Bully-Proof Your Kids

Are you wor­ried that your teens will be caught up in the bul­ly­ing cy­cle?

Women's Weekly (Malaysia) - - News -

Navy cadet Zul­farhan Os­man Zulka­r­nain was tied up and tor­tured by 30 or more fel­low cadets at the army trainee dor­mi­tory at the Na­tional De­fence Univer­sity of Malaysia (UPNM) in Sun­gai Besi. He suf­fered bro­ken ribs as well as bruises and scald marks over al­most 80 per cent of his body. Zul­farhan died on June 1, 2017.

On June 10, 2017 18-year-old T. Nhaveen went out for a burger and a chat with his friend T. Pre­viin. The two boys were at­tacked by five teenagers aged 16 to 18. Pre­viin es­caped af­ter sus­tain­ing se­ri­ous in­juries but Nhaveen was beaten so badly that he was left clin­i­cally brain dead. Shock­ingly, there were also burns on his back and he’d been sodomised with an ob­ject.

Bul­ly­ing is on the rise in ev­ery coun­try and Malaysia is no ex­cep­tion. One lo­cal study found that 82.7 per cent of pri­mary school stu­dents and 95.8 per cent of mid­dle school stu­dents were psy­cho­log­i­cally bul­lied, while 56 per cent of el­e­men­tary school stu­dents and 65.3 per cent of mid­dle school stu­dents were phys­i­cally bul­lied. Given the mag­ni­tude of the is­sue, what can you do to keep your child safe?


Bul­ly­ing is a power strat­egy that re­lies on in­tim­i­da­tion, threat of vi­o­lence and ac­tual vi­o­lence. It can be phys­i­cal but it can also take the form of psy­cho­log­i­cal bul­ly­ing. Psy­cho­log­i­cal bul­ly­ing in­cludes:

Name call­ing and la­belling those who are dif­fer­ent like, “soft” or “pon­dan”,

Iso­lat­ing peo­ple who don’t fit in, and mak­ing sure they know they’re alone,

Scold­ing and sham­ing some­one in or­der to “cor­rect” them,

Us­ing threats of vi­o­lence in or­der to “in­still dis­ci­pline”,

Ig­nor­ing bul­ly­ing by say­ing, “boys will be boys”,

Post­ing nasty com­ments on so­cial me­dia like, “go die al­ready”,

Start­ing and shar­ing nasty un­true sto­ries about some­one.

In a lo­cal study, re­searchers found that bul­ly­ing is fu­elled by ego, ir­ri­tabil­ity, re­venge, fun, the in­flu­ence of oth­ers, and racism.

“Kids some­times per­ceive bul­ly­ing as hit­ting,” Dr Ruhaya Hussin, As­sis­tant Pro­fes­sor at the De­part­ment of Psy­chol­ogy, In­ter­na­tional Is­lamic Univer­sity Malaysia, points out. “They don’t know that it means threat­en­ing, name call­ing, freez­ing some­one out, spread­ing ru­mours and more. As a par­ent, you have to ex­plain all the as­pects of bul­ly­ing.”

Bul­ly­ing is a se­ri­ous threat to child de­vel­op­ment. Kids who are bul­lied are more likely to avoid school, fu­elling tru­ancy and hurt­ing their over­all ed­u­ca­tion. In ad­di­tion, there are huge psy­cho­log­i­cal costs. Th­ese in­clude an in­creased risk of low self-es­teem, de­pres­sion, stress, anx­i­ety and even eating dis­or­ders and sui­cide.

Stud­ies also show that chil­dren who are vic­tims of bul­ly­ing of­ten be­come bul­lies them­selves. A vic­tim at pri­mary school may turn to bul­ly­ing when they go to sec­ondary school, or try and take at­ten­tion off them­selves by help­ing the bul­lies pick on some­one else. This is how bul­ly­ing be­comes a vi­cious cy­cle.

Kids some­times per­ceive bul­ly­ing as hit­ting. They don’t know that it means threat­en­ing, name call­ing, freez­ing some­one out, spread­ing ru­mours and more.


Teens tend to so­cialise in small groups. Th­ese groups can have far-reach­ing ef­fects that range from pos­i­tive con­fi­dence rais­ing and mu­tual sup­port to peer tu­tor­ing. How­ever, group dy­nam­ics are com­plex, and for some, nor­mally nice groups turn nasty.

“Teens are look­ing for self-iden­tity,” Dr Ruhaya says. “They need to ex­plore, make their own friends and de­ci­sions about who they are but as they are young, they make mis­takes.”

