Welcome to Unheard Voices, a segment where we conduct interviews on prevalent issues faced by the minorities, e.g. judgments, prejudice and unfair treatment, that are usually not explicitly known in our social environments, media landscape and daily interactions with people.
BULLYING: Common in schools, yet little is being brought up to tackle this issue. Offbeat Perspectives had the privilege to interview Ms. Evelyn Yong, an ex-bullied victim turned youth worker. Her bullied past was what inspired her current active work with youth clients from disadvantaged backgrounds. For this interview, let us understand more about:
- The general bullying landscape in Singapore
- Impact it has on victims
- Why victims should speak up
- Importance of social support to the victims
- Possible revamps through school intervention and parenting styles
Name: Evelyn Yong
Occupation: Youth Worker from a Youth Centre
Who do bullies pick on? And why do bullies bully?
Those who are soft-spoken and quiet, or it could be simply the way they eat, dress or behave. Bullies bully because of insecurity issues, or they have family problems? Bullying then becomes a form of de-stress, which gives them a sense of control and power they do not get in their home environment, and they take it out on other students.
Kids who have been bullied before may tend to become bullies themselves. If you are being bullied by the person, it may mean the person themselves are being very insecure, and they are using you to help them feel better.
What are the different types and trends of bullying?
Physical – beaten, whacked. Verbalized bullying – teasing and mean remarks. Ostracization – a social and emotional type of bullying. Guys are more outward and physical, whereas girls are more demeaning in the things they say e.g. they hide your things, backstab you.
Cyberbullying is becoming rampant because of social media. Whatever you put online can be seen and known by everybody. You can just log in and type whatever you want. E.g. they can create a chat group of all the perpetrators, add in the victim, and just spam her.
Share It To End It – CABCY (An impactful video showing the inner turmoil of a bullied victim)
MEMORIES, SCARS, PAIN
Would you like to share more about your bullying past?
I was in primary 1. This Indian girl sat beside me. After awhile, she became more aggressive and hit me, and it got worse, till the point where she would lock me in the toilet everyday. With one more of her friend, they would hit and push me around.
Once, my knee got hit onto the toilet bowl, and once, she pushed my head down to the toilet bowl seat and told me to lick the toilet bowl seat. She also took me out to the field, made me run super far and chase me around. She also bought a bowl of Laksa, dumped in a full blast of Chili, and told me to finish it. I hated recess, as they would start to pick on me.
I was so afraid, I don’t know why. I was so silly, I just followed everything she said, but I dared not tell the teachers. I told my parents once, and they wanted to talk to the teachers. But I said no as I was afraid if the teacher intervene, the bullying would become worse for me. I just took it in and suffered for two years. My parents did not know the details, as I did not tell them everything, just that this girl was giving me trouble. My parents also did not take it that seriously.
How bullying affected her self-esteem:
When being bullied, I asked myself “Why am I so pathetic? Why am I in this state? Why can’t I stand up to them? Why do I allow them to do this to me? I was trapped in this thinking they were hurting me, and I’m not fighting because I’m lousy. I started to think poorly about myself.
The scar remains, but the pain is not there, as I’ve learn to move on and made the choice to let go. Yes I remember, but I chose to forgive as a building ground for me to be stronger, and it led me to where I am today.
Did it leave any painful memories, scars?
The scars remained but it is not painful. After primary 1 and 2, I grew up with a lot of insecurities, self-esteem issues, became fearful of making friends, because I was afraid the cycle would repeat. I slowly recovered, learnt to let go, and maybe even forgive her.
When I go to church, I would recall all these memories. Even in secondary school, it was still painful for me. I would cry about it, and be reminded of what she did to me. But my faith teaches us to love, forgive, and I have learnt to look past that, and also see that she must have her reasons for doing it.
BYSTANDERS, SILENCE AND SUPPORT
Why do people blindly follow the bully, in bullying the victim?
They might be thinking if I do not follow, I might be the next one being bullied instead. As long as that person is being bullied, I know I am safe and if I don’t follow her, she might turn the other kids on me too. Peer pressure can be a strong factor.
What should a bystander do if he does not want to bully others, nor be bullied?
There are bound to be consequences to choices made. They can hang out less with the bullies, or seek out healthier friendships. If there’s none, I really question how the class dynamics is.
Why do bullied victims choose not to speak up?
For me, fear, and some shame that I allow this person to humiliate me. It was a very unpleasant experience. She would laugh out loud at me when she did bad things to me, and to her, it was a joke. Her friends would just follow her. She’s a high D (Domineering) person.
Learn to say “NO” to the bullies though I know it was quite intimidating even for me then. When they see you are able to stand up for yourself, they are less likely to target you. Keeping all the humiliation and pain to yourself is even worse. When I did not tell anybody, I started feeling lousy about myself. Share with a responsible adult you know you can really trust.
Is family support essential for bullied victims?
Parents can teach kids to be assertive, and how to speak up for themselves, or be a caring adult who can listen, and be there for them. I did not have that person in my life that I could share or look up to. My parents were wonderful in their love and care for me but they were busy working.
Parents can look out for withdrawal or signs of not speaking up in their children; add them on social media to see if others are making inappropriate comments. Building good rapport with children is very important.
How should parents react to children telling them they are bullied?
Listen, rather than brush it off as a passing phase. Some teachers or parents may also view it as a passing phase. Give kids ownership in standing up for themselves, and discuss on strategies on how to stand up for themselves. If it doesn’t work, they can then go to the teacher.
But then again, even if the teacher intervenes, it might not solve the root issue e.g. the kid’s poor self-image, or lack of ability to put his foot down. Thus, the key thing is to teach kids to be assertive.
