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OPINION: Parents and schools are accountable for bullying, full stop.

This sounds like a cliché but bullying starts at home. I’m not a psychologist but being a bully or being violent or just being a jerk is not something a child gets in the womb. It takes years to develop these kinds of behavior.

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A FEW things I need to get out of the way before I wade into this controversy involving a bully at the Ateneo de Manila Junior High School, whose videos have been spreading like wildfire on YouTube.

One, I’m a father of four small kids, and bullying is something that we talk about. I have told them, particularly my eldest, that if they are ever bullied – as in physically harmed bullied – they don’t have to ask my permission to hit back. I raise you to stand up for yourself, I would tell them, and I’ll be damned if I allow a brat to bully you just because he can. Goes without saying that if my kids ever become bullies, there’d be hell to pay.

Two, sure, there are no bad parents but that is not an excuse. Parents need to be taken to task for their children’s bad behavior. I don’t want to judge my fellow parents but the fact is, we should be judged for how our kids behave anywhere.

Three, children need to be held accountable as well for their action. I disdain parents who spoil their kids, who treat them like they’re the most precious thing in the world who should not be punished. Okay, they are the most important beings in our lives but they need to answer for their actions. And let me just say this: Spoiling is the first step to bullying.

Four, as parents who work and are thus not at home as often as we should be, we entrust our children to schools and institutions of learning. But many of them have been remiss in their duty and responsibility to act as second parents or guardians to our kids, to the point that their main concern when something such as bullying erupts is to make sure that they are not held liable. This needs to change.

I don’t want to judge my fellow parents but the fact is, we should be judged for how our kids behave anywhere, full stop.

Now, about those videos.

They’re the kind of spectacle that forces you to look at yourself in the mirror to see whether you’ve done your end of the bargain as a parent. The violence shown in those videos is shocking – my co-workers practically hijacked the whole day on Thursday when this thing erupted, talking about nothing else. But more important to me is this: the violence is bewildering.

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What happened to this kid for him to behave like this? Was he bullied as well before? Is he compensating for something, as bullies often do? But the more I watch those videos, the more I got convinced that this was not just a case of a child so bratty that he thinks he can get away with anything. We can draw a straight line from that kid to his home, his parents and family, and to his school for ALLOWING him to get away with his behavior.

Watch those videos again to see what I mean. The incidents happened in areas where other people – potential witnesses – were present: the school canteen and the school toilet, for example. The fact alone that he allows his friend to record the violence on a smart phone in the presence of other students is telling. This can only mean that he’s done it several times before.

This sounds like a cliché but bullying starts at home. I’m not a psychologist but being a bully or being violent or just being a jerk is not something a child gets in the womb. It takes years to develop these kinds of behavior. Often, and to be fair, it has nothing to do with parents or bad parenting; just the fact that a child, for instance, grows up in a poor community where toughies bully him every chance they get, or where witnessing violence is commonplace – those can very quickly mess one up inside. But on most occasions, it has to do with parents and bad parenting: it is our job, folks, to make sure that our kids do not bully other kids.

To me, the key tenets of parenting are these: Teaching our kids to be responsible for their actions, and to be compassionate, generous, and kind to others. I am a bad parent if I failed to instill these in my kids.

But it’s not just us parents who should be castigated for this and for the seeming prevalence of bullying. Schools and institutions of learning – yes, including martial arts schools – are also accountable for their failure to hold their bully students and the parents who nurtured them to account for their action or inaction. (Speaking of martial arts schools, if they teach a child how to fight, it is their moral duty to make sure that he doesn’t use it to harm others. No, just issuing a statement saying they don’t advocate violence won’t cut it.)

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Schools always try to convince us during enrollment time that their school are our children’s second home, that their teachers are our children’s secondary parents. But bullying worsens when they fail to deliver on those promises. It is also their job, duty and responsibility to make sure our children — their wards — are accountable for their actions.


There is a prevalent sense among many parents of bullied children that schools are more concerned about their liability rather than their accountability.

Unfortunately, there is a prevalent sense among many parents of bullied children that schools are concerned more about their liability rather than accountability. This has several effects. One is that schools are not proactive enough to provide an enabling environment for bullied children to come forward and seek redress.

What schools do about bullying needs to be seriously assessed. This is particularly true in top schools where transparency is frowned upon (which is why we hear school administrators complain more about why videos of bullying are circulating rather than on what happened, for example, to the bullied).

This brings me to a point my wife asked me yesterday: “This video makes it seem like bullies only come from schools for the well-off.”

Well, for one thing, it seems that way because public school children probably don’t have the money to buy the smart phones that are then used to record and spread bullying incidents. (To be fair, we get the sense that bullying is pervasive because many cases are easily spread on social media these days.)

For another, in less affluent communities and schools, accountability can be swift. A boy who behaves like that Ateneo student will easily get his due in the poorer streets of the Philippines. I don’t advocate student vigilantism or settling scores through violence but that’s just the reality in a violent environment. The point is accountability and why it is key in all this. And accountability only works if done by those who have authority  — like parents, guardians and teachers — over the bully child. (Andres Enojado / Lifestyle Laguna)

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