Even though public members are increasingly calling out bad behaviour, research shows that bullying rates in schools remain largely the same over the past decade. According to a research study done by Singapore Children’s Society in 2008, 1 in 5 primary school students and 1 in 4 secondary school students in Singapore have experienced bullying. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2018 (surveying 15-year-old students) revealed that 26% of students reported being bullied at least a few times a month in Singapore.
Getting bullied diminishes self-esteem, leaves kids feeling depressed and anxious, and can have long-lasting effects. As parents, we want to protect our children against any threat. How can we do that, and what do we do?
Protect against bullies
The first line of defence against bullying is to talk to your child about it before it happens so that they are equipped to recognise bullying and are more comfortable talking to you about it.
Talk about what bullying is and whether or not it’s going on.
Relational: Excluding someone from a group, spreading rumours, conditional friendships (“I will only be your friend if you…”), revealing information that will have a harmful effect
Cyberbullying: Impersonation, any bullying that takes place online
Teasing vs. Bullying: Bullying takes place when
There is a power difference
There is intention to cause harm
It is repeated
Make sure your child knows to tell you if something happens. Assure them that you will listen to them and will not blame them or get angry at them.
Lastly, teach them ways to stand up for themselves if bullying does happen. You may want to role-play appropriate responses: What can they say? Who can they go to?
Warning Signs of Bullying
A research study conducted by Children’s Society found that 35% of primary school victims and 17% of secondary school victims do not tell anyone when they are victims of bullying. Awang and Oh (2020) found that many victims (ranging from those in primary school to ITE) suffer in silence, only speaking up when someone notices that something is amiss such as one child who cried herself to sleep, and another child who came home hungry for nearly two weeks.
It is important for parents to remain vigilant, check in with their children often and learn to recognise signs of bullying:
Shows a sudden lack of interest in school or refuses to go to school
Withdraws from family and school activities, wants to be left alone
Is sad, sullen, angry, or scared after receiving a phone call
If your child has confided in you, it is a good thing. Take them seriously and do not dismiss the matter. Listen calmly without judgement and be supportive but neutral when your child is talking. If you react too strongly to what they say, they might stop talking because they are afraid of upsetting you.
Do not blame your child for being bullied as it may make them anxious and they may minimise what is happening. Our goal should be to increase communication regarding what is going on. Try not to find a reason for the bullying either – there is no good reason or excuse for what is happening.
Instead, empathise and listen without judgement. Then, collect the facts. Who was there? What was going on? What was said? What did your child do and how did they feel? Ask your child what you can do to help. You can contact your child’s school, follow up on the episode, and role-play appropriate responses to the specific situation.
What about cyberbullying?
Much like with physical bullying, provide a listening ear and emotional support if your child has been cyberbullied. Since social media is highly accessible from anywhere, you may wish to redirect their attention to something more positive, like a hobby. However, refrain from taking away their devices as this cuts off communication with a large part of their world. Research has also shown that many children don’t report bullying because they are afraid of losing the privilege of using their devices.
Practical steps to take:
Instruct your child to ignore malicious posts and comments. Though it may be difficult to refrain from responding to something untrue, it is always better to stop and report the incident to a parent or trusted adult instead.
Block the bully on online platforms. Consider opening new social networking accounts.
Save evidence of cyberbullying. Although your child’s first reaction may be to delete everything, remind them that without evidence, you have no proof of being cyberbullied.
Report it to your child’s school, the police, or social media administrators. Sites like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter will investigate cyberbullying claims, especially involving a minor.
Written by: Helene Tan, Programme Executive, Fei Yue Community Services
Need more support in dealing with bullies? Check out the following sites: