How do we definde bullying?
In Paraguay, in accordance with Law N° 4633 of the year 2012, bullying is defined as any form of physical, verbal, psychological or social violence among students, which is performed repeatedly in the educational environment, generating in the person affected grievance or damage in their overall development.
In addition to the victim and the perpetrator, there is a third individual or group who is the accomplice or witness, who acts as audience so that the harasser can carry out this type of violence against the harassed person. It leads to damage or reduction of the self-esteem of the person who is attacked and can have a number of consequences of varying degrees of severity.
Alejandra Ruiz Díaz has a degree in Educational Psychology, worked in the field of children and adolescents in projects within the Bañado Sur (a very close area to the Paraguay River) and today has been working for 8 years in educational institutions with adolescents, addressing the problems of bullying in all its variants considering the technological supports and cyberspace as a new field of action.
Does bullying disappear with this distancing that we’ve been forced into for 50 days?
Bullying can continue to emerge through what is known as cyber-bullying, via cell phones, social networks and other platforms. It can occur, especially if there is a history of previous aggression. The platforms that are now being implemented abruptly in the academic world in order to alleviate the situation of distance, can lead to a continuity in these attitudes. Among several forms of harassment are exclusion, leaving another person out of the work group, or discrimination, another form of exclusion. These are the most common in these early stages.
What is the role of the educational institution in the face of this type of act today that it is not within a physical space where it can exercise greater control?
An educational institution is composed, besides students, teachers and families, by a technical team which exercises the role of mediator, through the testimonies of people who can see misconduct or rare situations that can be revealing in these cases. We have basically the same role as when we were in the educational institution physically. It is not because we are outside the school that the systems of prevention and action, which are the two instances in which a school’s technical team works when dealing with this type of problem, we cease to be responsible.
What is the institutiton’s protocol when dealing with cases of bullying?
The educational institution has, in the first place, a preventive function by means of lectures, workshops, and spaces for awareness and orientation in these issues connected to relations among students. In case of already perceiving harassment, it also has a palliative function, in the form of conversations with parents of both the harassed and the bully, and a system of psychological assistance.
Can children and teens identify cases of bullying?
It is important to know and note that children or adolescents who are bullied are not always aware that they are being bullied. Also, the bully is often not aware that he or she is committing bullying. Therefore, it is essential to keep promoting communication campaigns so that both bullies and victims and also witnesses or accomplices identify the situation as a starting point in order to work each case. It is necessary to identify the role they are playing in this situation and why they are playing it, in order to work on the origin of the problem.
Nilda Ramírez is an educational psychologist with six years of experience working with young people from the Social Pastoral Office and 15 years working with children in educational insititutions.
How is the situation of bullying or harassment transferred to the platforms where the meetings take place in times of the pandemic?
Those who are used to playing the role of bully, harasser, the one who humilliates find, in these new platforms where students meet, new ways to continue bullying, harassing and humiliating their victims because that’s their way to keep playing the role they identify with.
How can bullying be prevented or avoided from social distancing?
It is important to work in three dimensions:
Permanent campaigns which remind us what bullying is, how it is presented, how it works, and what impact it has on children’s and adolescents’ lives.
Another dimension from communication consists of making accomplices or witnesses understand the clear message of the responsibility that they have within the scheme of the harassment, reminding them that they must not be silent, that they must speak with the bullied and let him/her know that he/she is not alone; or that they have authorities and a technical team within their educational institution they can ask for help. But it is essential to emphasize again and again that they should not remain silent.
Another important dimension involves reminding parents and families that they should be responsive to warning signs, behavior changes in teenagers. The most frequent are:
-sudden feeling of sadness
-changes in diet
-not wanting to socialize with others
All of these are signals that something wrong is happening and parents must approach their children in order to know what it really is.
The context imposed on us by the COVID 19 pandemic forces us to reinvent ourselves in the way we educate, in the way we work, but we must also reinvent ourselves in the way we address problems that do not simply go away, problems that also learn to reinvent themselves quickly.