By Diana Bello Aristizábal
DORAL, FL – According to the National Voices for Equality, Education, and Enlightenment (NVEEE), every seven minutes a child is bullied, and in 85 percent of cases, there is no intervention. Given the scope of this problem, many parents wonder what to do to protect their children and how to deal with a case of bullying.
This concern is well shown in social media and traditional media, where often times we hear stories of parents who have seen their children suffer from bullying at school without knowing how to help them, getting no support from the school, and, even, having to endure the indifference of many people around.
These stories remind us that we can still do a lot to fight against school bullying although many schools have anti-bullying policies, and the up is rising information and awareness that exists around this problem.
To better understand the scope of this issue, Doral Family Journal spoke with parents who learned essential lessons from their experiences, which we hope can serve as a reference for other parents. Also, the journal also consulted with experts to shed more light on the matter.
The story of Santiago Silva
Since 2017, Carol Orlande has lived a drama with her son Santiago Silva, now 11 years old, who was first intimidated by his classmates short-time after the beginning of the fourth grade at a Key Biscayne school. Initially, he was tagged as gay because of his high-pitched voice when he read aloud.
After knowing this, Carol talked with his son’s teacher, who had a conversation about it with the kids. “She tried to help, but after that, they not only called him gay, but also a snitch,” says Carol, who explains that up until that moment, the situation was manageable, and she empowered her son by reminding him of his qualities and talking about God’s unconditional love.
However, in March 2018, Santiago arrived from school, beaten up while his mother looked at him with awe deciding to report the situation to the school immediately. Despite her efforts to get a response from the principal, she was unable to do so. “I am a single working mom, but I went to the office several times, and they never accepted to see me,” recalls Carol.
The issue remained the same until the end of fourth grade. Once the fifth grade began, Carol was hoping things would get better. “My son loves to study, which is why he actively participated in school activities from the first day of class. This was not well received by a kid who was the leader of his classmates,” says Carol, a registered nurse and health coach.
From that moment on, several children, led by one, began to call him gay once again, humiliate him and treat him with contempt. Carol, tired of the situation, decided to talk to the boy who was leading the others during soccer practice and in front of his parents, who acted with indifference.
After learning that his son was also called trash, loser, clown and other degrading words, seeing his sadness and fear, and knowing about his efforts to be accepted by his classmates, Carol sent several emails to his son’s teacher and to the principal, and confronted the aggressor’s parents who denied the situation.
Once again, no one from the school replied, so Carol looked for help in a group chat of Key Biscayne mothers, who helped her arrange an appointment with the principal’s assistant. She attends this meeting alongside Carolina Forero, parenting coach of Parenting With You, who exposed the situation as an expert with no luck because the school dismissed the case as a bullying one.
After this, they decided to send an email explaining the legal implications of the case, which finally brings the attention of the school that produces the first official report after verifying that Santiago was telling the truth. With this event, the problem improved a little bit, and Carol continued reporting everything that happened.
Later on, in February of the present year, the only child who was speaking to Santiago stopped doing it out of fear, he did not want to be intimidated and rejected by the classroom leader. With the arrival of March, Santiago receives two more attacks: he is wet with full of mud water in the school premises, and an apple is thrown to his face.
“When this happened, I called the school’s principal, made a report to the police, and several posts in social media that became viral after being massively shared by celebrities and friends,” says Carol.
In one of them, she tagged the Superintendent, who said through social media that he was aware of the situation. She was also contacted by the County School District to ask her for an official report.
Once her story was out in the media, she finally had a meeting with the school’s principal and supervisor, who are now giving emotional support to Santiago. “I have no idea what will happen to the kids who bullied him because I was not informed of this, but since that last meeting, my son is alright,” says Carol.
Carol’s case and many similar ones have left essential lessons. The first one is that many people do not know what bullying really is, and due to this make a wrong interpretation of some situations.
“Bullying must meet several specifications: it must occur repetitively, come from the same source, and manifest with physical, verbal or psychological aggression,” explains Carolina Forero, who led Carol’s case.
These criteria also apply to cyberbully that may be worse because it implies sharing the aggressions online. “When the bullying goes viral, it has more weight, and causes more damage,” explains.
The second lesson is that both bullying victims and teachers must follow a protocol when reporting a case. “One out of every four teachers when there is bullying sees it as a kids problem, and those who do identify it as such only 4 percent report it properly,” says the parenting coach.
The proper way to deal with this is first to conduct an investigation to verify that it is a bullying relating situation. After proving that it is, the next step is to apply the consequences previously stipulated for those scenarios. Lastly, the third step is to repair the victims. “The victim’s family should never contact the aggressor’s family directly,” advises the expert.
On the other hand, teachers who receive a bullying complaint are obliged to leave a report of such in the student’s individual system (ISIS) in less than 30 days. “This step was not carried out in Carol’s case” she clarifies.
For Marisol Gómez Decena, a lawyer and mother of Daniel, 7 years old, the timely intervention of his son’s school were vital to sort out her bullying situation. “For a while, several children isolated my son and made him feel rejected because they did not want to play football with him,” she explains.
Just like Carol, Marisol contacted her son’s teacher, after seeing him sad for this, who spoke with the principal’s office and, in a few days, the school counselor requested a meeting with everyone involved. The case was resolved, and Daniel was never again a victim of bullying.
“I never thought this could happen to a little child, but now he is stronger and understands that not everyone will want to play with him. When that happens, he does not take it personally and plays by himself,” says Marisol.
According to Tania Paredes, therapist and Ph.D. in social work, when a young child bullies someone is actually showing discomfort with something happening in his or her life. “The child may have a problem at home, and uses bullying as a mechanism of expression,” she explains.
For this reason, for the specialist, families should always try to take preventive measures rather than reacting at the face of a problem. “We are always talking about what to do when a child is bullied, but we should speak more about how to create positive environments for children in which they can express their emotions,” she states.
How to do it? First, giving them options to manage their emotions instead of reprimanding them just for the feeling. Also, asking critical questions like what they did at school, who did they play with, what children saw alone, and what did they do to help them out.
“It is about helping children become responsible not only for themselves but for their friends and community. Doing this, we will be raising them to be more empathetic as adults,” says the social worker.
On the other hand, according to Carolina Forero, it is vital to establish and put into practice boundaries at home through cooperation. “Boundaries, rules, and consequences need to be clear, although they must be implemented together and not by force,” she says.
Also, we must educate with love allowing children to fail so that they can learn from their mistakes, and joining them in the process. “This builds true self-esteem, and a child with strong self-esteem is less likely to become a bullying target,” says Carolina Forero.
To build healthy self-esteem, Tania Paredes recommends praising right actions and not just pointing out bad ones. “Sometimes we rebuke children when they misbehave but forget to congratulate them when they do something good, and that is more important,” says the expert.
Finally, parents and experts always recommend using all available resources when faced with a bullying case. For those who have children in public schools, this means first going to the teacher, then to the principal, and if nothing works, talking to a school district representative.