A Parent’s Guide: Addressing Bullying and Cyberbullying in Singapore Schools

Bullying and cyberbullying are more common than many parents might think. Did you know that 1 in 4 students have experienced bullying at some point?
When comparing bullying globally, Singapore’s rates of bullying incidents are similar to those in other developed countries.

This is a significant issue that can seriously impact a child’s mental health and overall well-being. As a parent, it’s crucial to understand what bullying and cyberbullying are, recognise the signs, and know how to respond effectively.

In Singapore, bullying can take on different forms. Whether it’s physical bullying in the schoolyard or cyberbullying through social media, both have long-lasting effects on a child’s life.

School bullying, whether it occurs online or offline, can create an environment where students feel unsafe, affecting their ability to learn and thrive.

Understanding Bullying and Cyberbullying

1.1 What is School Bullying?

Bullying is not just a simple argument or disagreement between children. It’s aggressive behaviour that is repeated over time and involves an imbalance of power.

This can be physical, verbal, or social. For example, physical bullying includes hitting or pushing, which can often occur in primary school settings.

Verbal bullying involves name-calling or insults, such as hurled vulgarities or mean comments. Bullying occurs behind authority figures’ backs in these cases.

Social bullying, also known as relational bullying, might include spreading rumours or deliberately excluding someone from a group.

1.2 What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying takes place over digital devices like mobile phones, computers, and tablets. It includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else.

This can happen through social media, text messages, or emails. For instance, a child might be harassed on social media through hurtful comments or threatening messages.

It is crucial to address the underlying causes of hurtful behaviour to effectively combat cyberbullying. Cyberbullying can be particularly damaging because it can happen 24/7 and reach a large audience quickly. Incidents of cyberbullying can often involve circulated online content that embarrasses or shames the victim.

1.3 Cultural Context in Singapore

In Singapore, the multicultural environment can sometimes add complexities to bullying. Children from different backgrounds might experience or perceive bullying differently due to cultural norms and communication styles.

For example, what might be considered a joke in one culture could be deeply hurtful in another. Understanding these nuances is essential for recognising and addressing bullying effectively.

Bullying in Singapore schools can also involve inappropriate practices that violate a student’s sense of safety and well-being. For instance, students might face peer pressure or hurtful behaviours that impact their self-esteem and ability to participate fully in school activities.

Recognising the Signs

2.1 Physical Bullying and Emotional Indicators

Bullying and cyberbullying can manifest in various ways. One of the first things to look out for are changes in your child’s physical and emotional state.

They might start having trouble sleeping or lose their appetite. You could notice mood swings, increased irritability, or signs of depression.

For example, a child who used to be cheerful and outgoing might become withdrawn and anxious. Some children might complain of stomach aches or other physical symptoms as a result of the stress caused by bullying incidents.

2.2 Behavioural Changes

Changes in behaviour can also signal bullying. Your child might start avoiding certain activities, particularly those involving social interaction or online engagement. If they suddenly express reluctance to go to school or participate in extracurricular activities, it could be a red flag.

It is crucial to keep both online and offline spaces safe and positive to prevent such issues. For instance, a child who loved playing online games might stop abruptly due to negative experiences with cyberbullying.

These behavioural changes are often the first indication that something is wrong, especially if they coincide with incidents reported by teachers or peers.

2.3 Cultural Sensitivities

Recognising the signs of bullying in a culturally diverse setting like Singapore requires sensitivity to different communication styles and norms.
Some children might not express their distress verbally due to cultural reasons. They might show their discomfort through non-verbal cues like body language or changes in their usual routines.

Understanding these subtle signs can help in identifying if something is wrong.

Working Example
Take, for instance, a parent who noticed their child was hesitant to check their phone and seemed anxious whenever they received a notification. Upon gently probing, the child revealed that they were receiving mean messages from a classmate, a common form of cyberbullying.

This shows the importance of paying attention to small behavioural changes and being open to communication. It’s crucial to recognise these warning signs early to provide the necessary support and prevent further harm.

Taking Action

3.1 Creating a Safe Space

When your child is facing bullying or cyberbullying, it’s crucial to create a safe and open environment where they feel comfortable sharing their experiences.

Encourage your child to talk about their day and listen without judgement.

Avoid jumping to conclusions or offering immediate solutions; sometimes, they just need to be heard. An example could be setting aside a specific time each day for a family chat where everyone shares something about their day, promoting open communication.

This approach helps build trust and lets your child know they can talk to you about anything, including bullying incidents.

3.2 Gathering Evidence

If your child is being bullied, gathering evidence can be vital, especially for cyberbullying. Encourage your child to save messages, take screenshots, and document incidents. This evidence can be useful when reporting the bullying to school authorities or other relevant organisations.

For instance, if your child receives threatening messages on social media, having a record of these interactions can help in taking appropriate action. Schools need documented proof to take disciplinary actions against the bullies involved.

3.3 Reporting the Incident

Once you have evidence, report the incident to your child’s school. Schedule a meeting with teachers or school counsellors to discuss the issue and explore solutions.

Schools often have policies and procedures in place to handle bullying.

For example, many schools in Singapore have dedicated anti-bullying coordinators who can provide support and resources. Discuss the school’s approach to dealing with bullying and ensure they follow through on their policies to protect your child. It’s important that schools provide students with a safe environment free from bullying.

3.4 Seeking Support

In addition to school support, there are several organisations in Singapore that offer assistance for bullying and cyberbullying.

