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Anatomy of Child Bullying in Japan 7: Bullying Prevention (4): What Should We Expect from Bullying Prevention Programs?

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Anatomy of Child Bullying in Japan


Since the introduction of the Anti-Bullying Act, local governments, boards of education and schools are required to formulate bullying prevention programs. In this session, I will explain the social background and expectations of such bullying prevention programs.

It is assumed that bullying has existed throughout human history regardless of communities and cultures. Then, why have we come to realize the necessity of the Anti-Bullying Act and prevention programs in recent years?

Perhaps this is because society has become more sensitive to bullying or the social mechanisms to prevent and ease bullying in communities and families have been weakening, or perhaps for both reasons. Social mechanisms to prevent excessive bullying used to exist in the conventional practices and customs of society and communities. However, communities have weakened due to the difficulty in maintaining relationships between adults, which has forced schools to assume a wider function in handling these issues relating to bullying.

Society is made up of different types of people. Some are strong, some are weak, and some are good and some are bad. Some have good abilities and some do not. We have lived with each other in a complex society. Today, we should ask ourselves whether we are able to create a community where many different types of people can live together, understanding and respecting each other, and whether children have good interactions with different adults free from anxiety. If local communities are not functioning sufficiently, it is unreasonable to demand that schools and families solve bullying problems. This implies that we have issues to solve in light of the function of local communities as well as collaboration with schools.

Relationships with other people depend on whether you recognize different personalities of people as their unique characteristics or imperfections to correct. If most people are tolerant and flexible in accepting differences and diversity, this may in turn reduce the likelihood of bullying someone for merely being different or not being able to read between the lines.

Then, what kind of bullying prevention programs do we need?


1) Encourage children to understand and respect each other's differences

In the session of "Anatomy of Child Bullying in Japan 4: Bullying Prevention (1): Preventing Bullying Caused by Negative Conformity," I explained the structured group encounter method. I believe that it is essential to create a program that offers opportunities for children to understand each other's different ideas, opinions and personalities.

If we can make children create a group where they can respect diversity, they will feel more satisfied that they understand each other and are accepted by each other, thereby preventing the decrease of self-esteem. Consequently, this will also reduce aggressive behavior due to frustration in children, and they will help each other more.

Sometimes, skilled children look down on less-skilled children with a sense of superiority, which is also one of the causes of bullying. Therefore, it is important to create an atmosphere to warmly accept others who cannot do something very well. For example, a child who is on a soccer club team and plays well may tease others who are not good at dribbling. Dribbling may be nothing special for the skilled child, but it is not necessarily something to take for granted, as he owes this skill to his family, friends and school. The child who is not good at playing soccer may have some reasons due to his circumstances. Suppose the increment rate of skill development for the child who couldn't dribble is a 50% increase when he obtains that skill, and the rate of development for the child who is good at playing soccer is a 20% increase when he obtains further skills, it can be said that the child who obtains the skill of dribbling will have achieved more than double the rate than the one skilled child. If the child who is good at playing soccer can think in this way, he will stop looking down on, or even start respecting, the child who is not good at dribbling.

2) Provide children with opportunities for consultation

The responses of children to being bullied vary among children to some extent. But the problem can be solved more easily by consulting adults. Therefore, it is necessary to create a program that provides children with readiness and opportunities to consult adults and others. To achieve this, first of all, it is essential to develop the "ability of children to consult someone" as well as the "ability of adults such as teachers to be a person whom children can easily turn to."

In children, the "ability to consult someone" is especially necessary for boys. It is commonly known that the area of problem solving in the brain of men, both children and adults, is likely to be activated when they are under pressure or have problem to solve on their own, while the speech center in the brain is restricted, which makes them tend to show a reticent attitude *1. As a result, people around them often do not notice that they have a problem. When they struggle with their problem seriously, they might choose suicide as a solution. In contrast, the speech center in the brain of women is likely to be activated when they have any stress. They can consult others at ease which helps other people notice their problem and offer support. If they cannot find a solution to their problem themselves, they are more likely to find someone who can provide advice for a solution. In the past, one of the students in my laboratory conducted a questionnaire survey for her dissertation. She asked both male and female students in the university to describe the stress they experienced and talk about it for one minute as she recorded it on video. Then she showed the video to other university students and asked how they felt and understood the stories told. As a result, it was revealed that the stories of female students were easier to understand and to sympathize with than the stories of male students. Based on the above facts, I believe that it is important to teach young children, especially boys, beginning in early childhood, how to consult others to receive assistance with problems and worries.

Some of the reasons why young children such as junior high-school students are reluctant to honestly answer school questionnaire surveys are because "Teachers don't read what I write even if I write my problem honestly," and "Even if they did read it, they will call me personally in front of other students, ask me what happened, and I feel uneasy about being questioned later from my friends about what is going on." As to why children are reluctant to consult their teachers and parents about bullying, boys said because "I don't want others to think I am a coward." Both boys and girls also added that "I'm afraid this will make bullying worse" or "If I ask my parents to tell the teacher about bullying, this will make things more complicated." I heard these direct opinions when I appeared on the TV program "Yamagata Special Program: Bullying, can you recognize the signs of children?" aired on NHK Yamagata on August 1, 2015. This TV program was created based on an accident in which a first year female junior high school student in Tendo-city, Yamagata Prefecture committed suicide after allegedly being bullied by jumping in front of a bullet train on the first day of school after the winter break in January 2014. The TV program also introduced the SOS signs we created (please refer to "Anatomy of Child Bullying in Japan 5"). I recommend watching a repeat broadcast of the TV program or its video published on the official website of NHK, if you have a chance.

It is also important to consider the "ability of adults such as teachers to be a person whom children can easily turn to." In general, it is impossible for a single teacher to understand all relationships among students. In a class of 30 students, for instance, the combinations of relationships, from between two students up to relationships among 30 students, will come to more than one billion patterns. Therefore, it is important for teachers to communicate well with students as well as with other teachers. It is also important to understand how to communicate with them in order to make them feel you are trustworthy and they can turn to you about their problems, and to know how to respond to children when they consult you. In this way, it is desirable to create a sound cycle of trust, consultation, solution, and deeper trust.

3) Other points to consider

In addition, other options include a program to raise awareness towards bullying; a program to encourage children to discover their good points and those of their peers; and a program to build relationships with children through school camps.

In the next article, I will show you the progress of bullying prevention programs implemented in Tokyo and the verification results of such programs.




*1: Pease, A., Barbara Pease, 2002, Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps: How We're Different and What to Do About it, trans. Rumi Fujii, SHUFUNOTOMO Co., Ltd. (Original work published 2002)
Profile

report_sugimori_shinkichi.jpg Dr. Sugimori is Professor of Social Psychology at Tokyo Gakugei University, conducting research on group psychology (evaluation of team working, psychology in the citizen judge system, and effects of experiential activities) as well as risk psychology, from the standpoint of cultural social psychology focusing on social relations between individuals and groups. He also serves as Board Member of the Japanese Society for Law and Psychology; Executive Board Member of the Society for Field-Culture Education; Board Member of the Youth Friendship Association; Councilor of the Outward Bound Japan; Board Member of the Children Institute for the Future, Tokyo Gakugei University; Chairman of the Accreditation Committee, Japan Association for Certifying and Training Educational Specialists.
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