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Beware the Bully: A Mom’s Take on Bullying in School

In September of last year, I found myself crying over the death of Mitchell Wilson, an 11-year-old boy from Canada who took his own life following episodes of being bullied. I remember picking up this story from a blog I religiously follow. Being a new mom, stories of kids’ death bring the usually stoic me to tears and Mitchell’s passing deeply saddened me. He lost his mom when he was eight then got diagnosed with the degenerative disease muscular dystrophy a year after. How much pain he had to endure in such a short life is beyond me. The thought awakened in me a fear for my daughter’s own safety when the time comes for her to go to school.

Bullying is a form of physical, verbal, or psychological torment intentionally inflicted by an aggressor. It involves threatening, name-calling, hitting, mocking, and to some extent, extorting money and taking away treasured possessions from the victim.

Mitchell’s nightmare began in November of 2010. While walking one day, a 12-year-old boy he knew from his school in Pickering mugged him. The older boy was after the iPhone Mitchell was carrying. He jumped at Mitchell and smashed his face hard into the pavement, breaking some of his teeth.

The attack shook Mitchell to the core. And even after the mugger has been arrested, charged, and eventually kicked out of school, his minions have remained and continued to torment Mitchell, blaming the hapless boy for what befell their friend. The older boy’s pals were no lesser a bully than he was—they made Mitchell’s life miserable, too—taunting him relentlessly and following him around.

Besieged by the endless bullying, Mitchell had grown anxious and depressed. He stopped going on walks, which he badly needed to keep his body active. He had frequent emotional outbursts and tantrums, and at some point threatened to end his life if he has to go to school. Such pronouncement prodded Mitchell’s dad to take him to counseling. But no amount of psychiatric aid could help Mitchell get over the trauma of excessive bullying. Long after the bruises on his face have healed, the emotional wound remained. And on September 6, 2011, Mitchell’s father, Craig Wilson, found his son dead with a plastic bag tied around his head.

This tragic end to a young boy’s life has raised a lot of questions on the issue of bullying in schools. Why are there bullies? Why do kids bully? What can we do about them? How do we teach our kids to deal with bullies? How do schools address cases of bullying? How about parents of bullies—how did they raise them? How do parents know if their kids are being bullied or if their kids are bullies? These questions are incessantly being asked, but the answers remain elusive.

Sticks and stones can break my bone…

I am no stranger to bullying. I’ve witnessed it done in grade school and in high school. Bigger kids would lord it over the small ones, threatening to hurt them if they don’t give in to their whims, or worse, hitting them just because. At one point, a classmate even tried to bully tiny wimpy me but unfortunately for him, despite my size, I was quite a toughie. Which makes me wonder, is teaching our kids to fight back when an aggressor hits on them an option?

Having been around bullies before, and having warded them off successfully in school, I believe that teaching kids these three simple steps can help them cope with bullying. First, tell the bully off. Second, simply walk away. If the two options don’t work, find and tell someone in authority, like a teacher or any adult around.

But here’s the rub—most cases of bullying go unreported because victims choose not to speak up. They usually keep mum about it because of fear.

A friend’s 5-year-old son never admitted that he was being bullied although his mom ‘felt’ that something was really amiss, what with his dipping performance in class, his low self-esteem, and his refusal to go to school unescorted by his nanny. For months, he would ask for extra allowance and spare food. Her mom happily obliges, thinking that since he’s a growing kid, he gets hungry often and needs the money to buy extra food. One day, my friend forgot to leave him money before she left for work. When she got home, she came home to a kid with a broken arm. The truth was revealed: four 6th graders have been bullying his kid from day one. They extort money from him and verbally taunt him in front of other kids whenever he refuses to relent. The poor boy was also forced to supply the bullies with food.

My friend was aghast. She brought the incident to the attention of school authorities. The principal called on the parents of the four older boys to meet with my friend and her husband. The meeting wasn’t pleasant. The parents of the bullies were expectedly in denial of their kids’ bad behavior. One even had the gall to tell my friend that perhaps the reason her son was being bullied was because he is a weakling. To my friend’s surprise, nothing came of the meeting but aggravated parties who instead of peacefully settling the matter have become hostile toward each other.

If there was any consolation, the school principal offered to look into the matter and promised my friend that she would tell teachers to be more vigilant of bullying incidents in the campus. Somehow, that promise appeased my friend. But again, the action taken by the principal wasn’t enough. It was, to me, hallow and empty. The perpetrators got nothing but some scolding, they weren’t even meted suspension.

…and words can also hurt me

My niece Chingan also had her share of experiences with a bully. And while she was never harmed physically, she bore the brunt of snide remarks and hurtful gestures.

What innocently began as teasing grew into something more hurtful. A classmate of hers made a habit of ceaselessly labeling her fat and stupid, and uttering every conceivable insult her acid tongue could spew.