The Ministry of Education provides resources and guidelines, while the Children’s Society, TOUCH Cyber Wellness, and the Coalition Against Bullying for Children and Youth (CABCY) offer specialised support.

These organisations can provide counselling, workshops, and advice on handling bullying situations. They also help parents understand how to support their children and take action against bullies.

Seeking external support is crucial, especially in serious incidents where school interventions might not be enough.

For example, TOUCH Cyber Wellness offers workshops that teach both parents and children how to handle cyberbullying effectively. Similarly, CABCY provides peer support programs that promote a culture of support among students.

Fostering a peer support culture in schools is essential to create a safe and positive environment for students to report incidents and receive necessary support, both in and out of school.

Preventing Bullying

4.1 Teaching Empathy and Respect

One of the most effective ways to prevent bullying is to teach children empathy and respect from a young age.

Help them understand the impact of their actions on others and encourage kindness. Discuss real-life scenarios and ask them how they would feel in different situations.

For example, you could use a story where a character is excluded from a game and ask your child how they think the character feels and what they could do to help.
Teaching empathy helps children understand the consequences of hurtful behaviours and promotes a more inclusive environment.

4.2 Setting Clear Expectations

Set clear expectations for behaviour both online and offline. Explain the rules of acceptable conduct and the consequences of breaking them. Make sure your child understands the importance of treating others with respect.

For example, you might establish rules about not sharing passwords, not posting hurtful comments, and always telling a trusted adult if they see something upsetting online.

These guidelines help create an environment where bullying is less likely to occur, both in physical and digital spaces.

4.3 Monitoring Online and Offline Spaces

Keeping an eye on your child’s online activity can help you catch potential issues early. This doesn’t mean invading their privacy, but rather being aware of their online presence and the platforms they use.

Encourage open discussions about their online interactions. For instance, you could periodically review their social media friends list together or set up parental controls to monitor their internet usage.

This proactive approach helps ensure that your child navigates online spaces safely and knows they can come to you with any concerns.

4.4 Building Relationships with Peer Support Leaders

Building strong relationships with teachers, administrators, and community leaders can provide a support network for your child. Stay involved in your child’s school life by attending parent-teacher meetings and school events.

Establishing a rapport with school staff can make it easier to address any issues that arise. For example, if you have a good relationship with your child’s teacher, they are more likely to alert you if they notice any concerning behaviour.

A strong support system at school helps in creating an enabling learning environment where all students feel safe.

4.5 Utilising Resources

There are many resources available to help parents and children learn about preventing bullying. Organisations like TOUCH Cyber Wellness, the Children’s Society, and CABCY offer workshops, counselling, and educational materials.

Make use of these resources to stay informed and proactive. For example, attending a workshop on cyber safety can provide valuable tips on how to protect your child online.

These resources can also teach children about appropriate online and offline behaviour, reinforcing the importance of respect and empathy.

Peer support leaders play a crucial role in keeping online and offline spaces safe and positive, and in alerting teachers when needed.

Example Scenario

Consider a scenario where a parent notices their child is reluctant to wear their school uniform and go to school. After some discussion, the child reveals that they are being bullied by two other male students in their secondary school.

The parent can take immediate steps to address the issue, such as gathering evidence, reporting the incident, and seeking support from the school and relevant organisations.

Resources at Your Fingertips

5.1 TOUCH Cyber Wellness

TOUCH Cyber Wellness is dedicated to promoting cyber safety and digital wellness among children and youth in Singapore. They offer a range of services including workshops, counselling, and resources for parents and children. These resources can help you understand the digital landscape better and equip you to guide your child in navigating it safely. For example, they provide workshops that teach children about responsible online behaviour and how to handle cyberbullying. Visit their website here for more information.

5.2 Coalition Against Bullying for Children and Youth (CABCY)

CABCY works to prevent bullying and support victims through education, advocacy, and direct support services. They provide valuable information and tools for parents and educators to address bullying effectively. Their resources include workshops and campaigns aimed at raising awareness and promoting anti-bullying strategies. For instance, CABCY’s peer support programs encourage students to look out for each other, creating a culture of mutual support. Learn more by visiting their website here.

5.3 Children’s Society

The Children’s Society offers the Bully-Free Programme, which focuses on creating safe environments for children both in schools and online. They provide educational materials, counselling services, and intervention programmes. Their website offers a wealth of information on how to prevent and deal with bullying. For example, their resources can help parents understand the signs of bullying and how to take action. Access their resources here.

5.4 Ministry of Education Anti-Bullying Resources

The Ministry of Education (MOE) in Singapore has developed comprehensive anti-bullying resources and policies to ensure schools are safe for all students. These resources include guidelines for schools, support systems for students, and information for parents.

Staying informed about these policies can help you understand how schools handle bullying and how you can collaborate with them. For instance, MOE’s policies on dealing with bullying incidents ensure that schools provide the necessary support and take disciplinary actions against bullies.

The Ministry also takes disciplinary actions and provides support to the students involved in bullying incidents. Find out more on the MOE website here.

Call to Action

Bullying and cyberbullying are challenges no child should face alone. By staying informed and proactive, you can help protect your child and ensure they have the support they need. Visit the websites listed above or contact the organisations directly for assistance. Remember, you are not alone in this—reach out and make use of the resources available to safeguard your child’s well-being.

Talk to Us Icon