Sunday, June 07, 2009

Stop ijime

It happens so many times in Japan; an elementary school kid, a middle school boy, or a high school girl — is driven to suicide by ijime. At some point, every kid has been teased by a classmate or a friend. Teasing is usually harmless when done in a friendly and mutual way. But when it becomes hurtful and incessant, the teasing crosses the line into bullying.

Taro, a teenage boy who attended my anti-bullying seminar with his mother the other day, described his middle school years in harrowing terms. Going to baseball club practices meant sure torment from a group of senior students and the coach — being hit on the head, slapped in the face, and called "faggot."

The other club members, several teachers and even the principal witnessed the bullying, but they all turned a blind eye. Their demeanor just permeated the whole school. "There was the idea that somehow toughness is equated with cruelty," said Taro. "That's the way it was, not only at the baseball club, but elsewhere." The bullying extended beyond the schoolyard. On their way home from school, the same students kicked Taro, spat in his face, and even extorted money from him. They also cyberbullied him.

Unbeknownst to his mother, Taro had suffered a long period of crushing harassment. The cumulative effect of the harassment eroded his self-esteem and even prompted suicidal thoughts. "On several occasions, I thought about attacking my tormentors with a baseball bat and killing myself," Taro tearfully said. Like many ijime victims, he fell into a deep depression and finally dropped out of school. Even today, he still harbors resentment against his perpetrators and the bystanders.

In fall 2006, the suicide of middle school students who were victims of ijime was one of the top news stories in Japan. The media were flooded with images of principals and board of education officials kowtowing to apologize for their insufficient response to bullying.

I thought those high-profile incidents would have pushed educators to found firm anti-bullying programs in schools around the nation. But things haven't significantly changed since. Many helpless victims of ijime continue to commit suicide. Even when the victims mention bullying in their suicide notes, teachers and principals usually try to deny it.

Bullying creates a climate of fear and insecurity, affecting whole schools and communities. Those who fail to recognize and stop bullying behavior as it occurs actually promote violence. It is a complex problem that cannot be solved once and for all. Therefore, I believe schools must make a constant effort to defy any tendencies toward bullying. This can be achieved by having an effective anti-bullying program as a standard component of the school philosophy.

When educators teach children respect for others by insisting on civility in their schools or institutions, they are not only preventing bullying, but also laying a foundation for human kindness in the world of adulthood to come.

*Joel's poster and 111 tips to prevent ijime:

By Joel Assogba Shukan ST: June 5, 2009 (Published in Japan Times ST)