We interviewed Enrique Pérez-Carrillo de la Cueva, President of the Spanish Association for the Prevention of (AEPAE), the Association where prevention work is carried out through training interventions for students, teaching staff and families. They also intervene by helping the victims and re-educating the bullies. They support families who need help and advise them in the process of reporting and monitoring cases of bullying.
The Canis Majoris Foundation and the Spanish Association Against School Bullying, signed a collaboration agreement last year to establish joint actions aimed at the training and intervention of bullying at school.
Enrique tells us about his experience and his approach toward preventing and intervening in bullying situations:
Could you tell us a little about yourself and your professional career?
I was born 51 years ago in Malaga and for family and work reasons I moved to Madrid when I was 17 years old. I graduated in Journalism and studied dramaturgy at RESAD. Since I was a child I have practiced martial arts and today I am one of the world’s foremost experts in personal defense, winning the Masters Hall of Fame USA award in 2012, for excellence in martial arts and its application in educational and social projects. I combine both facets: teaching in martial arts and journalism, writing articles and books. We founded the association 15 years ago and we are a benchmark both nationally and internationally.
How would you define bullying?
There are many definitions of bullying. Some more academic than others. We like to use a definition that is very simple and clear: Bullying is any form of repeated verbal, physical or psychological abuse that occurs within the school environment and / or on social networks. We understand abuse as any behavior that causes damage and reiteration when it is not a specific event or a coincidence. Over three repeated instances is when it starts to become systematic and so becomes habitual.
Regardless of the legal measures that can be taken to prevent ongoing bullying, where should the measures aimed at ending bullying be focused?
Preventive measures are necessary and not only reactive, such as action protocols. We could draw a parallel with a fire. The fire protocols act when the house is already burning and after putting it out, the damage is irreparable and requires an expensive repair.
In Finland, a method called Kiva has been implemented. Do you think this system would work in Spain?
This is a question that comes up quite often. Our country usually gives more importance to what comes from abroad than what is autochthonous: we are a Cainite country. Finland is a Nordic country. Neither the climate, nor the temperament, nor the educational system, have anything to do with Spain. The KIVA plan is a well structured but improvable plan. It focuses on the figure of the observer, which is essential to break the law of silence and the pernicious tendency of the passive observer but it does not work specifically with victims and bullies as we do, nor does it measure the incidence of bullying with a precise psychometric tool in pre-intervention and post-intervention in order to accurately assess the effectiveness of the process. AEPAE does all of this in addition to working with observers.
What signs allow us to suspect that bullying is occuring?
There are a number of warning signs, ranging from the most basic, such as the fear or refusal of a child to attend school. From there to situations of greater severity, such as stomach pain and headaches, which are anticipatory somatizations of what will happen again the next day. Decrease in school performance. Insomnia and nightmares, enuresis or wetting themselves, outbursts of rage, social phobia and in very serious cases self-harm and suicidal ideation. We understand that bullying is a cumulative process in which the more time that passes, the more damage that occurs.
What is the profile of a child that is being bullied?
There is no specific profile of a bullied child. We can say this after having treated more than 4,000 victims, however , there are two circumstances that do put a child in the focus: uniqueness and opportunity. Normally some characteristic that differentiates them from the group or simply a critical event. Nonetheless, one constant is that the victims always and irretrievably lose their confidence and self-esteem, until reaching a point where they come to feel dispensable and even responsible for what is happening to them.
And what about the bully?
Similarly, there is no specific profile of a bully and we say this after dealing with more than 200. They tend to have little empathy, but you also have to understand that the bully’s feedback is simply perceiving that their violence is profitable.
How should the victim act to defend themselves?
Always assertively: we must not allow them to use violence as a solution to the problem. The assertive attitude is not only in the language, but something global: the verticality of the posture, the focus and maintaining eye contact. The correct use of language, both in the volume and intonation and also in the direction. Also in verbal defense phrases against different mockery or intimidation. Finally the protection of personal space, since this is the last barrier before reaching the point of physical bullying. We teach all of this to the victims in our assertive skills courses which have absolute academic recognition by several universities and that will soon be presented at one of the most prestigious international psychology conferences.
Why are the parents the last to know in most cases?
Bullying by definition remains hidden from the eyes of adults. The bully abuses in secret, often furtively. It is important to maintain a good relational climate with our sons and daughters, so that they have the confidence to tell us anything that happens to them. In addition, to be alert for any of the warning signs that I mentioned earlier and to intervene as soon as possible.
How do we get the child to tell us what is happening to them?
It is essential to generate a good climate of communication with our children and to be alert to any warning sign, as mentioned above, to ask them and also that they feel confident enough to tell us.
Bullying in the past occurred from Monday to Friday during school hours, but now it is ‘active’ on the social networks 24 hours a day, and, in addition, its scope is much greater. Do you think this makes all of our efforts to eradicate it difficult?
Cyberbullying is another form of harassment which is very dangerous because it meets the two parameters to generate profound damage, which are frequency and intensity but let’s not forget that access to social networks usually reaches children at 11 or 12 years of age, so it is essential to provide efficient prevention since the first year of primary school as we do in AEPAE-, so that right from the first day that a child has a smartphone in their hands, they have a very clear idea about bullying and are aware of the damage it can cause.
What solutions are proposed from the AEPAE?
Our proposal is to apply our national plan for school bullying prevention, which intervenes in a profound and measurable way, providing preventive training to students, teaching and non-teaching staff and families. Empowerment of the victims, re-education of the bullies and measuring the intervention with a precise psychometric tool, before and after intervening. What happens is that most of the public bodies prefer to make other apparent and politically correct interventions, to minimize the incidence and not to alarm society, because we should not forget that, as I say in my book, school bullying kills.
Today you present your book “School bullying kills” Who is it for? What can we learn from reading it?
It is aimed at families. So that parents really know what bullying is and how they can fight it. In recent years, many books about bullying have been published, some very academic, which do not arouse much interest, and others that are testimonies of public figures. My book however is a courageous, realistic and practical book, based on the experience of AEPAE with 4,000 victims of bullying. It is an emotional book that moves between tenderness and hope. It will not leave anyone indifferent.