What to do if you suspect your child is being bullied, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

What to do if you suspect your child is being bullied

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Sarah (not her real name), 14, was an average student with a reputation for being snobbish and a show-off.

She was not liked and, after a while, a group of five vocal classmates began bullying her, calling her names and using vulgarities.

They spread rumours about her and got other classmates to ostracise her, both in person and in group chats.

The acts escalated over time and became physical when the bullies found opportunities to bump into her or pinch her.

She did not speak up about the bullying; neither did her classmates who knew what was going on, as they were afraid of the bullies.

This went on for two months and came to a head when the bullies posted hurtful comments on tellonym, a messaging app and website that allows users to give and receive anonymous feedback.

Other classmates joined in the online bullying with jokes and demeaning comments, with some mentioning her name.

A few classmates eventually tipped their teacher off about it, and the school started investigating.

By this time, Sarah had started to self-harm, showing up in school with cut marks on her arm.

Eventually, she was counselled and sought help from a private psychiatrist.

The bullies were disciplined.

Cyber wellness expert Chong Ee Jay, who worked with the school’s case management team, said that several measures could have helped the victim.

One is to encourage youth to report a bullying incident rather than be bystanders, said Mr Chong, who is from charity Focus on the Family Singapore.

Another is to arm peer support leaders with practical experience.

He said that while schools train peer support leaders to be the “eyes on the ground”, these students are unsure how to respond when they see someone being bullied in reality.

“They need more practice to know what to do in a real situation,” he said.

When should parents step in?

With teenagers spending more time online now, parents should be prepared to step in if they suspect their child is being bullied, said experts.

Mr Chong suggests parents look out for tell-tale signs of cyber bullying, such as:

  • A sudden change in device use habits, for instance, more time spent on devices
  • Deleting of social media accounts
  • Asking about blocking others online
  • Getting many new online friend requests
  • Showing strong negative emotions after social media usage or after school
  • Decreased self-esteem, often observed through verbal expressions like “life is meaningless”
  • A change in daily routines and habits, for example, meals and sleep patterns
  • Avoiding communication with family members and friends.

He added that denying children access to technology to avoid the bullies does not make the bullying go away.

“Teenagers may feel frustrated that they are the victims and yet are being denied privileges,” he said.

Ms Jerrine Khong, who has done research on cyber bullying, said parents should assess if there are any safety concerns, and focus on making their child feel heard and supported.

“Children are more likely to turn to adults for support if they feel that it will make the situation better and not worse,” she said.

Parents may need to monitor their child’s online activities or use parental control software for younger children, she added.

“Avoid spying on children unless there is a safety concern as it may encourage children, especially youth, to further hide their activities,” she said.

Teach children to protect themselves

If the child is being cyber bullied, Ms Khong advised parents and children to take these steps:

  • Stop what you are doing. Do not respond or retaliate
  • Block the cyber bully or restrict communications access
  • Save the evidence. Record all instances of cyber bullying, for example, messages, images or comments
  • Tell a trusted adult about the incident. Report to the content provider, for example, website, application or game.

Ms Carol Loi, founder of social enterprise Village Consultancy, which provides digital literacy education, said parents can talk about bullying preemptively.

“There could be family conversations about whether the children have seen anyone who was bullied and what their thoughts were,” she said.

She said parents should emphasise that any form of bullying is not acceptable, and neither is joining in when another child is being bullied.

One way is to point out that those who bully often want attention, so ignoring the person is useful, she said.

Another way is to encourage and remind children to focus on their strengths instead of allowing negative thoughts to overwhelm their minds, added Ms Loi.

For younger children, she suggested parents role-play with them to practise how to manage various scenarios that may happen, so as to build up the child’s confidence.

“This will help them show calmness and confidence if they need to interact with the bully,” she said.

She gave an example of how she role-played with her daughter, now a teenager, when she was in primary school.

Ms Loi, role-playing the bully: “You are so fat or ugly or smelly or stupid.”

Her daughter: “Yah, so?”

Help your child feel safe again

Role-play could also help if bullying has already taken place, said Ms Ann Hui Peng, director of student service at the charity Singapore Children’s Society.

One way is to arm children with appropriate conflict resolution and assertive communication skills by getting them to act these out.

“Not only does it help them remember the skills learnt, but it also builds their confidence as they get to apply the skills across different scenarios and settings,” she said.

Another important step is to get the child to identify a support network of safe and trusted adults around them.

Three key conditions must be met: the adults are accessible and willing to listen, they believe what the child says and they are able to protect the child.

Finally, it is vital to work towards restoring and repairing the relationship between the victim and the bully, or “it will be hard for the victims to feel safe returning to school”, said Ms Ann. She suggested cooperating with school personnel and collectively working towards repairing the involved children’s hurt feelings and restoring their damaged relationships with one another.


Mental well-being

• Institute of Mental Health’s Mental Health Helpline:

6389-2222 (24 hours)

• Samaritans of Singapore:

1800-221-4444 (24 hours) /1-767 (24 hours)

• Singapore Association for Mental Health:


• Silver Ribbon Singapore:


• Tinkle Friend:

1800-274-4788 and www.tinklefriend.sg

• Community Health Assessment Team:

6493-6500/1 and www.chat.mentalhealth.sg


• TOUCHline (Counselling):


• Care Corner Counselling Centre:


Counselling and coaching

• Focus on the Family: Go to www.family.org.sg/counselling or call 6491-0700 (weekdays, 9am to 6pm)

Online resources

• eC2.sg

• Tinkle Friend

EDUCATION AND SCHOOLSbullyingparenting