In recent months, a number of serious incidents that involved law-breaking acts and violence occurred in the community, and the public is particularly concerned about instances of teenage assaults and bullying among peers. As bullying is detrimental to students’ well-being and safety, we must deal with it squarely and take all possible measures to stop it in a timely manner. It will help prevent the undesirable tendency from taking root and spreading if all parties can raise their anti-bullying awareness, embrace positive values as well as stand ready to accommodate differences and help others.
Zero tolerance to the shameful act of bullying
As one grows up, having quarrels with peers is not uncommon. That said, it is certainly not acceptable or justifiable to harass, threaten, isolate or bully the weak by means of physical or verbal violence. We should never tolerate any form of bullying, not to mention juvenile gang delinquencies. “You have insulted a companion who did not provoke you, mocked an unfortunate boy, tormented a weak person who could not defend himself. You have committed one of the lowest and the most shameful acts that can stain a human creature,” wrote Edmondo De Amicis in his novel Cuore (Heart), telling readers that making fun of innocent friends and bullying the unfortunate are not merely cowardly behaviours, but the most sordid and shameful acts indeed. But what makes bullying happen after all?
In fact, a serious study of every case of bullying will reveal that there are complicated underlying reasons. The roles of the bullies, the victims and the bystanders are shaped by the experiences that they have respectively lived through when growing up. In the face of unforeseen circumstances including the global epidemic and class suspension, students will inevitably feel stressed and perturbed, and it is likely for them to suffer from emotional problems and clash with others. What makes the situation worse is that the social incident last year, the hostile remarks and personal attacks made on Internet, as well as the widespread media coverage of vigilantism have all rubbed off on teenagers, giving them the misimpression that the society approves of vigilantism and the use of hate speech for venting emotions. This leads to a distortion of values and a weak law-abiding awareness, causing many to believe that violence and misdemeanours could resolve problems. As a consequence, some teenagers have acted wantonly and made a huge mistake.
Early response and proactive follow-up
Notwithstanding the above, I firmly believe that with learning, everyone is capable of change. While the bullies have to take responsibility for their wrongdoings, they need, above all, care from their beloved ones and guidance from teachers. Through self-reflection, they will become more conscious of the harm that bullying can cause to others and themselves, and learn from their own mistakes. To make a change and curb bullying, the contribution of all parties is indispensable.
At the school level, there should be speedy intervention and follow-up once bullying is identified. With protecting students as their prime concern, schools should stop such an improper act immediately, mediate through teaching and guidance, and correct the bullies’ behaviour and thinking by entrusting specialist staff to take follow-up actions or referring them for external professional service. Throughout the process, schools should work together with parents to look into the reasons behind bullying and the psychological needs of the bullies. Depending on the situation, schools may strengthen the training on emotion management skills or problem-solving abilities provided to the students concerned, infuse into them a sense of self-respect, self-dignity and self-discipline, and help them build a healthy self-image and forge an amicable relationship with peers, thereby correcting their misbehaviour gradually.
As for the bullied, there should be appropriate measures to prevent further harm. These include teaching them how to protect themselves, reassuring them that it is fine to seek assistance, and helping them restore self-confidence and trust in others. Schools can also set up a network of positive support for these students to facilitate their reintegration into school life. On the part of the Education Bureau (EDB), it has put in place a mechanism to provide support to schools for handling special cases. Yet for serious cases, timely assistance from the police should be sought.
Enlightening students with words and deeds
To prevent bullying, we must proactively cultivate positive values and attitude among students. At present, topics like personal growth, interpersonal relationships and protecting oneself are covered by the primary and secondary school curricula. These, coupled with classroom management, life education, positive values education, life planning and so on, facilitate teachers in working with students to create a caring, harmonious learning environment and establish peer rapport that emphasises mutual appreciation and support. This is conducive to minimising students’ negative emotions, nurturing their positive thinking, enhancing their law-abiding awareness, and ultimately preventing the occurrence of bullying.
What teachers say and do has an influence on students. Through personal growth education lessons, teachers may nurture students’ empathy, equip them with peer mediation skills and raise their anti-bullying awareness. Parents, likewise, have an essential role to play. It is vital for parents to lend an ear to children with patience, and stand by them when they feel confused about growing up or come across bullying. Home-school cooperation is instrumental in instilling positive values in children and helping them acquire good interpersonal skills, which in turn can prevent them from becoming the bullies, victims of bullying or bystanders.
To support schools in preventing and handling bullying on campus, the EDB organises training programmes regularly for teachers and provides a variety of learning and teaching resources, and will continue to take forward diversified programmes for students’ personal growth and organise the “Harmonious School – Anti-bullying” Campaign, in order that anti-bullying education is strengthened on all fronts.
Guarding against bullying with love
In this school year, because of the epidemic, students have spent fewer days in school and their school life and activities are no longer the same. Given the rapid changes and uncertainties, teenagers in particular are in need of care and help. On days without face-to-face classes, teachers are encouraged to maintain close contact with students by phone or electronic means so as to find out how they are doing and what they need.
Life influences life. I have confidence that with the care of teachers and parents, students will have not only the courage and strength to brave adversity, but also the readiness to love and respect each other when they realise that they are being loved and held dear. As Edmondo De Amicis suggested, “Love is an endless journey, which will be made easy if you take in the view along the way.” It is my wish that students can all thrive in a loving environment without bullying, learn to the fullest and live a stress-free life.
16 August 2020