They are not 'kid things': the importance of not normalizing bullying

If you have ever heard your children say that the same partner has been violent repeatedly, physically or verbally, towards the same person, and that no one has done anything about it, this article may interest you.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
31 March 2024 Sunday 10:23
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They are not 'kid things': the importance of not normalizing bullying

If you have ever heard your children say that the same partner has been violent repeatedly, physically or verbally, towards the same person, and that no one has done anything about it, this article may interest you.

Most situations of school violence are occasional, occurring in and around school or in extracurricular activities. But when the frequency of attacks increases between the same aggressor and the same victim, this is when we are faced with a case of “school bullying.”

It is a form of violence that consists of repetitive behavior of harassment and intimidation, the consequences of which are usually the isolation and social exclusion of the victim.

There are three characteristics that define it: persistence over time, abuse of power, and intentionality of the action. The intention of the harasser is to make the other person have a bad time and damage their image. Leave her isolated, without support. Usually the victim feels intimidated and the intensity of the attacks usually increases. Furthermore, they begin to occur in private and always between the same aggressor or aggressors and the same victim.

School violence can be physical (hitting, pushing, shaking, slapping, kicking or punching, etc.), psychological (insulting, humiliating, blackmailing, threatening, isolating, ridiculing, etc.), sexual (touching, subjecting to sexual exhibitions, making sexual proposals, etc.), economic (payment of money daily, etc.), or vandalism (destroying the victim's school supplies or facilities).

Cyberbullying is the use of new technologies – through messages, social networks, etc. – with the aim of ridiculing, discrediting or humiliating the victim. It is an intentional aggression (verbal, emotional or social), by a person or group, through electronic devices and repetitively over time, to another person who cannot easily defend themselves. This phenomenon transcends the school walls from its position in cyberspace and moves to the homes of the adolescents involved.

There are risk factors that can cause a child or adolescent to find themselves in a situation of bullying. In the case of aggressors: aggressiveness, lack of self-control, impulsivity, low self-esteem, egocentrism, alcohol and drug consumption, lack of empathy, learning violent behavior from an early age, or school failure may be behind this violent attitude.

In the case of victims, the risk factors may be: origin from minority ethnic groups or the prevalence of the sexist image of men over women, physical or psychological weakness, self-esteem problems, low popularity at school or lack of friends, introverted personality or other conditions that differentiate him from the rest of his peers. Why are these behaviors normalized?

Educational centers should be a safe place, but bullying is still present.

Sometimes, the reaction of people who witness these types of events is to justify bullying, under the premise that they are common and natural things in childhood. Among the different explanations found in research as to why this normalization is generated, there is, for example, the widespread idea among schoolchildren that violence is the only way to resolve certain problems.

On the other hand, the reaction is important but prevention is more important, since it is the way to prevent bullying from happening in the first place.

Coexistence problems are not always perceived or verbalized in a simple way either by adults or by the children themselves. Minors usually do not clearly identify the cause of violent actions. For example, the reason most cited by schoolchildren who have been aggressors, regardless of the type of aggression, is that they do not know the reason why they have adopted that behavior.

On the other hand, sometimes the protagonists of the harassment themselves are not aware that they are being victims of violence and they normalize these situations. As for witnesses, the “law of silence” perceived in research suggests that classmates find it difficult to intervene or report a bullying situation.

It is essential to take into account the students' vision, understand what tools they have and offer alternatives when resolving a conflict between their peers. The lack of continuous training of teachers on issues of bullying and cyberbullying can turn problems of school coexistence into a complex reality that is difficult to address, but of great importance and impact at a social level and in the field of health. For this, there are pedagogical proposals of three types:

Primary prevention pays attention to all actions aimed at improving coexistence in schools. In this sense, it is important to strengthen and work on empathy, develop skills related to decision-making and pressure from the peer group, reflect on the limits of our freedom of action and the foresight of the peer group, educate in the self-control, strengthen and build adequate self-esteem.

On the other hand, secondary prevention refers to the early detection of these bullying situations. Detecting it helps us anticipate realities that lead to psychosocial problems.

Finally, tertiary prevention, when the bullying situation occurs. This axis focuses above all on the importance of providing tools to the different educational agents (school and family). Ongoing training will provide resources to detect and intervene in cases of harassment. It is essential to stop it and minimize its impact as soon as possible.

Sometimes, these types of situations are not perceived clearly and we doubt the intentionality. We even think that we are misinterpreting the words or attitudes of children and adolescents. In the case of the victim, it is essential that she does not accept the facts and makes an effort to make the harasser see that her behavior is inappropriate, annoying and generates suffering.

Assertiveness is a personal communication tool that is key in this type of behavior. Practicing it makes it possible for social relationships to be respectful, healthy and sincere from an early age. Likewise, making children feel accompanied and listened to will create a bond of trust that makes it possible to make visible the situation they are experiencing or observing.

Education and emotional well-being will allow the learning of social skills and the development of emotional intelligence that will help resolve and regulate these types of situations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation

Ana Isabel Agustí López is coordinator of the Master in Teacher Training at the International University of Valencia (VIU). Ana Rodríguez Martín is vice dean of the Faculty of Educational Sciences at the VIU.