The bullying incident caught on video involving Ateneo High School students has been making the rounds on social media, and netizens have expressed strong opinions about the child involved. Many are enraged that it happened in a highly-regarded institution such as the Ateneo, and parents of students have instinctively become wary and protective of their children.
In the process, the video has been circulated widely online. But according to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, a leading charity in the United Kingdom, in a situation like this, it is better to report the video than share it for the following reasons:
1. To protect the victim. A video is a digital footprint that may haunt a young person later on in life. By reporting it, you are putting a stop to its spread, thereby helping the person recover from the trauma.
2. To keep children safe. Violent online content could get into the hands of anyone, even kids. Reporting it will ensure these kinds of videos do not become available to young audiences.
3. To give the child a chance to move on.Such videos document moments nobody wants to remember. If you report the video, you are helping the person to heal.
Psychologist and counselor Michele Alignay, Ph.D., a family life specialist, reiterates that bullying is a cycle. With the video going viral, she says, “The bully is now the bullied. It will be hard for [the child in the video] to recover due to shame, and all the more that he might harbor hate — it seems he has already,” she observes.
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According to stopbullying.gov, kids play different roles in a bullying incident: there’s the bully, who exhibits aggressive behavior towards others; the bullied, who is the target of the bully; and the bystander, who is a witness to the incident. And while these roles may be clear-cut in our minds, and identifying who is which may seem easy, in real life it is not always the case because, "Kids behave differently at home and in school," Alignay adds.
That said, the viral video is a call for us parents to reflect and ask ourselves, “Where am I as a parent?" and, more importantly, "Do I know my child at all?"
What parents can do
Alignay, who worked as a grade school guidance counselor for 12 years and continues her counseling practice in private up to now, says parents need to act and relate with their child depending on how they see them figuring in a tight situation such as bullying.
When you are the parent of a child who is bullied, it's natural to feel outraged. But, Alignay cautions, "Choose your child's well-being over justice. Seek the help of the school authorities. Collaborate with the school and have a counselor who will [go on this] journey with your child."
Alignay advises parents to teach their children to stand up for themselves by encouraging and training them to be assertive — NOT aggressive. "Listen to them when they speak — don't tell your child to just be quiet. Teach them to know the boundaries of others, or until where others could have influence over them. Allow them to share. Spend more time and give them attention, but do not be too protective to the point of disabling them."
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On the other hand, Alignay tells parents of the child who has bullying behavior tendencies to "check family patterns because there are unconscious patterns [at home] that influence how the bully becomes a bully." She also highly encourages families in this situation to seek professional help if necessary.
Bystanders, too, have an important role to play in helping nip the behavior in the bud, says Alignay. "We should teach kids to be responsible not just for themselves, but for others. To learn what is right and wrong, and to not be part of the mocking or teasing. Most importantly, bystanders should tell the authorities," she emphasizes.
In Finland, a nationwide anti-bullying program called "KiVa" was launched in 2016. It makes use of what kids today love to do — go online and play video games. One of these works like a choose-your-own-adventure game, where the kids are given different options on how to defend a victim, which leads to different situations. The kids can use the game to practice how to be nice to their fellow students. It also teaches them what to say to someone who has been bullied. This helps them learn how to empathize and be more supportive of bullying victims. Findings show that the program is working.
Alignay cautions that parents might be unaware of these four ways they unintentionally cause their kids to become bullies:
1. How you speak to your child
Words are a powerful tool. Our language and manner of speaking to our children will stay with them forever. Therefore, it is important not only to choose the right words, but also to be aware of the tone we use, because ultimately what we say to our children will make or break them.
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2. How you listen to your child
Listening is connecting with our children, and when we do so, we build better relations with them. "Listen to your child and find out what is happening in his life. Not building that connection translates to not having an influence in your child—and we can only correct those whom we have connected with," adds Alignay.
Because teaching kids is about doing, not saying, "it also boils down to role modeling of parents and how we treat our family members, helpers, strangers, and people who are different from us (whether in socio-economic status or otherwise)," says Alignay. If you habitually exhibit aggressive behavior towards others, it won't be surprising if your child mimics your ways.
4. How we make our kids accountable
"Children should grow up with rules on behavior, and be made responsible for their mistakes," says Alignay. Age-appropriate rules and corresponding consequences at home should be implemented by parents. "When parents give in to their kids' whims, do not correct misbehavior, and let kids get away with misconduct, kids tend to assume it is okay."
Referring to the viral bullying video, columnist and book author Cathy Babao posted a message on Facebook encouraging parents to turn the incident into an opportunity to "model for our children how we respond to bullies.
"Do we willingly join the mob, and bully them as well by name calling, dragging the bully and his family through the muck, and threatening with words and bodily harm? Or, do we take this as an opportunity to see where and how we can help make it better by being pro-active in educating them about speaking up, and standing up for those who cannot speak. Yes, be angry but be rational. We raise our collective voices by calling to task, in a persuasive, constructive, and rational way, everyone responsible for safeguarding the well-being of our children."