BULLYING: WHEN CHILDREN HATE GOING TO SCHOOL
Text and Photo by Henrylito D. Tacio
“It’s natural to want to protect your child from bullies. But the unfortunate truth is that many parents don’t know what to do to help.” – Deborah Carpenter
“I hate school and I don’t want to go anymore!”
If one day your child goes home from school and says those words, it’s a red flag that he or she is being bullied by his or her classmates or someone at school.
Parents need to know that bullying exists in schools, whether they believe it or not. Data released by the Department of Education (DepEd) showed that a total of 19,672 cases of bullying in both public and private elementary and high schools were recorded during the school year 2016-2017.
Based on a cycle of 202 school days, this translates to 97 reported incidents of bullying in schools every day. That’s almost 100 cases of bullying each day, according to Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara. “Bullying is one of the earliest forms of violence our children encounter,” he said. “We must do everything we can to protect them from it.”
Violence against children by their peers, particularly bullying, has received little attention in the Philippines, possibly due to the perception that bullying and fighting among children is part of school culture. “Away bata” is the common excuse for it – it’s “normal” or “a rite of passage” for children.
Actually, bullying isn’t a new problem. It has been there since time immemorial. In fact, it has been depicted in some novels. In Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens highlights bullying and criminal mistreatment of a child protagonist. The Outsiders, written by S.E. Hinton, tells the story of a 14-year-old boy who is bullied and victimized by rival high school students.
The Philippines has its fair share of examples. One of the most contentious cases happened in 2008 to a four-year-old boy named Manolo. His two classmates were playing when they decided to include in their roughhousing. He was pushed and shoved and fell to the floor, thereby hitting his head in the process. He was immediately brought to the hospital, but fortunately, hospital tests showed no serious injuries were found.
When the father heard about the incident, he immediately went to the school authorities and raised his concern. However, their initial reaction disappointed the father so much. “I was told that my son shouldn’t have entered school yet since he was too young,” the father told a local news channel. “(Regardless), once the child is in school, the school authorities should be responsible with what happens to him/her.”
In order for the incident not to happen again to his son or other kids, he decided to address the problem in the best way he knew: by filing a bill that protects the children against any form of bullying.
The father is no other than ex-Aurora representative and now senator Angara. He was the man behind the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013 or the Republic Act No. 10627. The above incident pushed him to author the bill.
“When the school administrators receive a report or complaint of any instance of bullying,” he told a monthly publication, “they must promptly conduct an investigation to determine if bullying or retaliation actually occurred. Once determined, the school principal or the designated officer should take the appropriate disciplinary administrative action, as well as notify the law enforcement agency if criminal charges may be pursued against the perpetrator.”
He further explained: “The principal should also inform the parents or guardians of both the perpetrator and the victim regarding the incident. The school must ensure the victim’s parents or guardians that actions will be taken to prevent any further acts of bullying or retaliation.”
Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines bullying as “to treat abusively; to affect by means of force or coercion; or to use browbeating language or behavior.” This definition includes nonviolent actions such as coercion and browbeating language.
“Bullying is intentionally aggressive behavior that can take many forms (verbal, physical, social/relational/emotional, or cyber bullying – or any combination of these); it involves an imbalance of power, and is often repeated over a period of time,” wrote Dr. Deborah Carpenter, author of Parent’s Guide to Dealing With Bullies. “The bullying is generally unprovoked and can consist of one child bullying another, a group of children gathering up against one lone child, or one group of kids targeting another group.”
Verbal bullying happens when the bully uses language and words to hurt. Examples include name-calling, taunting, swearing, spreading rumors, gossip, note writing, whisper campaigns, secret revealing, laughing at one’s mistakes, making up stories to get someone in trouble, insulting nicknames, hate speech, mocking or imitating, threats, and prank phone calls.
Physical aggression, however, is the most widely recognized form of bullying. “This is the type of behavior that gets adult attention, garners school suspensions, and occasionally makes headlines,” Carpenter wrote. “Typically, the behavior is action oriented, involving such behaviors as hair pulling, pinching, hitting, punching, head butting, choking, imitating wrestling holds, throwing an object at someone, pushing books out of one’s hands, and hiding or destroying property.”
