Bullying in Mexico

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Mexico is a land with great potential. The country abounds with natural resources and enjoys a rich culture that produces some of the most talented artists in the world. At the same time, Mexico suffers from economic and political problems that threaten its society. As Mexico struggles to overcome a history of government corruption and drug war violence, Mexican young people are feeling the impact of the country’s social troubles in the form of bullying and child abuse.

As far back as 2010, Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Education (SEP) issued a warning about the risks of primary and middle school bullying in its guide to the Safe School Program. Today, bullying activities have reached alarming proportions at all levels of the Mexican educational system. High school bullying statistics are particularly high in Mexico where it’s reported that 6 out of 10 students are victims of school violence.

According to educational expert and sociologist César Navarro Gallegos, Mexican schools have been converted into “mirrors that reproduce the social behavior of their environment. If we have children and youths in a context of constant violence, insecurity and aggression, it will be seen reflected in the schools.” The expansive reach of bullying in Mexican schools raises great concern for the safety and welfare of Mexican students.

Bullying in Mexico: What’s the Damage?

Bullying in Mexican homes and schools is causing extensive damage all across the country. Bullying statistics from a 2013 study of violence in Mexican high schools reveal just how prevalent bullying has become. The following bullying facts from the survey of Exclusion, Intolerance and Violence in High School Education provides teachers and parents with greater awareness of the problem:

  • 36.8% of students surveyed said they had suffered verbal abuse (insults) in school
  • 19.8% had been excluded or rejected by peers
  • 8.9% had been victims of physical violence
  • 10.6% of students had been robbed of personal belongings
  • 8.4% had belongings destroyed
  • 27.2% had personal effects taken and hidden by bullies

In an effort to curtail bullying in public schools, the SEP developed a parent manual and teacher guide to educate parents and teachers about the problem. In conjunction with the Secretariat of Public Security, the SEP produced the Basic Guide for Prevention of Violence in the School Environment, a publication that gives teachers greater insight into what causes bullying, why people bully, manifestations of bullying and the consequences or effects of bullying acts. The guide also provided teachers with valuable tips on how to recognize bullies and victims of bullying behavior.

The parents’ manual outlined three priorities parents should focus on in the care of their children to curtail bullying on the home front. These priorities were:

  • Spending quality time with their kids
  • Taking note of violent behavior children may be picking up at home via arguments, fights, sibling bullying, exposure to violent TV shows, etc.
  • Establishing a close connection with their children and keeping the lines of communication open

The manual also shared some common bullying signs parents can look out for to indicate if their young people are being bullied. These include: loss of interest in school, a decline in grades, fear, anxiety, depression, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping.

In the manual, parents were encouraged to help their kids identify the qualities and characteristics they possess to strengthen their confidence and self-esteem so they would not be so easily overcome if bullied. In addition, kids were encouraged to ‘break the code of silence’ when bullied by telling family, friends or trustworthy adults about the incident and seeking help.

Exposing abusive behavior is one way to stop bullying in schools as it gives teachers and school administration a chance to take action. If, however, teachers don’t take bullying reports seriously, it could cause more harm than good as students will lose faith in their school to provide the protection they need. If schools are to prevent bullying and provide a safe learning environment for their students, teachers and school administrators will need to lead the way by taking quick and decisive action against abuse on school grounds.

In a country that has experienced such terrible violence as Mexico, aggressive behavior is almost considered the ‘norm.’ This attitude has filtered down to children and teens in school, making bullying a natural part of school culture. Educational expert Navarro Gallegos recognized the fact that Mexican schools will only reflect the state of the country itself which, sad to say, is ‘criminal and does not guarantee basic conditions of security.’

“Our children are growing up in an environment of insecurity,” he says, “as much in the school as in the family, and this insecurity has arrived in the classrooms and playground.”

Mexico Ranked #1 Globally for Middle School Bullying

Evidence of bullying in Mexico can be found from the primary school to university level. Primary bullying and middle school bullying can be just as damaging to young Mexican lives as bullying in high school. According to 2014 studies from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), bullying has become extremely common in Mexico. In fact, the country ranked #1 among the 34 countries that comprise the OECD for bullying cases at the middle school level.

