[OPINION] A Grade 9 dad on the Ateneo bully – and bullying

(Editor’s note: Rappler usually does not publish anonymous essays, but we take this as an exception given the high level of public interest in this case and the author’s request for anonymity to allow reflection and sober discussions on the matter.)

My son is a Grade 9 student at the Ateneo Junior High School (AJHS). The videos of bullying involving his batchmates are truly disturbing. We had a long family talk about it. And here are some of our reflections on the subject. 

The kid, who is the focus of attention, obviously has a mean and violent streak. Having dealt with bullies in various stages of my life, I have become familiar with the type. 

In this case, the kid was equipped with martial arts skills that served as an outlet for his mean and violent streak. His aggression was seen as a positive, and was in fact encouraged. He won medals for the school and was given school recognition for his feats. 

His success, drawn from carefully cultivated natural fighting instincts that capitalized on his aggression, further reinforced his trait. Without responsible adults noticing, the trait mutated. It turned the kid into an extremely aggressive and dominant person, as shown in the videos. 

It didn’t help that a lot of combat sports mentors are not certified professionals. Along the way, it became easy for the kid to lose fundamental lessons in martial arts. Skills acquired are meant for self-defense. They should never be used for the sole purpose of dominance or to stoke one’s ego. It is supposed to serve as means to instill discipline. 

These lessons, in fact, apply to anything that empowers. 

School, parents fall short

To put the kid’s behavior in context, understand that kids his age are finding and establishing their identity. The changes they are going through influence their behavior. This is something new to them. They need all the guidance to navigate this critical phase in their lives, particularly for those exhibiting symptoms of psychological issues.

It seems that this is where both the school and the parents fell short. The alleged social media post of the father of the kid, if truly his, reveals a major contributory factor to the problem. The parents of the kid should bear paramount responsibility for their son’s actions. 

For its part, AJHS holds seminars on bullying but they were obviously ineffective. The videos also indicate lapses in the discharge of the school’s substitute parental authority to keep young students safe and secure while in campus. 

From a broader standpoint, it may be worth considering that while our society pays much attention to sex education, not much attention is given to teaching kids how to deal with violence, both in its physical and psychological forms. Yet, today, combat sports are all the rage. 

Dealing with violence

Both traditional and new media impose more access restrictions on  sexual content over violent content. Sex and violence are both basic human instincts. Yet our society fails to intelligently deal with the violence that remains an integral part of the human experience. 

Thus, it is not surprising that bullying and violence continue to be facts of life in our society. 

AJHS is not alone in this. It also happens in other schools. It happens even in  workplaces populated by adults. For sure, it happens in any other place in our society – from the highest echelons of power to the most impoverished slums. 

Here are some some thoughts on dealing with this bullying incident. 

Transparent probe. Because it happened in school premises, the incident highlights the need for a stronger partnership between the school and parents in shaping our sons’ character. To strengthen this partnership in fulfilling a joint responsibility, AJHS must keep all parents and students informed not only of the outcome but also of the disciplinary processes involved. Doing so can turn this episode into a teaching moment.

Go beyond one boy. The investigation must have a broad view. What isn’t readily noticed is that the videos indicate the practice of rudimentary rituals. Fight or kneel. Kneel and show submission. Kiss the feet. Do it in public. Do it on video for posterity. It appears that this  does not involve only the kid who draws the most attention. There seems to be a group of bullies involved. Gangs are borne of egos and require a hierarchy to exist. Here, those who kneel at the onset end up as gofers, some of whom probably ending up taking the videos. The ones who fight but are defeated kneel before the victor. They end up as enforcers and wingmen. The toughest guy before whom everyone kneels becomes king. The gang members must all be identified and appropriately dealt with. 

Expel the bully. The students involved should be imposed the severe exemplary penalties commensurate to the gravity of their respective actions, as established in the investigation. No less than expulsion is warranted for the kid bully. (Editor's note: Ateneo has dismissed the boy)

Legal assistance. The parents of the kids who were bullied should be extended legal assistance to file appropriate cases to hold accountable those who are responsible for bullying, even in those cases not shown in the viral videos. 

Challenge to Ateneo. AJHS must realize the consequences of the rapid growth of its student population. It has given the Jesuits a robust business. It is but appropriate for the school to address the various issues expansion has spawned, including maintaining the quality of teachers, mentors and supervision of students while in campus. 

Tighter security. A prefect system is in place for ADMU grade school students. This system seems to have been relaxed in junior high school with less monitors in areas where boys congregate and often engage in horse play. The kids also seem to know places where there are no CCTV cameras. Security measures need to be enhanced and the prefect system must be strengthened. 

Encourage reporting. A process that protects the anonymity of whistleblowers should encourage students to report bullying or violent incidents. This will allow students to police their own ranks without fear of reprisals. 

Review training, coaches. All combat sports training in AJHS must  be put under review. The taekwondo coaches must be held to account. Training and tournament participation in combat sports should be suspended until sufficient measures are put in place to deal with the unintended consequence of teaching combat skills to kids. 

Counseling. All kids involved, including the bystanders in the video who appeared apathetic, as well as all their parents, should be given access to counseling by competent and skilled professionals. They need help in dealing with the impact of the incident, particularly considering that the videos have gone viral. Thereafter, all students and parents should be offered a more effective education, not only on bullying, but also on the broader issue of violence that pervades our society and the apathy that breeds impunity. 

Take down video. The videos have already become viral. Sharing them further doesn’t help and hurt the victims even more. It is time for them to be taken down. At this point, it is better to share well thought out ideas to address the issues instead of simply sharing the videos that cause further humiliation to the victims and even cases of cyber bullying. 

Violence is a basic human instinct. Fighting, in its various forms, is an integral part of life. 

Dealing with it properly requires a constant effort – if we are to bring out the best in our humanity. – Rappler.com