ONCE A VICTIM, NOW A PROTECTOR
Has your bullied past enabled you to better connect with your youth clients facing a similar issue?
I’m able to empathize with them better. And for the perpetrators, I’m able to see them through different lenses e.g. why they are doing this, what is their thinking. It helps me be more empathetic, and more aware of the dynamics that occur in a group of people, especially among children and youths. I can then step in and talk to them about it.
If I was not even aware, I wouldn’t know. I also first joined this profession because of my past of being bullied. I told myself I wanted to help other children and youths who might have low self-esteem, who might be bullied victims in the past, so I came into this line.
Some kids may be bullied by the whole class. Thus, if there is no environmental support for the kid?
Let somebody know about it – be it parent, youth worker, teacher. Hopefully, the school authorities would know how to keep it confidential because if they announce to the whole class “so and so told me this”, the kid will sure kena (get it very badly from the bullies). They might be harder in their approach as such. Thus, please tell a teacher who you know will not rat you out, do not keep it to yourselves. Or maybe going to external organizations e.g. youth centres.
General comment: How schools deal with bullying is very important. Educating school and parents – how to protect children from social media, such as what to post and not post. Teachers have KPI’s (key performance indicator) to keep, they have to administer exams, ensure certain percentage of passes.
It is difficult to just manage one student and they might just tell the perpetrator to stop it, but this might not solve the problem, as the perpetrator might just continue. Deal with it with more delicacy. It will be good for schools to have at the very least – every form teacher go through a bullying workshop to better able spot the signs (of students who are being bullied or bullying others), and talk to the kids about it.
There are usually one or two counselors. One counsellor cannot handle the whole school. It will be good for at least one counsellor per level, and I know if that is quite pushing it? About 4 to 10 counsellors. [Do you think it is possible in 10 years time?] I don’t think so. Actually, 4 (one per level) may be possible.
Should authorities be brought in to handle the issue?
For sexual (bullying), definitely [Fighting might be common among boys?] For primary school kids, they might be very young so it might not be helpful. Secondary school? If it gets too serious – blood is drawn, people getting knock out, they should get the police in. Or mandatory counseling for the victim and perpetrator separately?
After awhile, Restorative Practice can be brought in. [What is that?] When a perpetrator recognizes what he has done is wrong, and he wants to take ownership of what he has done wrong, and victims want to forgive and let go. It is a long process before they can reach that stage. It also depends how ready both parties are, and if they are mutually agreeable to it.
How do we cope with the issue of lack of manpower, but also more effectively help the victims and bullies?
The government is hiring more social workers, working more with youth centers. If the bullying case is mild to moderate, work with 6 months? If it’s worse, one and a half year of intervention?
PARENTING AND BULLYING
On diverse parenting styles:
Parenting in itself is a whole big issue. I can’t really give a one advice speaks all kind of scenario as each child is different, and the parenting style can be tweaked according to that. A good guideline would be the Social Discipline Window.
There are 4 different types of parenting – Authoritarian, Authoritative, Uninvolved, Permissive. 1) One axis is discipline – Setting limits, boundaries and expectations. 2) The other axis is how much you care and support you give for your child. An ideal parenting style would be high boundary setting and high support for the child. Some parents give a lot of support, but too much freedom. Others give too much discipline but low support, and they end up being authoritarian.
A link between parenting styles and bullying?
Parenting is on-the-job learning. You only know when you do it. It definitely helps to go for parenting talks. But then again, parents who really need it don’t go for it. And there are parents who do not have the ownership, or are not willing to learn. For us, we use Choice Theory Reality Therapy – we ask them what they want or hope to see in their child, and work through this motivation to support and help the child in reaching that stage.
Should bullying be a topic taught in parenting talks?
Yes, especially in regards to social media bullying. Even if there is, it is touch-and-go. They can teach how certain parenting approaches e.g. how certain disciplining might lead to bullying, signs to spot if you child is being bullied. But I must state that it is not true for all – that certain parenting styles would lead to bullying.
There has been some publicity on social media recently. There is this one youtuber NigaHiga, and how he used comedy to counter the bullying, and they stopped bullying him. TOUCH Cyberwellness too.
- Coalition Against Bullying for Children and Youth (CABCY)
- Singapore Children’s Society Bully Free Campaign (SCS)
- Tinkle Friend – a national toll free helpline (1800-2744-788) and chatline for all primary-school-aged children
- The Class Bully, written by Meiling Wong Chainani
- Cyberbullying Media Literacy Council
- Cyber bullying in Singapore: Guide to new online laws, anonymous, 8 Jul 2014
- Students in Singapore alerted to cyber bullying in revised cyber wellness curriculum, written by Calvin Yang, 20 Sept 2014
- Blog: The Anti-bullying
- SingTel and Touch Cyber Wellness launched Singapore’s first cyber-wellness mobile app – dubbed notAnoobie. The free app aims to be a one-stop information source to help parents better understand and protect their children from online risks.
- Powerpoint Slides: Bullying in Singapore, presented by Jerrine Khong from the SCS
- Monograph: Bullying in Singapore Schools SCS
- Old post from Offbeat Perspectives: FAERYVILLE – a film with alternative themes like Bullying, Ideology and Rebellion
- Old post from Offbeat Perspectives: Interview with Esther Ng (CABCY) on Bullying
To check out our other posts on alternative issues, click HERE
Written By: Cass
Edited By: SY
[Offbeat Perspective’s Interviews]
Category: “Unique Passions”
Category: “Unheard Voices”
Category: “Public Interviews”
Category: “Amos Yee Saga – Citizen Journalism”
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