For several years, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had warned Mexico of the rising threat of bullying in its schools. According to NHRC spokesman Raúl Plascencia Villanueva, bullying had become so bad in Mexican schools that primary and middle school students were creating gangs to abuse their peers. Many bullying victims were resorting to suicide to escape being targeted by such gangs.

According to statistics provided by the National System for Comprehensive Family Development (i.e., Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia (DIF) in Spanish), middle school bullying has become rampant in Mexico as evidenced by the following:

  • 40% of 6th grade students reported being victims of theft
  • 11% of primary school and 7% of middle school children say they have been threatened or robbed by classmates
  • 25% of students said they had been threatened or insulted by bullies
  • 16% had been hit by bullies
  • 44% said they had suffered other forms of physical violence
  • 17% of six year old students report that they are hit or insulted in school
  • Two out of every 10 students ages 10-12 say they are ‘picked on’ and humiliated by bullies in school

Teachers’ Perspective of Educational Problems

Teachers play an important role in bullying prevention in school. A lack of response from teachers and school administrators could undermine any type of anti-bullying policies schools put in place. In like manner, if schools lack the finances or resources to protect students and provide them with a quality education, anti-bullying programs will have little effect in eliminating bullying problems.

Results from the 2014 Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) provide greater insight into the problems teachers face concerning bullying in school and maintaining a high standard of education.  Over 100,000 middle school principals and teachers were selected at random from 6,500 Mexican schools to partake of the survey. According to TALIS results:

  • 3 out of every 10 teachers in middle school say they witnessed some form of verbal abuse or intimidation between students on a weekly basis
  • 10% of teachers witnessed students bringing or using drugs or alcohol in school
  • Bullying activities ranged from verbal abuse to physical assault, vandalism, drug possession and drug consumption

The survey also brought to light some of the complex realities of the Mexican school environment that can have an effect on student behavior and learning such as:

  • Approximately half of middle school educators teach in environments where 30% of their student body comes from low income households
  • These same schools often lack high performance teachers and support personnel
  • Approximately 25% of teachers in middle school feel unprepared for their profession
  • Approximately 24% of a teacher’s work hours go to performing administrative tasks and classroom management as opposed to teaching

School Bullying in Mexico: A Societal Problem

The problem with bullying in Mexican schools can be traced back to the widespread violence in Mexican society at large. The country’s drug wars and political violence over the last decade or so have taken its toll on Mexican youth, producing a generation of young people who are fairly accustomed to hostility and aggression. Violence in Mexico can be observed almost daily in schools, on city streets, at home and in the workplace. It’s no wonder bullying is looked upon as an extension of Mexican society.

Like all forms of violence, bullying has claimed the lives of countless young people in Mexico. Just as the government is having difficulty managing violence in society, school officials face a daunting task in stopping bullying behavior on school grounds. In fact, bullying attacks are only becoming more violent as evidenced by the senseless death of 12 year old Hector Alejandro Ramirez Mendez or ‘Mini’ as he was known by friends.

In May of 2014, Mini lost his life in a bullying incident that occurred in his middle school in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas. According to news stories covering the incident, four of Mini’s classmates had picked the boy up and rammed his head against a wall, supposedly while “playing a game.”  A few days later, Mini died of brain damage. Ironically, the state of Tamaulipas was one of various regions in Mexico that had suffered extensively from drug war hostilities and violence.

Research on bullying activity shows that approximately 70% of primary and middle school students are involved in harassment or physical violence in school either as aggressors, passive or active observers or victims. Bullying occurs more frequently in Mexico’s public schools than private institutions and is usually led by older students who fail their previous year and are repeating a grade.

Factors that Contribute to School Bullying in Mexico

Mexico’s history of drug cartel violence is but one of many factors that contribute to the rapid spread of bullying in schools. Violent television shows also play a role in developing a child’s bullying behavior. Some programs extoll the success of ‘flamboyant’ criminals and corrupt politicians, giving young people the impression these are the examples they should follow.

Unemployment is yet another factor that contributes to violence both in and out of school. If parents are unemployed or make very little money due to a low paying job, children are the first to suffer. Lack of money can cause young people to become angry and dissatisfied with their lives. This pent-up anger can easily turn to aggression against classmates who seem to have it better in life.

