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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, Professor Emeritus of the School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra.

The vaccine that immunizes against school bullying

Mon, 14 Dec 2015 12:21:00 +0000 Published in Diari de Tarragona

Bullying does not arise in schools by spontaneous generation; it is the expression of a social crisis: violence has permeated the entire society and has desensitized many adolescents. Their teachers feel lost in the face of a phenomenon that seems unstoppable.

position To get an idea of the extent of this problem, just one piece of information is enough: a recent study carried out in the Community of Madrid found that 14,000 schoolchildren suffer from serious bullying. On the other hand, adolescent suicides due to having been victims of bullying are regular news in Spanish newspapers. One example:

"The teenager who fell two days ago from a fifth floor died yesterday morning in the ICU of the Hospital where she remained in a state of brain death. The National Police Force is already investigating the case after finding a letter in which the girl explained the reasons for her despair and in which she confessed that she was being bullied at school. On the same day of the incident she told a colleague at high school that she could not take it anymore and that she felt like dying. Her South American origin and racist comments were the causes of the harassment" (Diario El Mundo, 12-3-2014).

Bullying is a form of violence in which the aggressor seeks to intimidate his victim in the face of the indifference and silence of his schoolmates, due to the fear of being bullied themselves. The aim is to isolate the victim by ignoring him/her, thus preventing him/her from participating in the life of group.

What are the effects of bullying? The victim lives in fear of attend daily to school, showing himself/herself as a lonely and sad being. In some cases they have thoughts of suicide and some of them even commit suicide.

Sometimes bullying is followed by cyberbullying. It is the use of telematic media (Internet and cell phones, mainly), to carry out psychological harassment among minors, mostly teenagers. 

Cyberbullying is particularly worrying because of the anonymity and because the harm caused is not directly perceived. Some examples: posting on the Internet data harmful about the victim, true or invented; creating a false space on social networks in the name of the victim, where their alleged shameful confessions are registered; sending the victim threatening messages by email.

What subject personality traits does the bully usually have?

The stalker suffers from an absence of empathy or some cognitive distortion. By not being empathic, he lacks the sensitivity to put himself in the victim's place, ignoring his suffering. Cognitive distortion is a failure in information processing that prevents adequate perception of reality. The aggressor has leave self-esteem, so he uses violence to assert himself and gain recognition from others. He has no feelings of guilt for his aggressions.

What is the personality of a "candidate" bullying victim like? There are common traits that constitute risk factors: lack of self-confidence; leave self-esteem; high psychological vulnerability; high dependence on the family environment.

Is there a solution to this problem? Experience shows that acting after the fact is not effective; on the other hand, good prevention is often decisive. promote It is very important to group values such as companionship, solidarity and respect, although this is currently not enough; it also requires a procedure that directly affects the causes of bullying. For example, the KiVa method, which was created in Finland in 2008 in response to a terrible event: in 2007, a young man with a gun entered a school and killed six students, the headmistress and a nurse; he then committed suicide. It later emerged that he had been bullied at school for many years.

The KiVa method was created by Christina Salmivalli, a researcher and psychologist at the Finnish University of Turku. It is contrary to the traditional approach , based on the punishment of the bully, on the grounds that among adolescents being cruel tends to make them popular.

 KiVa focuses on getting group from class to show solidarity with the abused classmate, thereby discrediting the aggressor in the eyes of others. The former accomplices of the abuser are thus transformed into his defenders and protagonists of the school's preventive action. Their supportive action is a vaccine that immunizes against bullying.

The application of the program has led to a 40% reduction in bullying in the first year. For this reason it has been implemented in several European countries and in the United States. The experience gained confirms once again that prevention is better than cure at Education .