How do we move forward from tragedy, and return to day-to-day living?
As Singapore reels from its most shocking school death to date, parents would have received messages from their children’s schools, likely with these guidelines:
Talk to your children, check on their emotions, and be ready to receive their questions. (Be prepared for a range of emotions — some children may be deeply affected, while others may appear unperturbed.)
Do not speculate or share sensational news or rumours.
If necessary, remind children that what happened at River Valley High School was an anomaly, and that our schools are doing their best to provide safe spaces for all students.
Within school communities, educators and parents have been circulating resources on helping children to deal with the news. Experts have also advised that we need to restore a sense of security for our children. This includes acknowledging two conflicting truths — that bad things can happen, and yet, we should never let fear rule our lives.
Parents can broach the subject of school safety in the following ways:
Some children may ask, “Is my school really safe?” Together with your child, you can refer to school rules stating that students should not have access to sharp objects or weapon-like items while in school — for some schools, this information will be in the student handbook. Children who notice schoolmates brandishing potentially dangerous objects should alert their teachers at once.
Talk to your child about the difference between tattling and telling. “Tattling” is the malicious act of trying to get someone in trouble, while “telling” is the responsible act of reporting suspicious or unusual activity, in order to help someone who could be a threat to self or others. Discuss examples of behaviours that should be reported, such as a classmate talking about harming oneself or others, a schoolmate removing equipment without authorisation from a CCA room, or any individual loitering anywhere within the school compound without a valid reason.
If your child is concerned about a violent incident happening in school, stress that in terms of the number of occurrences, the River Valley High School tragedy is an isolated incident in Singapore. Should the subject of copycat crimes come up, you can point out that one of the reasons for the muted publicity around the case is not only to protect the students’ privacy, but also to reduce the likelihood of triggering vulnerable individuals into committing similar acts. You can also talk about how, as members of the public, we have a responsibility to circulate only content that promotes greater good.
Be aware of how your child’s school will reach you in an emergency — is it through a phone call, an e-mail or text alert, or through an app such as ClassDojo or ParentsGateway? Ensure that the school has your latest contact information.
To help our schools keep students safe, follow the visitor guidelines every time you visit a school, such as by staying within the designated visitor zone.
As parents, we can take a firm stance against violence, by letting our children know that violence causes pain, and often, there is no undoing the damage.
For specific tips on dangerous encounters — in school and elsewhere — you and your child can visit the website Kidpower.org, which has a wealth of kid-friendly safety resources that can be adapted for children in the Singapore context. For instance, on their FAQ page, they address the question: What is the first thing you should do if faced with someone who is trying to hurt you? Their advice is what we commonly hear in self-defence: focus on getting away, and getting to safety. Depending on where one is, locking someone out can also prevent a dangerous person from inflicting hurt. If your child knows that others are nearby, he/she should keep yelling for help, and never lose hope.
Another question is: What might a dangerous person look like? There is no straightforward answer, but children, especially teenagers, should be on the alert if anyone they know seems preoccupied with self-harm, hurting others, or endangering animals. More importantly, your children should never try to take matters into their own hands. Remind them to alert a grown-up, so that these troubled individuals — who may or may not be prone to violence — can get immediate help.
Finally — and this may be more appropriate for teens — Kidpower recommends preparing for emergency situations by creating a plan, because knowing what to do is the best defence. This is relevant whether one is caught in a fire, or trapped in an enclosed space with a dubious individual. Again, the focus is on knowing the escape routes, and doing one’s utmost to get to safety.
While learning more about self-defence is great, you should also be aware that self-defence and violence prevention are two different things entirely. At its heart, violence prevention is about understanding what the risk factors are, and taking steps to ensure that at-risk children can rise above their circumstances.
For example, you can read about the risk factors that have been linked with youth violence in America. Please note that these factors may not be relevant to what happened at River Valley High School, and that they are not direct causes of youth violence.
Within our communities, many of us have the ability to bolster at-risk children with protective factors, and here are some examples of what we can do:
Be a trusted adult for children other than our own, to hear out their problems and support them through difficulties.
Do our part to give all children a chance to feel a sense of belonging in school — check with your child’s school about how you can render assistance.
Volunteer to tutor at-risk children, or to run programmes that will be beneficial for them, such as leadership training.
Educate ourselves about mental health conditions, especially depression, which is the most common mental illness in Singapore. This equips us to spot the warning signs, especially in our own children.
Although the world can seem increasingly fraught with peril, we can’t anticipate every possibility or live in a bubble. But together, we can keep pushing for a better future — by showing compassion to others, and taking action to drive positive change.