Facing Up to the Threat of Bullying

Name calling, mocking others, posting negative comments online – these are common tactics resorted by bullies and unfortunately, we’re referring to kids who ‘terrorize’ others, not adults.

A report presented by the Singapore Children’s Society  indicates that one in five primary school children have experienced some sort of bullying in school, mostly among classmates and between students of the same gender.

However, about 35% of victims who are primary school students do not report these incidents for fear of retaliation or simple because they have little faith in how adults will respond.

In 2012, it was reported in the local media that a little boy who had just entered Primary One was dragged and punched in the stomach by assailants just a year older than him. In another incident, he had his fringe snipped off in class and his teacher, who had noticed hair on the floor, failed to raise the alarm.

Many parents have also shared their experiences on the KiasuParents’ forum. One forum user who goes by the name of smartmummy related how her son was attacked by an upper primary schoolmate, whom he didn’t even know, when he was in Primary 2.

Another forum user, cnimed shared this: “DS1 was ‘bullied’ in preschool, poked in the eyes and ears, and it went on for a few weeks without anyone knowing until I saw bleeding scratch marks on him. Both parties were so young, I really didn’t blame the other boy. It did leave a psychological scar and DS1 had nightmares and started hitting his younger brother… Recently he was bullied again by a much older boy. He was grabbed by the neck and pushed to the floor of the bus. I could tell something was wrong when the bus arrived because there was a deadly silence instead of the usual singing and shouting. He cried and cried after the bus dropped him off and didn’t walk home by himself.”

Leaving scars

Whether it is verbal, physical or relational bullying, the effects can be damaging to a child’s development. According to the Singapore Children’s Society survey on bullying, 13% of primary school victims experience problem sleeping at night and 15% had their appetites affected. Academic-wise, 25% developed concentration problems in class and 21% suffered lower self-esteem. In extreme cases, about 8% resorted to self-harm and some even harbored suicidal thoughts.

Perhaps more worrying is the rise in cyber bullying cases. In a 2013 straw poll conducted by Touch Cyber Wellness, around 15% of 200 Primary 5 pupils said that they had faced cyber bullying and close to three in four said they had seen others do it.

Youngsters are often not mentally or emotionally mature enough to handle their conduct online, thus they may wrongly assume that it is okay to post nasty or crude remarks anonymously online without having to face any repercussions. However, as much as any other form of bullying, cyber bullying can leave damaging effects, especially intense humiliation knowing that undesirable texts or images have been circulated widely on social media.

Dealing with the matter

In a parliamentary reply posted on their website on 21 January 2014, the Ministry of Education said: “MOE and our schools… do not tolerate bullying in any form, and schools have in place a system and measures to support a safe, conducive environment for learning. When incidents of bullying occur, these should be brought to the attention of the school authorities. Schools will take immediate action to investigate and assess all reported cases. Appropriate disciplinary actions will be taken against students who commit the act of bullying. Schools also support the affected student(s) and help those involved learn from the incident.”

When children behave badly and engage in bullying activities, parents too need to play a big role in inculcating the right values and making sure they understand why their actions are wrong.

Another Kiasuparents forum user, nissin, posted: “My P2 son’s teacher called me about two weeks back, telling me that he bullied a girl with another Boy X till the girl cried and that I should counsel him to stop the bullying… I asked (my son) whether he was having fun teasing Girl A. He replied positive. I asked him again whether Girl A was having the same fun as him. He replied negative. So, I told him if you are with someone and you are having fun but that someone is suffering, that will constitute a bully. I taught him a new idiom of 不可以把自己的快乐建筑在别人的痛苦上。”
 

To Nancy Yeoh, communication with her child is very important as she can then take necessary actions to solve the problem. “When my child has a problem or if he gets bullied in class, he will inform me. There was once I personally went to my son’s classroom to talk to his teacher because he constantly got bullied by a boy sitting behind him. (After that), the bully was moved to a table far away from my son’s desk.”

Seeking help

The Singapore Children’s Society has been operating a phone helpline for the past three decades. The Tinkle Friend helpline (1800-2744 788) caters to primary school students, especially children who are alone at home, who need someone to chat with or discuss problems with.

Recently, an online version of Tinkle Friend was added and since its soft launch, it was reported that the online chat service had seen about 23% of cases related to school issues that include bullying.

To reach out to students in an engaging and effective manner, Touch Cyber Wellness delivers cyber wellness education to primary school students through various school programmes.

Parents can also look out for seminars and workshop sessions aimed at equipping them with the knowledge to deal with threats of bullying. For example, Microsoft Singapore held a 1-day dialogue session in May 2014 for parents who wanted to hear from a panel of experts regarding the impact of cyber-bullying.

In March 2014, proposed anti-harassment laws were passed in parliament to address the real need to better protect victims of harassment. Both bullying of children and cyber-bullying are covered in these laws.

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Parents, do you have anything to share about bullying? Post your comments on this page or air your views in our forum.

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