A decline in social values at home also contributes to bullying behavior. Many Mexican children today are growing up in aggressive, chauvinistic home environments, causing them to develop immoral attitudes and mindsets that lead to bullying. Moral education begins at home. Kids that come from a turbulent home environment often lack the moral training to make good decisions in life. As a result, many resort to bullying and violence to get what they want.

Professor Carmen Trueba of the  Metropolitan Autonomous University, commented that “we are facing a society where respect for others is not taught and where there is an enormous discrimination against everything that is different.” Trueba feels that doing away with classes on ethics and philosophy in school causes students to have less tolerance for people’s differences.

“It has been forgotten that philosophy, without being a panacea, can help us build a better school relationship,” she says. “We must recover the values and principles that used to exist in the schools in the 1940s and 50s, where, despite a world war and an international context of violence, we were able to establish basic values and rights that we are losing today.”

Many students who own mobile phones or laptops take advantage of these devices to bully classmates online. They take pleasure in humiliating others over social media or through malicious phone calls, emails or texts.

Despite the damage that bullying has caused, Mexico lacks a coordinated effort in the way of educational programs to combat the problem in public schools. By incorporating courses on moral education, sexuality, human rights and life goals into their curricula, schools have a means of confronting bullying behavior while teaching students values that will last.

Anti-Bullying Measures in Mexico

The death of Mini was, in a sense, a wakeup call for Mexico concerning school violence. Before this incidence, bullying wasn’t given all that much attention from the general public. Even though the problem had been brewing in public schools for years, little was done to remedy the situation. Mini’s death brought bullying back into the forefront, prompting teachers, parents and government agencies to take another look at how far bullying can go.

Even Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was moved by the tragedy and took time to visit with Mini’s family in Tamaulipas. In an anti-bullying message made shortly after the boy’s death, Peña Nieto promised to do his part to promote anti-bullying legislation to protect students from harm. “The government has made a commitment … to make schools free of acoso escolar (school bullying),” he said.

Mini’s death prompted a national anti-bullying campaign backed by Mexican politicians and celebrities alike. Pop diva Thalia and footballer Javier Hernandez joined hundreds of others in condemning bullying on Twitter under the hashtag #ElBullyingNoEsUnJuego (“Bullying is NOT a game.”) Basta Mx was yet another anti-bullying movement that came into being after Mini’s demise. It was supported by such Mexican celebrities and sports stars as Adamari Lopez, Lucero, Daniel Arena, Julio Cesar Chavez and Saul “El Canelo” Alvarez.

Despite people rallying around the cause, permanent changes to improve Mexico’s school system and eradicate bullying behavior remains to be seen. Monica Garza, a newspaper columnist for “La Razon”, had her reservations that the movement would last. She felt the attention given to the term ‘bullying’ would simply become a “convenient, trendy and superficial catchall in a country rife with social ills, where the mistreatment and abuse of people of all ages and of laws – often by authorities or drug cartels – has long been rampant.”

“Mexico is a violent country that tolerates violence,” Garza wrote. “Bullying has become the word of the moment, signaling any kind of violence, at school or at work, and it’s time to call things by their names. Murder is not bullying. It’s murder. Assault is not bullying. It’s assault…. Many violent children in the schools aren’t bullies, they’re potential delinquents.”

According to Roberto Campa, an official in Mexico’s Ministry of Interior, the president’s administration had already been looking into the bullying issue in conjunction with a more comprehensive violence-prevention program. Although the problem wasn’t given the attention it deserved in the past, Campa feels the tide is changing and bullying issues are gaining more public attention. People are also not considering bullying ‘normal’ as they did before. Today they recognize the importance of finding solutions to the problem. Despite the fact that many bullying cases originate at home, Campa feels that Mexican schools should make a concerted effort to protect students from this abusive behavior.

Even parents expressed their concern that bullying not be allowed to continue. One mother, Brenda Quiroz Arteaga, commented “We’re very worried about the bullying. My daughter was harassed for a long time because she’s a little chubby and she suffered a lot.… I’m all for expelling from the schools all the students who (bully) their schoolmates.”

