The girl’s grades plummeted and she spiraled into depression. She had to change schools.
The parent said, because of what happened to her daughter, she wanted social media to be regulated. Freedom of speech should not be absolute, she said.
I told her of the Anti-Bullying Act of 2012 (RA 5496), which would address the matter better than RA 10175.
Prevalent in schools (even in workplaces), bullying is a serious matter that results in hurt feelings or broken friendships, even physical injury and death. I have seen the effects of bullying on my students—physical, emotional, mental, done by classmates, teachers, siblings, parents.
I agreed with the parent on most counts. Sometimes, if bullying cannot be controlled by authorities (parents or school), then changing schools would be the most sensible option.
But I told the parent, freedom of speech means exactly that —the ability to speak one’s mind without fear. I don’t have Facebook or Twitter because I don’t have the time or the inclination to maintain such accounts, and because I feel a lot of the content is trivial.
But even if I don’t do social media, I believe that everyone has the right to indulge in it, without any restrictions. As Voltaire famously said, “I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Ways to stop bullying
How do we deal with bullying? Education is key. Discuss bullying in school and at home: its characteristics (aggression, power imbalance, repetition), the kinds it can take (physical, verbal, social, emotional), the places it can happen (school, home, cyberspace).
Include antibullying lessons in the curriculum. Emphasize that bullying is not acceptable in any form.
Install procedures to deal with bullying in school. To have a clear picture of the prevalence of bullying, survey students while ensuring their privacy is protected.
Many schools underestimate the frequency of bullying because incidents are rarely reported.
After the surveys, decide if and how to communicate findings to parents, teachers and students. Many schools do not want to do this for fear of embarrassment or inflaming sentiment. But when one school bravely disclosed its findings, stakeholders worked with school authorities to create an antibullying program.
Train teachers and counselors on how to handle bullying. Monitor hot spots where bullying is likely to occur, such as the cafeteria, playground, bathrooms. School staff is often accused of turning a blind eye to bullying, but sometimes it does not know what to do.
Hold seminars for parents, too. Teachers and administrators often feel that when parents butt in, with emotions all awry, things may get worse.
But to minimize, even eradicate altogether, bullying, all sectors need to communicate with each other and work together. Identify respected and well-loved teachers and staff members students can turn to for help. Empower them to act judiciously and quickly to avert more bullying.
Identify also well-respected parents, known for fairness, who can mediate conflicts among fellow parents. It may be hard to find them because many reasonable parents do not want to get involved in what they perceive as school politics. They have to be convinced to help out.
Model good behavior
Good behavior can be contagious. Recognize students who go out of their way to help others—volunteering for flood relief, tutoring classmates, stopping fights, respecting teachers, standing up to bullies.
Adults should be good role models. Teachers should not raise their voices to students (unless absolutely necessary), insult or laugh at them. Parents should never shout at teachers or threaten them (such as during parent-teacher conferences).
Prevention is always better than remediation. Antibullying lessons should start at home. Several studies show that, more often than not, bullies are raised by parents who themselves are bullies (physically or verbally abusive fathers, manipulative mothers, parents who intimidate or threaten others), by absentee parents (either deceased, working abroad, or just too involved in other things to pay attention to the kids), or parents who cannot discipline their children (those who prefer to be barkada rather than parents, those who cannot say “no” to their kids, those who refuse to set limits).
Children raised in homes where communication lines are open, discipline is firm but loving, love and trust are unconditional, seldom become bullies. Or, if bullied, have the confidence and strength to handle the problem.
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