Commentary: Coaching youngsters to help their buddies can cut back faculty bullying

SINGAPORE: The problem of school bullying has been in the spotlight in recent months after several publicized incidents such as the case of aggression against an ITE student and a 14-year-old student who attempted suicide after being bullied by her schoolmates had been.

The latter wrote a personal appeal to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to address the issue of bullying in schools.

What makes these cases particularly worrying is the victimization of vulnerable children with special needs, which in some cases appears to have persisted over time without recourse to the victim.

The parents spoke out in favor of the issue and got the Ministry of Education to respond.

READ: Is Your Child a Bully? How Parents Can Recognize the Signs and What They Should Do.

The best practice to deal with bullying is to punish the bullies and have them apologize to their victims.

Schools and the Ministry of Education reaffirmed their zero tolerance stance on bullying in schools and assured students and parents that measures have been taken to ensure the safety of schools, e.g. B. Clear negative impact on bullies as a form of deterrence and counseling and peer support for victims.

As a preventive measure, MOE has also updated the CCE (Character and Citizenship Education) curriculum by emphasizing the need for students to build a friendly and caring community in schools.

Screenshot of the video of the girls bullying a student with special needs.

Worldwide, research has shown that school bullying is a widespread phenomenon that affects not only younger children in schools but also young adults in colleges.

Bullying is therefore not a problem that children outgrow or that results from children being immature or weak.

Unfortunately, there is no magic formula to completely eradicate bullying in school, although there are proven sound methods that can mitigate the effects of bullying or reduce the likelihood of bullying occurring in the first place.


Several insights can be drawn from two recent studies of elementary school and university students in Singapore, conducted by our research teams at Yale-NUS College and the National University of Singapore.

These studies found that a combination of strong parenting and peer support and empathy training could be the way to effectively tackle school bullying in different educational settings.

READ: Comment: A lot of parents don’t know how to react when kids are bullied – and that’s fine

In a study of 570 elementary school children aged 10 to 12, the results showed that children’s attachment to their parents helped minimize the incidence of bullying, while reliable support from friends in the form of protection and help decreased the likelihood that children bully others.

With a strong parent-child bond, nurtured by spending time with the child and responding to their emotional needs, children are given a safe space to share their problems at school with a trusted adult.

This provides an opportunity for parents to suggest effective strategies on how the child can deal with bullying at school, thus ensuring continued support at home. For example, parents can play with the child in appropriate responses to a bully.

After that, regular check-ins with the child would help the parents closely monitor the situation and provide the child with emotional support. Having a strong bond with their parents also allows children to feel safe enough to turn to parents in times of need and report bullying early on before it escalates further.


Similarly, peers who offer help and support to one another in school encourage the development of a positive peer culture in which children learn to engage their peers without resorting to dominant strategies.

This is especially helpful for children who have a tendency to react aggressively out of fear and rejection, which can lead to bullying.

As students approach young adulthood, parents may not be as influential as their peers. Our study of 835 university students, ages 21-24, showed that attachment to peers rather than parents was what cushioned the effects of bullying and victimization.

File photo of students in the classroom

Using different metrics to measure the incidence of bullying makes it difficult to compare bullying across countries. (Photo: TODAY)

For students who were both a bully and a victim (the “bullying victims”), strong peer ties reduced their anxiety to the same level as those who were not involved in any bullying relationship.

Victims of bullying are students who bully others and who are also victims of bullying. Research has shown that this group of students tends to have worse psychological outcomes than those who are pure bullies or pure victims.

READ: The Big Read: Not a piece of cake when it comes to rooting out bullying in schools

The importance of peers underscores the need to establish a systematic peer support network specifically tailored to address bullying in school. This goes beyond the usual strategies of merely disciplining or “advising” bullies, which may not always be an appropriate first line of support due to the time it takes to schedule an appointment with a counselor.

A structured and targeted platform of a peer network where students are trained and equipped to solve bullying related issues in order to support their peers who may face these challenges. Even young children who show the ability to offer support to others can be trained to help victims of bullying.


Aside from peer support, empathy training appears to be a promising way to reduce the effects and frequency of bullying. Our research shows that high levels of empathy reduce the fear of victims of bullying so that they are no different from students who were completely uninvolved in bullying.

This finding is supported by other studies that have shown that structured empathy training programs are effective in reducing bullying rates among students from elementary school onwards.

READ: Bullying in Mee Toh School Cannot Be Tolerated: Ong Ye Kung

These programs are often conducted over multiple sessions and include components such as student understanding of different perspectives, role play, and modeling empathic responses. These targeted programs can complement existing CCE and SEL (Social and Emotional Learning) programs in schools.

However, the responsibility for making schools safe havens should not rest with the schools alone. Parents and families play an important role in modeling good social behavior that their children can emulate and by getting them more involved in their children’s lives so that the first signs of trouble for both bullies and victims can be spotted early.

Bullying is a vicious and persistent problem. However, the evidence from our studies shows that a multi-faceted approach is likely to be most effective when students are constantly exposed to anti-bullying messages at home, in their peer group, at school, and in the wider community.

Cheung Hoi Shan is Assistant Professor of Social Science (Psychology) at Yale-NUS College and Lee Jungup is Assistant Professor in the Department of Social Work at the National University of Singapore.

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