Halting the student violence cycle

Halting the student violence cycle

Communities must work together to ensure safety in families, schools

Matthayom Naknawaupatham school in Suan Luang district was closed temporarily after the Jan 29 attack. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)
Matthayom Naknawaupatham school in Suan Luang district was closed temporarily after the Jan 29 attack. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)

While schools are meant to be safe learning places, violence and bullying are known to be commonplace.

The recent tragedy at a Bangkok school, where a 14-year-old boy stabbed and killed a fellow student who had allegedly bullied him, speaks volumes about the emotional damage bullying can inflict and sadly drive victims into drastic actions.

According to an initial police investigation into the Jan 29 attack at Matthayom Naknawaupatham school on Soi Pattanakan 26 in Suan Luang district, the attacker had been harassed by the victim for two weeks before turning to violence as a last resort.

Bullying at schools has been prevalent for years, with the Public Health Ministry's study last year on bullying indicating that 44.2% of 37,271 young respondents were exposed to either emotional or physical harassment, of which 86.9% took place at schools.

The survey was carried out by the Department of Health Service Support and education offices in Bangkok and the provinces as part of a students' health and wellbeing surveillance programme.

In a survey by the Department of Mental Health in 2020, Thailand had the second-highest rate in the world for bullying, with 600,000 school children being victimised.

The Jan 29 stabbing highlights an urgent need for schools, parents and policymakers to take steps to keep bullying and violence out of schools.

The Bangkok Post interviewed stakeholders to get insights on how bullying in schools can be addressed. Teachers and parents need to remind children that bullying is not accepted in schools and such behaviour will have consequences.

Making schools safer

Siripong Angkasakulkiat, assistant to Education Minister Pol Gen Permpoon Chidchob, said the ministry advocates a collaborative approach to make safer schools.

The incident means it has more work to do in addressing school violence and ensuring the emotional wellbeing of students.

Pol Gen Permpoon aims to make teachers more approachable to create a supportive environment where students can feel comfortable confiding in them about stressful incidents, said Mr Siripong.

"It's essential for teachers to have a positive relationship with their students, so children can feel comfortable talking to them and seeking their advice. That's an approach the education minister is focusing on," he said.

The minister also has a committee overseeing the emotional wellbeing of students, and one of its initiatives is to enhance the capabilities of teacher-counsellors, known as kru naeh-naew, so they are equipped with the skills needed to support students, he said.

He added the ministry will announce this month measures it has implemented to promote the wellbeing of students.

Mr Siripong acknowledged that bullying is a complex issue that is difficult to control but said it can be addressed through collaboration with stakeholders.

"Like the proverb 'It takes a village to raise a child', parents, schools and communities must take collective action in this matter," he said.

When asked about criteria employed to evaluate interventions in reducing bullying, he said student happiness levels and the extent of public participation can serve as indicators to determine the impact of these initiatives.

"And there has to be a reduction in incidents of violence," he added.

He said that the ministry has established monitoring mechanisms to evaluate the measures. Education zone directors and provincial education offices oversee their implementation and report their findings, he said.

An immediate step taken following the stabbing incident is to step up safety measures to make campuses free of restricted items like weapons, he said.

Although some students may find ways to evade detection, adequate measures are needed because they can reduce violent incidents, he said.

Siripong: It takes a village to raise a child

Families play a role

Victims of bullying can often develop depression, experts say.

Pol Col Krerkkamol Yamprayoon, chief of the psychiatric and drug department at the Police General Hospital, said a study by the Department of Health in 2021 found 28% of children had a high level of stress and of these, 32% were at risk of developing depression.

"Based on research findings, children who are bullied are three times more prone to depression compared to those who are not," he said.

The family plays a crucial role in safeguarding children from depression and anxiety and reducing the risk of violence, but exposure to the media can significantly affect children's emotional health and how they respond to different situations, he said.

Pol Col Krerkkamol urged parents to engage in open communication with their children as it allows them to understand the problems which their children may face.

However, he said parents will have to use reason rather than emotion when approaching children and provide them with the necessary time and space to talk about the issues they encounter.

"Spending quality time together helps parents observe children's behaviour closely. And if they appear unhappy, parents should consider changing activities," he said.

Victims of bullying may display depression and frustration. They may also exhibit a lack of focus and diminished sense of self-worth, he said.

In terms of behaviour, they tend to display indifference to activities they may once enjoyed; their eating habits may change (either eating more or less), along with speech patterns.

Parents are advised to seek counselling for their children before they develop thoughts of self-harm and harming others, he said.

Krerkkamol: Parents must communicate

Parents' voices

Parents and students have expressed concerns about bullying following the death of a student at Matthayom Naknawaupatham school.

Panupong (surname withheld), 10, said he heard the news from his mother who told him not to get involved in school bullying.

"I have never bullied my friends at school. We just play and that's it. I think we should avoid bullying and focus on our studies," he said.

Parichat (surname withheld), a 44-year-old parent, said bullying is unacceptable and no one deserves it.

"I talk to my son about his daily life. As a mother, I'm concerned about that news; nobody wants their children bullied or bullying each other.

"Teachers should observe student behaviour to reduce fights between students because students are still children, they are still developing," Parichat said.

Calls for better measures

Suriyadeo Tripathi, director of the Centre for Morality Promotion, said violence among children is a big concern.

Dr Suriyadeo said a fragile society may produce a child who imitates violent acts, suffers from social issues and lacks empathy for others.

"When a mentally fragile child is under pressure from school or family, even words can cause that child to lash out," he said. "Even worse is if society is full of violence that could influence him.

"Tackling the problem at its roots should start with families, schools and communities," he said, adding parents should be held accountable for the actions of their children.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security should help take care of children whose parents have a history of violence, he said. It is an important measure to help protect children, he said.

Schools must also do their part to reduce stress among students by avoiding stressful academic tests, he said. Students should focus on life-skills curricula to boost their talents.

Communities, meanwhile, should set up a surveillance system, a case transfer system and a consultations for children prone to violence.

He said a House panel has invited him to share his views on violence among youth after his thoughts received positive feedback. A proposal will be submitted to the government to address violence among children.

Suriyadeo: Set focus on life skills

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