In a newspaper story released by “Milenio,” a mother in Mexico City actually filed a formal complaint against her son with the police department due to his abuse of fellow classmates in middle school. According to the news report, the son was extorting money and abusing schoolmates online.

Many people recognize the fact that bullying is an age-old problem; it’s only recently, however, that Mexicans are being encouraged to help put a stop to it. As Professor and human rights coordinator Mario Cruz of the Ibero-American University in Mexico City said, “(Bullying) is something that got away from them and they had no strategy for coordinating different government offices to do something about (it). This campaign is a corrective step but at least it makes the phenomenon more visible.”

Drug Wars a Precursor to Bullying

Mini’s assault happened in the state of Tamaulipas on the Texas border, an area that suffered a great deal of violence during Mexico’s drug wars. Massacres, car bombings and firefights were the norm in this cartel-dominated region of the country. Many of the areas that were rife with cartel violence in the past are hotspots for school bullying today.

Rep. Veronica Juarez, one of the politicians helping to draft laws against bullying in Mexico, believes that “without doubt, there is a link between the violence in society and the violence in schools. The daily murders, the glorification of criminals, all this has made violence seem normal. We have stopped being shocked by it. And children grow up with this.”

Cartel-related hostilities and violence dominated Mexico from 2008 through 2014 when the situation began to calm down. In this six year period, there was an estimated 70,000 drug-related deaths in the country. In some places, victims were shot in plain sight of children. In the state of Jalisco, two teen students were killed by cartel members for bullying a kingpin’s son. In other parts of the country, cartels recruited young people to carry out drug-related crimes.

Samantha Urzua, a psychologist who works with adolescents, is fully convinced that cartel violence has produced a generation of young people who are more aggressive and violent than in years past. “There is a culture where children look up to the most aggressive, most violent among their peers,” she said. “This has been a growing problem for years. It took a child to fall in the hole before we try and cover the well,” she continued, citing an old Mexican proverb.

Jaana Juvonen, an American psychologist from the University of California, concurs that there’s a correlation between areas of high level violence and bullying in schools. “Witnessing violence has detrimental effects,” Juvonen says, “although these can function differently in different adolescents. In some cases, they develop a fear and anxiety that can make them very quick to retaliate.”

Dangers of Child Abuse

Along with lack of moral training at home comes the danger of kids becoming victims of child abuse.  In Zacatecas, 10% of the population is affected by bullying and child abuse. Sadly enough, only one out of every 100 kids suffering from abusive behavior receives professional assistance from counselors or child psychologists, observed Dr. Arturo Loredo Abdalá of the Center of Comprehensive Care for Abused Children.

Depending on their economic situation and the social atmosphere of their home, an estimated 55 to 85% of Mexican youth suffer from abusive behavior. Many of these children grow into abusive adults. Children who are bullied in primary schools generally suffer physical abuse such as hitting, fighting, kicking, etc. In middle and high school, young people begin to experience more psychological bullying, which is equally as dangerous.

Teens are at that vulnerable age where emotional abuse can cause a lot of harm. Psychological bullying can cause the loss of confidence and self-esteem which can have devastating effects on a young teen’s life. Over a period of time, emotional abuse can cause young people to lose their desire to live and commit suicide. In Mexico, teens suffer from mental abuse in their homes, at schools, in government institutions and in social settings.

“Negligence, corruption and impunity are common practice,” says Abdalá, “and result in ignorance, poverty and alienation – some of the cruelest forms of child abuse.”

Child abuse can generally be divided into three categories: environmental abuse, social abuse and domestic abuse.  Parents, siblings, teachers, classmates or other adults can contribute to this abuse through their violent actions, malicious words, neglect or sexual misconduct.

Abdalá urges parents to consider how their conduct can adversely affect the lives of their kids. Parents are responsible for the health and welfare of their children. Any intentional conduct that results in a child or teen suffering from physical, mental or emotional harm can be considered a form of abuse. Sometimes visible effects of child abuse won’t be detected until years down the line.