The assault didn’t end there—when the bully has grown tired of verbally attacking her, she resorted to getting her things, pulling her chair, and eventually, tearing her homework and test papers apart.  The bully’s acts even went beyond the confines of the classroom. Her wicked wings spread to cyberspace, plaguing my niece’s Friendster account with acerbic words and uncalled for comments.

That was how I learned of the maltreatment. Chingan’s mom, who is as passive as can be, just shrugged it off and said, “away bata lang ‘yan (it’s just a petty quarrel between kids).” But I couldn’t take it sitting down so I immaturely began retaliating.  I wrote to the kid and told her off, threatening to tell her parents about her shenanigans.

But that 5th grade bully was such a toughie.  She didn’t fold up. Instead, she began attacking me as well. Name-calling, I learned, was her forte. It was surprising how the words slut and whore are part of an 11-year-old’s vocabulary.

Realizing that she would never listen to me, I wrote to their class adviser and asked Chingan’s older sister who goes to the same school to hand her the letter. I also asked my other niece to seek out the bully and talk to her.

I don’t know whether the teacher got a hold of my letter or if my niece’s dialogue with the bully pushed through because the bullying surprisingly stopped.

So, are we doing something about it?

As in the case of Mitchell Wilson, the question of whether things could have taken a different turn if teachers had stepped in and stopped the bullying arises. And in the case of my friend’s son, I wondered if her son wouldn’t have suffered a broken arm had the parents of the bullies have done their share in curtailing their children’s bad behavior early on.

In January of this year, Congress signed into law House Bill 5496 or the Anti-bullying Act of 2012, which seeks to provide students and their parents or guardians awareness of the impact of bullying and how it can be prevented or addressed.

Based on what I gathered from the House of Representatives website, under the bill, existing schools shall submit their anti-bullying policies to the Department of Education within six months upon effectivity of the law.  All school-related bullying incidents must be reported to their respective schools’ division superintendents, who in turn shall compile and report to the Secretary of Education.

The Department of Education (DepEd) is mandated to submit a report on bullying incidents to the appropriate Congressional committee and shall sanction school administrators for non-implementation of anti-bullying policies and non-compliance with the reportorial requirements.

The bill also requires anti-bullying policies to be included as an administrative requirement prior to the operation of new schools.

Furthermore, the measure mandates the DepEd to include in its training programs, courses or activities and opportunities for school administrators, teachers and other employees to develop their knowledge and skills in preventing bullying in schools.

This looks promising. Finally, there’s a law that outlines processes and procedures, and mandates reporting to the authorities bullying events. But as a mom, I’d like to know how many of the schools all over the country have finally employed this measure.  What constitutes the anti-bullying policies the DepEd requires schools to submit? What happens after bullying incidents have been reported to the higher ups? With this law in place, what penalties can school authorities mete out for bullies so they will learn their lesson? Again, there are more questions than answers. So I guess we have to wait and see if this law, if sternly implemented, can put an end to the incidence of bullying in schools.

My little one is only a year old. I have a few more years left to pray hard and hope that when she finally reaches school-age, bullying would be passé and unheard of.

In the meantime…

You can find articles left and right on how to help kids deal with bullies—tips and tricks on what coping mechanisms to employ are aplenty. But before we can educate them on such measures, we must first know what to do in the event that our kids fall prey to bullying.

Spot the signs of bullying and decide whether or not there is a bullying problem.  Pay attention to your kids’ behavior. Do they act differently? Do they seem anxious, moody, or easily get upset? Aren’t they excited to go to school? Don’t they sleep and eat well? Remember that while some kids might open up about it, most will refuse to share their ordeal.

  • Take time to get to know the people your children interact with. Listen to the names that get thrown around in casual conversation and the context in which they are being mentioned. Like, “Jason grabbed my book.” Ask your kid who Jason is, why he did that, for instance.
  • Make time to visit the school and observe. Note if there are bullying incidents in the campus.  Whether your child is affected or not, inquire on their policy about bullying. Ask how they address cases of bullying.
  • And if you think your child is being bullied, contact the school and speak with the teacher and principal immediately. Fill them in on what you know and what you suspect is happening. Ask them if they know something, too. Nudge them to investigate and give them opportunity to look into the matter. When you don’t hear from school authorities and the bullying continues, follow up quickly and work out an action plan. Delegate upwards if the problem persists.

Kids who suffer in the hands of bullies not only perform dismally in class, but oftentimes lose their interest and totally refuse to go to school. Bullying stings not just physically but emotionally as well and can leave scars that last for life.

It is in schools where memories are made and dreams are built, but if your child is enveloped in an environment of fear and violence, then school would be the last place he would want to be in.

So it’s imperative that we, parents, work together with teachers and other school authorities to curb bad behavior and hopefully eradicate bullying so nobody else will suffer the fate of Mitchell Wilson and countless others who not only lost their interest to go to school but lost their lives as well.