What should you do if your daughter or son is the aggressor in cases of bullying?

What are the types of bullying and how to identify them?

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On April 28, a story was revealed that seemed to be taken from a horror book: a 14-year-old student from the Granadino school in Manizales was taken to the hospital after his classmates wounded him with a rod, and he almost ended up impaled. The attack caused an injury to his testicle. In those days, at the Misael Pastrana institution in Bogotá, a 12-year-old student stabbed another child with a knife who was apparently going to accuse him of carrying a knife. And in Medellín, at Cefa, a student and her mother asked an Afro-descendant classmate to explain in front of the entire class why she smelled different.

As shown in a recent report prepared by the Javeriana Laboratory for the Economics of Education (LEE), and based on the results of the 2018 PISA test, Colombia is the second OECD country with the highest exposure to bullying. According to the percentages, 12.2% of the young people reported that classmates stole or destroyed their belongings, 11.2% indicated that they were hit or pushed by other students, 15.9% indicated that they were left out of activities purpose and another 10.6% claimed to be threatened. According to the NGO Bullying Without Borders, 8,981 serious cases of bullying between January 2020 and December 2021.

The usual thing in all these situations is to ask how to accompany the victim, but a complex question has arisen to answer: what should parents do if their daughter or son is the stalker? How to act? With the help of various experts, here are some recommendations.

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The first step is to identify if your son or daughter is harassing or bullying. Save The Children explains that there are two types of profiles. One is proactive: they are usually impulsive, dominant or find it difficult to be empathic or assertive with others and that the bullying is systematic or recurrent. This, says Fabián Zuleta Salazar, psychologist and specialist in clinical psychology, “within psychopathology it is called behavior disorder. That is to say, there are children who are insensitive, that we initially see as lacking in empathy”. An example, he adds, could be that when watching the news a serious or sad event is presented to a person, such as that she was injured or robbed, and he replies that it happened to him because he must have done something.

The second behavior is “reactive”, which, according to Save The Children, is described as a hostile and aggressive reaction due to a lack of social skills, communication, anxiety problems or low self-esteem. To these two profiles, Zuleta points out, another factor is added: when minors have very rigid behavior patterns.

“They see the world in a binary way, that is, that things are good or bad. Gray or in-between dots don’t exist,” she notes. Another of the warning signs, says Angélica Cuenca, executive secretary of the Alliance for Colombian Children, “may be that he brings home things that are not his, that he has extra money or that he relates to others in a violent way.”

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Why do these kinds of violent behaviors develop in boys and girls? Zuleta clarifies that these behaviors are not fortuitous. “Colombia is a country where violence is used as a conflict resolution mechanism. That is to say, here a difference between two people is usually processed through aggression and violence.” The lack of respect for difference also has an influence. “There is a cultural phenomenon that consists of homogenizing groups, so whoever is not equal to them phenotypically, culturally, socially or economically begins to be marginalized,” adds Zuleta, who has a master’s degree in public policy.

For Cuenca, a master in child development, that a boy or girl has this type of behavior can be related to a lack of understanding in the management of their emotions, that they do not know how is the appropriate way to transmit them and “that is why a need to show that he is more powerful, stronger and resort to aggression to show his emotions”. These aggressive reactions, she adds, can also be triggered by the expectations adults place on boys and girls. “We tell them that they have to be the strongest, the fastest, the prettiest or the bravest, pressuring them to comply.”

Carolina Morales, a psychologist with a master’s degree in clinical psychology, says that this type of reaction in boys and girls may be raising an alert, because “it would mean that they could be living in a family context of a lot of violence. And here two things happen: that the family endorses this violence, that is why it is essential that they do not congratulate themselves by taking justice into their own hands, or that when they find out about the attacks they punish them with a blow. That sanction feeds back into a cycle of violence.” Zuleta, for her part, adds that boys and girls who harass can live and grow up in protective environments, but “they could have had sudden losses and that it had not been well processed on an emotional level.”

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What should I do?

So what should I do if I identify my son or daughter as the bully? The first thing that Cuenca proposes is to create a space for dialogue and understand what is happening with his emotions. “One scenario is that they could be being victimized in other settings. It is important to tell them that we are aware of what is happening, but not in a way of blaming, and to explain to them that apologizing is not wrong, nor does it minimize them, ”she points out. Another strategy, says Morales, who is also a professor at the Faculty of Psychology at the Javeriana University, is to have psychological support. “These are kids who need care and are in a process to understand what is happening and what they are experiencing.”

By seeking and having timely psychological support, explains Zuleta, you can have a better prognosis for these behavioral disorders. “It is fundamental, because in the early stages of maturational development many behaviors can be modified and much more functional cognitive schemes are established and social skills are better developed,” she says. In addition, she reiterates that it is not easy for parents to accept that their son or daughter is the one who harasses peers. For this reason, she says, it is important for them to be clear that there are protection mechanisms established in Law 1620, which determines school coexistence and the way to process these processes from educational institutions.

Schools, Morales comments, also play a key role in these scenarios, because if they are not handled properly they could turn the aggressor into an idol. “It is necessary to discuss these situations with all the minors in the classroom to generate awareness about what should not happen, about the importance of not legitimizing these things and of stopping them.” A good tool, she points out, is prevention work and the construction of an environment of peaceful coexistence. An error, in his eyes, is to promote spaces in which competition and competitiveness are promoted as a criterion to promote academic excellence, since they can generate violent environments.

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And the cases of sexual harassment? Isabel Cuadros, psychiatrist and director of the Affection Association, reiterates that parents should not deny that there is a serious problem, but correct it in time, if there is no possibility that this minor will reach adult life as a perpetrator. “Some have problems with limits, they don’t respect them or with people’s personal safety spaces. This is an indicator”, she assures. Another sign is that these sexual offenses are presented because they have been victims of some type of sexual abuse or because they “view pornography and reproduce imitative behavior of what they observe. Others commit sexual offenses out of curiosity or lack of sexual education.”

What protection routes does the State have enabled?

Lina Arbeláez, director of the Family Welfare Institute (ICBF), calls on families and clarifies that “many of these actions are a reflection of what they see at home. Here we have to begin to change norms, cultures and values ​​that have normalized violence towards boys, girls, adolescents and among ourselves. Boys and girls are not hit, they are not hit, they are not yelled at, because that is a teaching of aggression, of violence, that things are solved with blows or yells”. She warns that from the Institute they have line 141 which is available 24/7 and that in these cases first the damage of each minor is verified and a particular route begins to restore her rights.

María Victoria Angulo, Minister of Education, in a circular reminded schools of the importance of Law 1620 of 2013, through which the National System of School Coexistence was created. “The attention route for extremely serious crimes is defined (…) the situations must be brought to the attention of the protection and justice authorities, the school must report in the alert system and notify the Secretary of Education (. ..) in Directive 01 of March 4, 2022, the steps and protocols that the school must have are explained, one by one, ”reads the document. Psychologists reiterate the importance of always believing boys and girls, because they do not tell lies to get into trouble.

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What should you do if your daughter or son is the aggressor in cases of bullying?