Prevalence of bullying in schools

From having to intentionally exclude someone from a group to physically harming another party, bullying is far from unusual in schools. According to Children’s Society, about 1 in 5 primary school students have reported to be a victim of bullying (Children’s Society, 2007). Some local studies, found a 30% to 50% rate of bullying in schools locally (The Straits Times, 2003; The Straits Times, 2008). From time to time, we observe news about cases of bullying in various institutions and it is not difficult to imagine having many more cases that goes unreported.

Bullying cases are becoming more complex, taking place in online spaces and can involve unsettled disagreements (Chan, 2021). There are concerns about unreported bullying and continued suffering of the victims (Chan, 2021).

As parents, it can be worrying to think about the possible threats of bullying in your child’s school. In this article, we will be covering why bullying occurs and ways that you can support your child through such situations.

Why does bullying occur?

Sometimes, we may find it difficult to understand why some individuals decided to cause hurt to another individual. Children are affected by their social context which includes peers, school and family (Jung, 2018).

It is suggested that socio-economic status, proportion of ethnic groups are factors affecting the student’s bullying in school. The decision to bully may be due to teens wanting control or power (Shetgiri, 2013). Some may be seeking attention, power and affection in their lives and may not understand the emotions of the person that they are bullying (Bullying Free, n.d.). Others may come from problematic homes where the bully has learnt similar behaviours from their caregivers (Tippett, 2014).

Also, it was found that individuals who were previously bullied are more likely to bully others (Jung, 2018). They are attempting to get back a sense of power and control (Gordon, 2020). Students from this group also tended to have poorer mental health than those who are purely bullies or victims (Cheung & Lee, 2021).

How can I tell if my child is being bullied?

It is certainly worrying to find out that your child is being bullied. But here are some signs that can help to recognise if you child is being bullied. This may manifest in the form of losing interest in school, being affected academically, withdrawal from family and school activities, physical injuries which are questionable (Children’s Society, 2015). Your child may report feeling exhausted or have sleeping difficulties (Children’s Society, 2015).

Do note that these signs are not confirmatory, and it is still best to have a conversation with your child about this.

How can I support my child in managing bullying?

Studies found that strong parental support along with support from friends and empathy training in schools can help to effectively combat bullying in schools (Cheung & Lee, 2021). Another important factor is having a secure parent-child relationship. Those with secure parental-child relationships are found to be better at conflict management and ability to seek help from parents at the early stages of distress, which helps to prevent them from being bullied (Chew, 2020).

Another study found that parent-child communication, academic encouragement and interacting your child’s friends are associated with lower probability of bullying (Shetgiri et al., 2021). In order to support your child, you can spend more time with him or her and be receptive to their emotional requirements. Providing a safe space to confide in a trusted adult also helps (Cheung & Lee, 2021).

You can help by encouraging your child to talk about what is happening in school. Actively listen to your child and remain non-judgemental (Children’s Society, 2015).  To allow your child to feel safe in their sharing, allow your child time and space to share about their encounters (Children’s Society, 2015). You can then take the necessary follow-up actions following your child’s sharing.

My child is using social media, what if he/she is at risk of cyberbullying?

According to a CNA survey in 2018, 3 in 4 young people have been victims of cyberbullying locally (CNA, 2018.) However, most of those who were surveyed had not informed their caregivers, due to fears that parents would restrict their usage of phones (CNA, 2018). The internet and social media have become integral to our lives, and this is similar in children too.  More children are now using the internet frequently to communicate with their peers and express themselves online. However, as internet usage becomes more prevalent, cyberbullying has also become an international public health issue among the young. Cyberbullying is found to be associated with increased depressive emotions, anxiety, feelings of isolation, suicidal behaviour and other physical symptoms (such as headaches and stomachaches)  (Nixon, 2014).

Beyond social media, online gaming was found to bring about risks to children as well. For instance, when a player is not performing well in a game, this may lead to negative remarks given to the player which may turn into bullying and even social exclusion from other players (Stop Bullying, 2021). Especially when games allows players to be anonymous, this makes it difficult for the players to be held accountable when they bully others (Stop Bullying, 2021).

To stay safe while using technology, guide your child with the following tips (Help Guide, 2020):

  1. Not to respond to messages or posts about your child
  2. Save the evidence of cyberbullying and report them to a trusted adult
  3. Block communication with the cyberbullies
  4. Not to share their personal information online
  5. Remain polite online as they would in person
  6. Avoid sending angry or negative messages

With guidance, this can help your child to better navigate within the internet and mitigate negative impacts from cyberbullying.


What if my child is a bully?

Firstly, parents can be aware of their own observations or accounts from others about their child’s behaviour. Then utilise such information to find out further, should they find additional indications from the child (Chew, 2020). Signs that parents can look out for includes the child having poor relationships with the family, teachers, or peers (Chew, 2020). Impulsive behaviours, a lack of self-control, aggressive language use and violent behaviours, and a lack of empathy towards individual may also be indicators.

However, it is important to note that these signs are not absolute in telling if your child is a bully. Open communication and continued observation are needed for confirmation. You may like to work with the school teachers and ask for added supervision (Chew, 2020).

Possible factors that led to a child being a bully

Understanding the reasons why a bully participates in aggressive behaviours can be useful to aid this child in handling the situation better. One reason why children bully may be due to a lack of attention of caregivers at home and subsequently lashing out at others for the attention. Having older siblings who had bullied them in the past may motivate one to bully others to feel more secure or empowered. Another possible factor would be that the child has learnt about these behaviours through modelling others in their lives (Stomp Out Bullying, 2021). Bullying could be perpetuated by ‘rewards’ such as enhanced status in their social circles and access to items) and this further leads to aggressive behaviours (Swearer & Hymel, 2015)

What can I do if my child is a bully?

If you found out that your child is indeed bullying his or her classmates, it is crucial to remain calm and keep your composure (Chew, 2020). Avoid letting your negative emotion cloud your judgement and next steps. Have a conversation with your child while having an open mind and listen without judgement.

Encourage your child to own up to his or her behaviour through reassuring your child to become an improved individual (Chew, 2020). It is important to send a clear message that bullying is not tolerated and talk about the effects of bullying on the victims (Chew, 2020). One way to do so would be to show them that there are consequences for their behaviours, such as removing privileges that have and giving them time for reflection (Chew, 2020).

Your child may be defensive about his or her behaviour, however it is important to discuss with your child that this action is actually hurting another person (Chew, 2020). Frequent interactions with the school also helps to monitor your child’s situation in school (Chew, 2020).

At the same time, being a good role model for your child also helpful. You can praise your child when he or she displays efforts in becoming more responsible for their actions and following home and school rules (Chew, 2020).

In conclusion, a strong parent-child relationship is helpful in preventing and managing situations when a child may be involved in a bullying situation and creating a safe space for your child to talk about their experiences in school can be helpful in understanding your child’s situation better.


Camellia Wong, MA., Tan Khai Teng


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