How To Recognize If Your Child Is Being Bullied And What You Can Do Now
The way it’s gone viral, it would be difficult not to have seen one of the videos of an Ateneo High Junior School student bullying a fellow student inside the school premises. It would also be difficult, I daresay, not to have a firm opinion on the matter. Whether you believe that it’s not anyone else’s business how parents raise their kids; that the injuring party should be punished to full extent; or if you believe this will be the case that will finally put a tangible face to this grim reality—the lines have been drawn.
Now that the Ateneo de Manila University has dismissed the junior high school student, and Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin SJ, ADMU president has released a statement that the school is clear on its stance against bullying and they have formed a task force to ensure the safety of the students, there is clearly more things that is yet to be resolved.
Bullying is one of the biggest taboos in the educational system. Chances are, there is someone within your circle who has heard of or is associated with a bullied child. We’ve heard the horror stories during PTCs, and in some cases, these children have faced bullies head on with their parents in tow. But as mothers, sisters, or aunts of kids who are still in school, how can we protect our precious ones without overstepping our boundaries?
1. Open the doors of communication. According to Tina Zamora, Family Life and Child Development specialist and directress of Nest School, communication is key. “Parents should foster good communication between themselves and their children,” she says. “Even if they're working parents, a daily conversation (even while driving them to school, even when they’re ignoring you!) would make parents more sensitive to any sudden change in their children—whether physically (kids tend to hide physical abuse from bullies) or emotionally.”
2. Observe and recognize the signs of a bullied child. In some cases, you won’t get very far by just asking outright—children are likely to deny, mostly because they have no concept of the term. Someone in class might just be “mean” or likes to “joke around a little too much.” See if there are changes in behavior—from being refusing to go to school, or even refusing to talk about school. They might also be changes in their routine, such as prefering to buy lunch in the cafeteria instead of packed lunch, or vice versa, which could mean someone is making them uncomfortable at school.
“These changes come in many forms and parents can only notice them when they are attune (not stifling) to their children,” says Teacher Tina. “Though they may not know 100% of what is happening, parents would know drastic changes like sudden loss of appetite, kids not wanting to go to school, lethargic or any change in behavior.”
3. Watch out for health ailments. Do they have bruises and other inexplicable wounds? Do they go home saying the “fell down” or “slipped” but without getting a report from school about these? Are their clothes ripped or unusually dirty, attributing some of these to accidents in school? Or do they complain about aches and headaches, or they seem happy to stay home because they are not feeling well? Take note of these physical or emotional signs to see if there’s something wrong.
4. Note changes in school performance and extracurriculars. Is your A-student suddenly failing his grades or not attending classes? Are they withdrawn and without the confidence they used to have? Or are they anxious about other school activities? It’s important to draw out what’s really happening in school based on your conversations.
Some of the conversations you can have, says Teacher Tina, include "I notice that your grades suddenly became lower this quarter and you show no interest in school, not even in your favorite subject. Did you have a hard time in class? Do you find the subjects harder?" Sentences that are not jumping to conclusions but really just to start the conversation rolling,” she says.
5. Know that there are laws that protect victims. Bullies can be criminally charged. Under Republic Art 10627 or the Anti-Bullying Act (Act Requiring All Elementary and Secondary Schools to Adopt Policies to Prevent and Address the Acts of Bullying in their Institutions), students can anonymously report bullying, and the violators will be subject to punishment once the report is confirmed. What’s important here is that the law requires the school authorities to report to law enforcement agencies, and so criminal charges can be pursued.
6. Be aware of the different forms of bullying. Based on RA 10627, bullying takes several forms—from physical (from pranks, teasing, fighting, and the use of available objects as weapons), to verbal (name-calling, insulting, threatening, intimidating, along with racist remarks and sexist comments), to relational aggression (talking behind a person’s back, spreading rumors). The forms of bullying also extend to cyberbullying (through messaging apps and social media), and sexual (which involves humiliating words that target a person sexually, making vulgar gestures, uninvited touch, name-calling). The RA 10627 also holds school authorities accountable, so you can demand your school to take action. Non-compliance has sanctions, with penalties up to suspension of permits.
“If you still notice something odd, you can ask an impromptu PTC with your child's teacher if they notice anything in class, too,” urges Teacher Tina. “Your child's teacher is your best partner. If you believe that your child is having an issue with a classmate, you can relay this info to his teacher.”
Some caution though, as it’s not always the case. “Don’t jump the gun and think that it's bullying already. There are many circumstances that are actually happening,” she says. “[Hearing about incidents] like what just happened in Ateneo, sometimes exaggerates all emotions and heightens paranoia in parents. Continue with caution and try to get all information first,” she advises.
Focus on the children
Bullying is a complicated matter, and more often than not, involving many whether as witnesses or institutions that house the abuse. What’s important to remember is that children are involved, and therefore much care should be taken in dealing with it.
“Handling children’s behavior is a sensitive and personal matter. The last thing you want to demand is to speak or confront your child’s classmate or parents. Based on studies, this is never the way to go. It only satisfies your issues,” explains Teacher Tina.
“If your child’s school knows psych studies and were trained in these matters, they should first tackle the kids individually. Some parents of bullied kids always ask for “justice” or are “out for blood.”
Instead, she suggests to focus on your child first. “Closure does not mean forgiveness right away. It is a process,” she adds.
The reverse is also true. If you are the parent of a bully, the child comes first also. “The first priority is to focus on the emotional help that your child needs,” she says, not necessarily to make peace with the victims.
In the end, bullying is a big topic which still has so many permutations. There are a number of reported bullying incidents of varying ranges, and there are still many that are quietly being dealt with. It is our mandate as parents to observe our child’s behavior and keep communication lines open so we can better protect our children.