There are two types of bullying these days: the “old” type that happens in the playground, and online. What are the key differences between the two when it comes to counselling or coping with them?
We asked Shamini Ras (CMSAC Reg CLR), counsellor at The Windstedt School for her views on this question.
To understand how a counsellor would deal with these two types of bullying, it helps to examine the definitions of bullying. One definition is: an aggressive act with the intention to hurt a person on purpose, in any form of aggression be it physical, verbal, relational or cyber. It’s an imbalance of power where the victim finds it difficult to defend himself or herself when acts happen repeatedly or frequently.
Cyber bullying is a sub-type of bullying that takes place using the internet, mobile phones or other technological devices. Victims suffer from a range of short-term and long-term effects that continue on to adulthood. Some of these include (but are not limited to) low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, unresolved anger and difficulties forming long-lasting relationships.
Across both scenarios, if a child is being bullied on the playground or if a child is being cyber-bullied, the impact on the victim is the same. There is a loss of power and an overwhelming sense of helplessness that a child may feel when they seek help. My sessions would normally focus on empowering the child with the right tools and strategies to allow them take control over the situation.
Are there any Singapore-relevant issues that contribute to bullying?
It would be inaccurate to say that Singapore differs from other countries when it comes to issues of race, as well as socio-economic issues. While we reside in a multi-racial, harmonious society, with a high level of tolerance, there have been widely publicised cases which have occurred within educational institutions where people’s race and physical appearance have been targeted by others.
A 2012 Microsoft survey revealed Singapore as having the second highest number of cyber bullying cases after the United States. When this news hit the headlines, I was alarmed, as Singapore also has one of the highest numbers of internet users and one would think that the high usage would be a reason for cyber wellness, yet it wasn’t so. School children at large are observed to access the internet and various technological devices for just about everything; from doing research to entertainment as well as communicating with peers. It all seems legitimate and innocent, but they are privy to the dark and vast web.
What are recommendations or strategies for race- or ‘colour of skin’-related bullying?
Having been a victim of racial bullying myself, I know how imperative it is that every child receives consistent messages across all environments. Repetition and reinforcement of certain ideals are important. At The Winstedt School, we continually emphasise to all stakeholders (students, parents and faculty) that negative remarks regarding a person’s appearance, race, gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status are not condoned.
We believe in educating children on preventive and reactive strategies when encountering a bully. Suggested strategies include:
* Ignoring the bully
* Walking away and telling someone you trust (friend/adult)
* Staying with your friends (bullies hardly pick on people who are surrounded by their friends)
* Standing up for yourself and saying “Stop”
* Using humour to distract the bully
How do you tackle the situation not only for the person who is being bullied but for the one who is doing the bullying?
To me, there is only one thing that matters: empathy. Providing an empathetic listening ear without any judgment will allow both individuals to know that, regardless of what has happened, there is always someone willing to listen.
For the person who is being bullied, empowerment would be the goal of counselling sessions. The focus would be to think about ways in which the victim can be protected should it happen again.
On the other hand, the focus for the victimiser would be to understand the reasoning behind the actions and reactions. Often, when a listening ear is provided with unconditional positive regard, it then comes to light that those that bully may have been victims themselves at one time or another.
Following this, mediation between the individuals may occur if both parties are agreeable to it. If they’re not comfortable with mediation, other strategies are then put in place within the school environment to help both these individuals manoeuver social situations. At all times, I work together with the school teachers, therapists and heads of school.
What do you think you do well or differently to other schools?
We start at the organisational level and work our way down to make sure that every child understands what bullying entails. Children may not always remember the definitions of bullying but they are aware that within TWS, there are three main rules that everyone needs to follow: “Be Safe, Be Responsible and Be Respectful.” Posters placed throughout the school emphasise the school’s no-tolerance policy for bullies; and Student Council members keep an eye out for students who may not be treating each other kindly.
In addition, instead of telling students what not to do, we focus on changing the mindset of every child. This is part of the school’s curriculum for positive communication between students and faculty. Language is a powerful medium. The word “bullying” has a negative connotation attached to it and it spells trouble for anyone. By using appropriate language, it’s easier for everyone to believe that there are opportunities for growth and change.
New campus alert!
This year Winstedt relocated to a new campus at Kallang with opportunities for growth and development to up to 400 students. The six students to one teacher ratio remains the same and huge classrooms more scope for enhanced learning. Dedicated art rooms, a music studio, a sound and lighting studio, a woodwork studio and Black Box Theatre all cater to the school’s art-infused curriculum. A new indoor hall, two indoor gyms, all-weather outdoor spaces will cater to the student’s daily yoga, crossfit, gymnastics and calisthenics activities. The facilities cater to the sporting and artistic interest of students and support their individual and unique learning needs.
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The Winstedt School is committed to educating children who learn differently. A comprehensive interdisciplinary academic curriculum is individualised to offer continuity of skills through to Year 8 (with additional years to Year 12 opening subsequently).
1208 Upper Boon Keng Road, Singapore, 387312
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