Preventing bullying is the duty of everyone involved at an institution, no matter who you are and what role you play at the school. 

Many people experience, or have participated in, or have witnessed first hand how bad bullying at school can get. It is no longer a new fact to us that bullying behaviour stems from early childhood and the victims have to face the consequences their whole life.

Moreover, school bullying is a grave problem in Singapore. The rates of bullying here are alarmingly high.  Statistics on school bullying in Singapore show that 1 in every 5 primary school students was a victim of bullying. Another study by the Organization For Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) confirms that 15 year olds in Singapore experience more instances of bullying than their peers in 50 other countries, suggesting that Singapore has the 3rd highest rate of bullying globally.

 It is a matter of great concern and urgency that we must contribute and join hands in our fight against bullying. Read further to know more about bullying and how to prevent it. 

Definition of Bullying

Bullying refers to a behavior that a person or a group of persons engage in to purposefully cause harm or distress to another person, i.e, the victim, through intentional and hurtful actions. There are four characteristic traits of bullying behaviour: 

  • Bullying is categorized by malicious intent of the bully
  • Imbalance of power; the bully is generally the one holding power and the victim tends to be a person who is weak, either in terms of physical strength or social support/popularity, etc. 
  • Repeatedness of the bullying behaviour; bullying takes place in patterns of repeated hurtful actions that harm the victim
  • Bullying causes distress to the victims. Being bullied can invoke feelings of helplessness, humiliation, depression, and may have a long-lasting impact on a child’s life.

Types of Bullying

The types of bullying that can take place in schools are as follows:

Verbal Bullying: 

Perpetrators of bullying use tactics of name-calling, abusive words, accusational and mean statements to claim power and control over a vulnerable target. The targets are generally children with special needs, or new students at the school, etc. 

They try to belittle, demean, or hurt the victim and thus aim to insult them based on their appearance, conduct, or behave. Verbal bullying can be very difficult to identify as bullies often know how to please the authority figures and make it apparent that they do not indulge in bullying behaviour, while most of the verbal bullying occurs behind the teachers’ and parents’ backs. 

Relational Aggression: 

This is a very harmful type of bullying that often goes unnoticed by authority figures at school and at home. It involves sabotaging the social standing of a victim by the means of manipulation, spreading false rumours and breaking confidences. Girls between the ages of 9 to 14 tend to use this form of bullying more than the boys of the same age. The goal of the bully behind this behaviour is to upgrade their own social status by degrading someone else’s. 

Cyberbullying: 

When a person uses their devices and access the internet for the purpose of hurting, harassing, embarrassing, or threatening another person, it is called cyberbullying. This kind of bullying is common among younger children, as well as adolescents. It is an invasive and a long-term kind of bullying in which the bullies tend to enjoy the fact that it’s relatively easier for them to not get caught. This kind of bullying can pester the child at all times, 24/7 as they cannot exit the situation where it is happening because it is not a physical place. The consequences of such bullying can be very devastating for the target. 

Sexual Bullying: 

This kind of bullying involves repeated hurtful, humiliating and invasive actions that target a person sexually. Sexual bullying involves name-calling, uninvited physical contact, vulgar gestures, crude comments, sexual propositioning, and spreading pornographic media. Often, in secondary schools among adolescents, sexting can lead to sexual bullying as well. Slut shaming is a type of sexual bullying, too, where people call girls several humiliating names and make insulting comments on their appearance and body. Sexual bullying can also lead to sexual assault.

Causes of Bullying

There are various causes of bullying which might happen to any student irrespective of their sex, religion, race or socioeconomic status even though at first glance these might seem the only criterion. Among several factors that lead to bullying the reasons that are the most common are – differences in sexual orientation, religious beliefs, physical appearance and social status.

Often bullying comes as a response, from students who have higher self-confidence, to counter their feeling of being threatened in any way due to lack of empathy or compassion towards others. Some students take it as a method to cope with their own experiences of abuse and or neglect at home, fueled by their anger and despair while some just want to be perceived as brave or confident.

To summarize, these are the most common factors that cause bullying or at least set the environment for it:

  1. Bullying is majorly infectious; meaning that people who bully others are often victims of bullying themselves.
  2. Sometimes the cause can be as simple as envy, and the resulting frustration caused by the feeling of inferiority.
  3. Using bullying as a medium to seek attention or acknowledgement via shows of belligerence towards others.

How To Prevent Bullying At School

School bullying, as you’ve read so far, is an alarming concern in Singapore and needs to be addressed by all of us. It can have serious consequences and impacts a child’s learning, development, and the negative long-term effects can pester them for a lifetime. It is thus imperative that we join hands in our fight against bullying. Following are some tips to prevent school bullying: 

  • Parents Should Educate The Child About Bullying At Home

It is important for parents to have a talk with the child as early as possible. Parents must make sure that their child understands what bullying is. The conversation can begin in a manner which talks about good and healthy friendships, and differentiating healthy friendships from those that aren’t healthy. It is also important for the parents to talk to their kids everyday about their day at school, and be updated about their social lives, just so they are aware of everything.

  • Identifying Warning Signs

Children generally don’t tell their parents, teachers or anyone else when they are being bullied as it invokes feelings of embarrassment and shame. So, try to recognize the signs whenever you feel they are present. A child might be being bullied at school if they: 

  • Try to avoid school and school’s activities
  • Aren’t showing the same performance in academics as they were earlier; grades drop
  • Show change in hygiene habits
  • Have headaches, stomach aches, illnesses
  • Show change in eating habits
  • Are being suddenly moody and temperamental
  • Show changes in personality traits
  • Teachers Must Reward Positive Behaviour At School

Most teachers try to punish negative behaviour as it’s easy to point out and it is the norm to do so. And they very well should. However, do teachers reward positive behaviour when they notice it? Positive reinforcement is the key to better behaviour in the classroom and otherwise. It helps condition the child for being good, at the same time, no negative associations are formed that may break the trust of the child. It is also important to never humiliate the child in the name of punishment. Reprimanding publicly is a strict no-no. It’s best to use one-on-one feedback. 

  • Teachers Must Have Open Communication With Students

When teachers have an open communication with the students, students feel that they can trust that person and talk about their problems including bullying. Following are a few pointers to keep in mind for open communication in the classroom:

  • Listen empathically and let the students know that they’re being listened to.
  • Be mindful of your non verbal cues, i.e, body language and send a strong message by communicating using both your nonverbal and verbal cues.
  • Make sure a proper reporting system is set up, so that all kinds of incidents can be tracked.
  •  Make sure that the parents always stay in the loop and are aware of everything.
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