Cyberbullying in Mexico

Like conventional bullying, the purpose of cyberbullying is to cause others harm. Rather than face to face, however, bullying takes place online through the use of digital technology. Internet bullying can come in the form of text messages, malicious posts on social media, nasty comments on chat sites or vicious emails.

Cyberbullying is often conducted anonymously, making it possible for people to harass and hurt others with low risk of being caught. Perpetrators take advantage of the fact that victims can’t identify them to do as much damage as possible. Through Internet bullying, perpetrators can spread their lies and deceit to an audience of thousands if not millions of viewers at the click of a button. This makes cyberbullying even more dangerous and life threatening than bullying in real life.

In Mexico, cyberbullying is evolving into a major problem, particularly among young people who regularly use social media sites. Facebook bullying is a common occurrence in many parts of the world and Mexico is no exception. In some cases, Facebook bullying has led to suicides among young teens.

Internet bullying may involve harassment, threats, gossip or posting provocative photos and videos online to humiliate and embarrass others. In many cases, students are bullied by former classmates or friends as a form of revenge due to something a person said or did that bullies didn’t like. A teen may become the subject of a cyberbullying campaign that lasts for months or years on end, causing untold damage to his or her reputation. The negative long term effects of Internet bullying prompts many young people to take their own lives.

In the state of Nuevo Leon, cyberbullying had become such a problem that the local government passed an anti-bullying law with punishment of up to 3 years for cyberbullying violations. The following online bullying information gives a clearer picture of the situation there.

  • Approximately 43% of children in the province had experienced bullying online
  • 1 out of 4 children were bullied more than one time
  • 68% of young people in the area feel Internet bullying is a serious threat
  • Mobile phones was the medium cyberbullies used most as over 80% of youth in the area owned a cellphone
  • Only 1 out of every 10 victims report cyber offenses to parents or other adults

Young Internet users should be aware of the dangers of online bullying and have some knowledge of how to deal with cyberattacks. As most attacks are done anonymously, victims may find it difficult to pinpoint the source. Victims can, however, report cyberattacks to their Internet provider as well as the website where negative posts have been placed so action can be taken to block perpetrators from further attacks.

Many social sites have privacy settings that young people can utilize to protect themselves from bullying propaganda. Parents should also make sure their kids are educated on Internet safety and etiquette so they can avoid unnecessary problems online. By knowing the facts about cyberbullying to include how bullies operate and how to protect themselves online, children and teens reduce their risk of being the target of a cyberattack.

Controversy over Nuevo Leon Cyberbullying Laws

Cyberbullying legislation in Nuevo Leon has caused some controversy as to whether it interferes with Mexican citizens’ freedom of speech. The law was originally passed to help curtail the rapidly spreading occurrence of cyberbullying attacks in the local area. In brief, the law states that anyone posting images or messages on social sites that result in “harm, dishonor, discredit to a person, or exposes him or her to contempt” runs the risk of being imprisoned for up to 3 years.

Defamation, i.e. damaging someone’s reputation, is considered a felony offense in Nuevo Leon. As cyberbullying can lead to defamation, the new law was designed to combat this problem. The law’s ‘broad scope’, however, has some people concerned that it could restrict freedom of speech online by not permitting individuals to post opposing opinions or criticisms  of public figures on social media or websites.

According to Nuevo Leon’s cyberbullying law, a defamation offense can be levied against a person who “uses any means to spread, reveal, transfer or transmit one or more images, recordings whether written or audiovisual” with the intent of causing others harm. The law further requires that website operators reveal who posted the offensive content, which some people consider a violation of privacy rights. Websites who refuse to comply may be sanctioned. This puts such social networks as Facebook, Twitter and others in a difficult position due to their privacy terms.

Since its inception, the law has received its share of criticism, particularly on Twitter, under the hashtag #MurióLaLibertadDeExpresiónEnNL (#Freedom of Expression has died in NL). Some people feel this reform restricts their freedom of speech by making it illegal to write anything negative about politicians or wealthy elites online.