Social bullying happens when a child is humiliated or demeaned in front of her peers. Relational bullying entails intentionally damaging the social status of the victim. Emotional bullying takes place when the bully demands exclusivity and isolates her victim from her entire peer group.
There is also so-called extortion bullying. “Opportunistic bullies will use force or the threat of force to obtain money, food or personal belongings from other students,” Carpenter wrote. “Young children are particularly vulnerable to this type of extortion by older and bigger children.”
In these days of the information highway, cyberbullying has become rampant. This was highlighted in the movie John Denver Trending, which won several awards. It tells the story of a poor 14-year-old Grade 8 high school student who got into a fight with his classmate. He was wrongly accused of stealing his classmate’s iPad while it was being charged in the classroom.
The fight was caught in a video that was applauded by another classmate on Facebook. The post became viral locally and later on throughout the country, which made John a villain in the eyes of those who had watched the video.
In a feature circulated by state-owned Philippine News Agency (PNA), celebrity psychologist-psychiatrist Randy Misael Dellosa said bullying happens anywhere on the school premises. Its usual victims are students with a meek personality.
“Students who are quite seen as passive, quiet… those who will not fight back, submissive, and won’t tell anyone,” Dr. Dellosa was quoted as saying. “They are perceived as weak characters and these are the prey for the predators. So, if you see a student who’s meek and mild and passive, they are a potential victim of bullying.”
Boys bully more than girls, and the tormenting is more often physical. In the absence of studies done in the Philippines, we are quoting research done by Debra J. Pepler of the LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence and Conflict Resolution at York University. She found out that 23% of boys surveyed said they had engaged in bullying, compared to only 8% of girls.
Among victims, however, both genders were equally affected. With girls, bullying often takes more subtle forms, such as whispering campaigns, spreading rumors, and shunning acts designed to destroy friendships. This can be every bit as painful as physical aggression.
“Many parents are unaware that it is happening because they never discuss it with their kids and because bullying is often a kind of underground activity that many children won’t report,” wrote Dr. Richard B. Goldbloom in an article which was published in Reader’s Digest.
How will parents know that their children are being bullied? According to psychologists, some manifestations include the following: frightened of going to school and difficult to wake in the morning; doesn’t want to ride the school bus; begs to be driven to school; becomes withdrawn, anxious, or lacking in confidence; cries him/herself to sleep at night or has nightmares; feels sick in the morning, and comes home with clothes torn or books damaged.
A child is also being bullied if he or she has possessions (like pens or pencils) that end up “missing”; asks for money or starts stealing money (to pay the bully); comes home starving (money/lunch has been stolen); stops eating, and is frightened to say what’s wrong.
A major red flag is when he or she attempts or threatens suicide or runs away from home.
The implementing rules and regulations of RA 10627 provide for the proper handling of bullying incidents in schools. Immediate responses should include:
- Calling the attention of any school personnel who could intervene and stop the bullying.
- Separating the students involved.
- Ensuring the victim’s safety.
- Bringing the bully to the guidance office.
In her weekly column for a national daily, Cathy S. Babao-Guballa believes that an anti-bullying program in the Philippine setting “can only be effective if both the school and the parents’ association work together to discourage bullying, both in private and public schools.”
On how parents can make a difference when it comes to bullying, the Psychological Association of the Philippines (PAP) explained in its website: “Parents need to listen to their children and take seriously reports of being bullied in school. Children may not disclose bullying experiences because such reports may be trivialized, seen to be their fault, or responded to in ways that may worsen rather than solve their problems.
“There is thus a need for parents to learn how to respond competently to bullying-related issues of their children,” the PAP added. “This may include engaging in teacher-parent consultations, conflict resolution sessions, or constructive advocacy work.”
Yes, bullying, especially in schools, is everyone’s business. As Dr. Goldbloom puts it: “It is unrealistic to expect it can be totally eliminated: We can’t eradicate the conditions that turn some children into bullies and others into targets. But if everyone, concerned teachers, school authorities, police, parents and children is truly committed to zero tolerance, then there is solid evidence that the amount and the severity of bullying can be reduced dramatically.”