When bullying happens in Japan, should parents go to the police? We ask an educator

As our reporter’s daughter enters elementary school, he talks with an education veteran about how to deal with bullying.

Time really does fly. It seems like only yesterday Rei, the daughter of our Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun, was just a baby, occasionally coming in for a day at SoraNews24 headquarters with her daddy.

Now, though, she’s six years old, and as of this spring she’s started going to elementary school. It’s a proud moment for P.K., but also a worrying one. In recent years, there’s been increased awareness about bullying at schools in Japan, and it’s now something that could directly affect P.K.’s family.

But what should parents in Japan do if they think their child has become the victim of bullying? To get some insight, P.K. spoke with someone we’ll call “A-san.” While A-san isn’t a teacher himself, he is an education specialist who works in a school, and he sat down with P.K. to discuss the topic.

P.K.: To start, when schools receive a report of bullying, how do they respond?

A-san: When there’s suspicion, no matter how small, that bullying is happening in the school, the teacher has to look into it and confirm what’s happening. There are probably still some schools that try to cover things up or sweep them under the rug, but at all the schools I’ve worked at, they took all reports seriously.

P.K.: Specifically, how do they handle the situation?

A-san: They listen to what the child who came forward or their parents have to say, and then they speak with the other child or children who are involved. From there, the usual way things proceed is for them to give instructions and offer guidance to the children in line with the wishes of the child who came forward. In almost all cases, the incident stems from still-insufficient development of an understanding of how to interact with other people, so it’s rarely as simple as one side being a complete victim and the other a complete perpetrator, and there are things for both children to do differently.

P.K.: It sounds like a very difficult situation.

A-san: While the teacher is handling that, they also have to make sure that lessons during class time are proceeding as usual, work on preparing upcoming lessons, and take care of various administrative responsibilities. Even when everything is going smoothly, there are very few teachers who live work at the scheduled time, without doing overtime. And while a teacher is dealing with one disciplinary problem, it’s not like every single other student in class is behaving himself or herself. Almost every day there’s going to be something that has to be done in that area, so many times the teacher is dealing with multiple issues with different students.

P.K.: I see. So they can’t devote 100 percent of their time to dealing with bullying.

A-san: Bullying is a particularly hard issue. Kids’ minds are still developing, so it’s not easy to get an accurate report of what’s going on from them. There aren’t many kids who can clearly remember all of the events that took place, and in what order. Teachers don’t have the same level of questioning skills that police officers do.

Even if the teacher is doing their best to draw out the accurate story of what happened, the parents on both sides will get angry and start saying “Are you calling my child a liar?” Many times, teachers are so hounded by parents that they take a leave of absence after dealing with major bullying incidents.

P.K. and A-san’s conversation then turned to a case in which a bully had been extorting money from a classmate at an elementary school, and the victim’s parents went straight to the police about it, without first raising the issue with the child’s teacher of school staff.

A-san: Personally, I would definitely like to see parents be proactive in contacting the police. Unless the parents of the child who is coming forward contact them it’s difficult for the school to initiate getting the police involved. It’s my personal opinion, and I also get the impression that many teachers would also like parents of bullied children to contact the police. Doing so will have a positive effect on protecting them in the space where they learn.

As A-san himself said twice, going straight to the police with bullying problems is his personal opinion, and not the official stance of the schools he’s worked at. P.K. has also heard tales of parents going to the police and being told that law enforcement can’t do anything for a mere schoolyard bullying complaint, so he’s still not sure what the best course of action is, but his talk with A-san reminded him of the options he’ll have should his daughter run into trouble with bullies in the years to come.

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