In a press release concerning this reform, Article 19, a freedom of speech advocacy group, stated that Nuevo Leon failed “to comply with the international duties Mexico has to protect freedom of speech […] [The law goes] against international recommendations to decriminalize so-called offenses against honor as crimes because this restricts freedom of expressing, opinion, and information…”

International Congress Addresses Internet Bullying in Mexico

In 2015, the ORT Organization IAP Mexico in conjunction with the Latin American Association of Educational Innovation AC organized the International Congress of Educational Innovation, an initiative designed to address educational issues faced by Mexican teachers. Over 2,000 educators from over 350 schools participated in the event which took place in Mexico City.

Cyberbullying was the topic on the agenda for the 2015 Congress which organized workshops to educate attendees on the risks of using the Internet, the evolution of online bullying and prevention of cyberbullying acts.

The two workshops – “Enjoy Safe Internet” and “How to Prevent and Combat Cyberbullying in Schools” – were conducted by PantallasAmigas, a group that promotes ‘responsible digital citizenship.’ Through these workshops, Mexican educators had the opportunity to learn more about cyberbullying and the risks it poses to young students. The workshops not only explained how cyberbullying originated but provided valuable counsel on how to stop cyberattacks.

By using actual cyberbullying cases, PantallasAmigas provided attendees with a realistic picture of how online bullying works and what can be done to protect young people from cyberattacks. The group also touched on the responsibility of schools to help students who are being bullied online, even if attacks occur during non-school hours.

Tips to Combat Cyberattacks

Cyberbullying can occur at any time and from almost anywhere, without prior warning. Some young people partake of digital technology without ever experiencing any trouble at all. Others seem to be perpetual targets of bullying online.

Many young people provoke Internet bullies through unwise online practices such as posting questionable photos or videos online or placing personal information on social media sites. Cyberbullies are always on the lookout for ways to “infiltrate” into a person’s online accounts. People who reveal too much personal data online run the risk of being a victim of identity theft or scams.

Even people who practice online safety can be victims of a cyberattack. Young people should know what they should and shouldn’t do in the event they are bullied online. Kids and teens who know how to handle bullying are less likely to get burned by cyberattacks. The following tips can help young people avoid, prevent and combat cyberbullying if they are targeted.

  • Use the Internet wisely and responsibly from the start, taking into consideration the harm that negative posts can cause.
  • Never falsify information online to enhance popularity.
  • Never place personal information to include full name, address, phone number, name of school, birthday, etc., on social networks or personal websites. Protect personal data at all costs.
  • Don’t befriend strangers online. Use social media to communicate with family and friends only.
  • Don’t post questionable photos, videos or comments online. Consider the consequences of placing negative posts or provocative photos that can attract the attention of bullies. THINK before posting as whatever is placed online could be there a long, long time.
  • If bullied on social media networks, through text messages, emails or phone calls, don’t respond to bullies directly. Report all bullying activities to a parent or other trustworthy adult.
  • Report bullying activities to online server and website where negative posts are placed so they can take appropriate action.
  • Document all harassment as evidence against perpetrators for when they are caught.
  • Report serious cyberbullying cases such as threats of violence, identity theft or scams to local police.

Both traditional bullying and cyberbullying have taken root in Mexican society. The senseless violence and hostility of Mexico’s drug wars have only intensified this problem. For Mexico to recover, much work must be done to improve social conditions on the home front, at work and in public schools.

Bullying and child abuse are massive problems in Mexico that need to be overcome in order for the country to move forward. By offering educational programs that expose bullying and the damage it causes, schools can help resolve bullying problems. Teachers can also challenge students to take a stance against bullying by reporting bullying activity and refusing to take part in bullying acts. Rather than allow negative peer pressure to pull students down, teachers can encourage their pupils to unite against bullying and use positive peer pressure as a force for good in their school.

At home, Mexican parents can set good examples of caring, respectful behavior for their children to follow. A child’s environment plays an important role in helping to forge his or her character. Children who are reared in a disciplined yet loving home environment are less likely to bully others. It’s important parents set the right foundation at home for their kids to build their lives on.

Bullying problems in Mexico have been years in the making. As such, it may take years for the country to turn their situation around. Even small beginnings, however, can make a difference in the lives of Mexican children. By taking steps in the direction of change and reform, Mexico will see progress in the decline of bullying in their schools, homes and society at large.

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