A lot of cases goes unreported or unnoticed
ASK ANY PARENT where they think has the most prevalent cases of bullying, and they would most likely answer ‘in school.’
However renowned clinical psychologist, National Social Scientist, and president and founder of MLAC Institute Dr. Ma. Lourdes (Honey) A. Carandang sees otherwise: “Incidents of bullying most likely started first at home.” Another truth bomb: “Bullying can happen as early as one’s pre-school days.”
“The first incidents of bullying might very well have happened at home. It could be that a brother is bullying a younger sibling, or that the parents themselves are already doing verbal abuse to their kids and don’t even know it. Some families do not see these incidents as bullying as they don’t perceive what’s happening as such. But these could be affecting an individual already,” said Carandang.
This fact is echoed by Dr. Shiela Marie Hocson, president of Philippine Guidance and Counseling Association, Inc. and Guidance Director of Far Eastern University Manila and Makati.
“In my long experience as a guidance counselor and through evidence-based researches, a child’s exposure to bullying usually comes from the earliest experiences of the individual witnessing their parents having physical and verbal fights that children tend to imitate as they think that fighting is normal. This could happen somewhere between grades 4 to 6 which is when a child is between 10 to 12 years old,” added Hocson.
Basics of bullying
Hocson defines bullying as “the occurrence of intentional physical or psychological intimidation where the relationship involves an imbalance of power that occurs repeatedly over time and can have continuing harmful effects. It can be through the form of overt or direct aggressive behaviors such as hitting, kicking, teasing, pushing someone, or stealing. Likewise, it can also be through covert or indirect aggressive behaviors such as spreading gossips or excluding other people through the use of traditional and cyberbullying.”
According to studies, bullying can inflict severe physical, psychological, social, or education harm or distress to its victims, and can be observed in many forms.
“This definition is something that everyone should be aware of,” said Carandang, who also defined bullying as “a system when one person exercise power over someone who is perceived to be much weaker. This is an important start, once parents and persons of authority such as that in schools are aware of what bullying is, then it can be addressed properly.”
The sad truth however, is that bullying incidents in the Philippines have been given attention rather late.
“In the Philippines, more than 1,700 cases of school bullying were reported to the Department of Education (DepEd) during 2013 and 2014. These substantial numbers are what DepEd aimed to address with the 2012 declaration of the Child Protection Policy, an initiative geared not only towards school abuse but also child abuse experienced at the home,” Hocson explained.
Addressing cases of bullying is an immediate concern, said Dr. Hocson, otherwise negative effects could manifest that are known to continue up to one’s adulthood.
“Children who are bullied perceive school as an unsafe place and are likely to miss more days of school than their peers. As a result, their education is negatively affected. Moreover, children who are bullied often experience low self-esteem, trauma, sadness, loneliness, hopelessness, unworthiness which can lead to depression even into adulthood. Worst it can lead to suicide.”
These victims also tend to carry the bullying behavior well into one’s adulthood – making it difficult for them to form and maintain relationships.
Know the signs
Before this article, we asked the parenting Facebook group Glam-O-Mommas (who has over 25,000 mommy members – most of whom are Filipinas), what question pops into their minds when talking about bullying and their answers were unanimous: “How do we know that our children are already being bullied?”
There are some physical manifestations that can help parents identify if their child is a victim. According to Carandang, some of these signs may be something as simple as losing one’s appetite or to something drastic such as a sudden loss of weight, constant stomach aches, headaches, and even vomiting.
The most telling sign to watch out for is the drastic change in one’s behavior – lively kids suddenly become quiet, those who love school no longer wants to go to class as they perceive it as an unsafe place – even a child who suddenly becomes so hyperactive could be a victim of bullying.
To understand these symptoms, parents and institutions are encouraged to know more about the types of bullying. These are: Physical (by means of hitting, punching, or kicking); Verbal (by means of name-calling or taunting); Relational/ Social (by means of destroying peer acceptance and friendships); and Cyber-bullying (by using electronic means to harm others).
Among the four, both experts regard cyberbullying as a growing concern.
“There’s no bystander who can intervene if cyberbullying is happening. In bullying cases, a bystander’s role is very important in order to stop a bully from terrorizing the victims. But in cyberbullying, no one can stop the perpetrator. Whatever negativity online can spread so fast, too,” said Carandang.
In a 2015 survey by Stairway Foundation Inc., 80 percent of teenagers aged 13 to 16 and 60 percent of children aged seven to 12 in the NCR and surrounding regions have experienced some form of cyberbullying which includes online threats, malicious photo editing, exposure of private conversations, and creating fake accounts to destroy reputations.
“Homes and schools should focus on doing growth mindset programs for the young ones to learn how to respect cultural diversity, inclusion, individual differences and equality. Moreover, parents, school stakeholders and elders should become ideal role models of empathy, respect, compassion and kindness,” Hocson said. “Schools and communities should have dynamic and accountable programs and policies to prevent bullying. There should also be clear guidelines on sanctions.”
Is there an institution to report such cases? “For concern and accountability, you should report bullying cases to the authority because if you remain uninvolved, it would only embolden the bully. If it happens in school, report the case immediately to the Discipline Officer. But if it involves more risks, then report it to the police or the NBI,” advised Hocson.
Meet the bully
Although attention and concern are oftentimes given to victims of bullying, Hocson said that it is also important to confront and help the bully.
“Bullying is rooted from contempt which is a powerful feeling of dislike that is rooted from their mind. There are three apparent psychological advantages that allow students to harm others namely: Sense of entitlement to dominate and abuse others; an intolerance toward differences because for them, different is inferior; and the liberty to exclude – to bar or isolate a person not worthy of respect.”
What is the best way to catch bullying at its early stages? Both experts agree: “Be involved with your children’s lives.”
“Most children think that they can be a burden to their family on top of their other concerns if they will inform their parents about their bullying concerns. Some are not close to their parents and think that their parents won’t care or show concern. Another factor is lack of communication, quality time, attachment and busyness of the parents. Absence of the parents (e.g. they are working abroad, or marital conflicts and separation) can also be a factor for them not to inform their parents regarding their concern,” observed Hocson. “Also, not all students and parents are aware what is really a validated bullying incident. In some journals, it was revealed that a lot of bullying goes unreported or unnoticed.”
To counter this, it is important to set-up an open communication line within the family – and to create a home not just as a dwelling place, but a safe haven from all kinds of bullies.
*Additional research provided by Dr. Hocson’s assistant researcher Ma. Ida Faye Gomez