“Due to our cul­ture, tra­di­tional Malaysian par­ents have a ten­dency to con­trol rather than com­mu­ni­cate. My ad­vice is, lis­ten and de­velop con­struc­tive ways to deal with their prob­lems. Also, be pa­tient. Be­com­ing an adult is a process. Your child won’t ma­ture overnight, and they will make mis­takes.”

Kids can be re­luc­tant to talk about prob­lems. If they are be­ing bul­lied, they may stay si­lent be­liev­ing that if they tell, they will be iso­lated by their peers, or be beaten up by bul­lies in re­tal­i­a­tion.

Also, when the bul­ly­ing is tak­ing place in their own cir­cle of friends, kids may be ashamed be­cause they have stood by and not helped, or even taken part. While th­ese er­rors are part of the process of be­com­ing an adult, kids aren’t ma­ture enough to recog­nise this.


They are emo­tion­ally shut down Your child is quick to anger He or she does not ac­cept or min­imises re­spon­si­bil­ity for their own ac­tions Their friends are delin­quents They use bad or coarse lan­guage They have things that weren’t bought by you They break school rules


“Prac­tise the Take 15, Take 10, or Take 5 tech­nique ev­ery day where you fo­cus 100 per cent on each child alone for those few min­utes with­out their other si­b­lings,” ad­vises Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat, a psy­chol­o­gist and crim­i­nol­o­gist at the School of Health Sciences, Univer­siti Sains Malaysia. “Be con­stant with the time. For ex­am­ple, ev­ery night be­fore bed­time, sit and TALK about the day – what hap­pened, who did the child speak to, who are the child’s friends, did any­thing funny hap­pen, did any­thing sad hap­pen? Make it a habit.

Be con­stant with the time, for ex­am­ple ev­ery night be­fore bed­time, sit and TALK about the day – what hap­pened, who did the child speak to, who are the child’s friends, did any­thing funny hap­pen, did any­thing sad hap­pen? Make it a habit.

“Start as soon as the child be­gins to talk. Th­ese ses­sions ce­ment child-par­ent bond­ing as the child learns that the par­ent ac­tively cares.”


“We say it takes a vil­lage to raise a child,” says Alex Lui An Lieh, a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist at HELP Univer­sity who has been in­volved in child wel­fare ser­vices for more than 12 years. “And we are all re­spon­si­ble for send­ing the right mes­sage.”

“First, adults need to show a good ex­am­ple. We have to be­have re­spect­fully to­wards each other. We can­not have peo­ple in author­ity bul­ly­ing those be­low them. This in­cludes teach­ers and par­ents not tak­ing a bul­ly­ing at­ti­tude to­wards kids.”

“With many par­ents be­ing un­aware of bul­ly­ing and stu­dents not ap­proach­ing coun­sel­lors, we need to fo­cus on de­vel­op­ing trust be­tween all par­ties,” points out Dr Loh Sau Cheong, As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor from the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tional Psy­chol­ogy and Coun­selling, Fac­ulty of Ed­u­ca­tion, Univer­sity Malaya. “Then when bul­ly­ing hap­pens, vic­tims will have the con­fi­dence to fall back on par­ents and coun­sel­lors for help.”

“At home, par­ents must teach re­spect, love, and shar­ing among si­b­lings, and show an ex­am­ple by giv­ing fair treat­ment to each child,” Dr Loh ad­vises. “Our re­search shows that in school, good train­ing, ex­pe­ri­ence and stu­dent so­cial sup­port sys­tems en­sure coun­sel­lors are most ef­fec­tive.”

“Bul­ly­ing is a dif­fi­cult is­sue. It’s nat­u­ral that each party hopes the other will step in and solve it. How­ever, it is es­sen­tial that coun­sel­lors and par­ents work to­gether to help the kids. This is a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort. As a par­ent you need to tell the coun­sel­lor about fam­ily back­ground, and as a coun­sel­lor you need to en­gage the kids and the fam­ily. It’s a three-way in­ter­ac­tion.”

Un­for­tu­nately, some schools pre­fer to sweep bul­ly­ing un­der the rug. When you are faced with dis­in­ter­ested teach­ers and coun­sel­lors, then you have to step up.

“Speak with the prin­ci­pal and lodge a com­plaint with the school but be diplo­matic,” Datin Noor Az­imah Ab­dul Rahim, Par­ent Ac­tion Group for Ed­u­ca­tion Malaysia (PAGE), ad­vises. “Arm your­self with the cir­cu­lar on dis­ci­pline, which can be ob­tained from the Min­istry Of Ed­u­ca­tion web­site. Also take the mat­ter to the Par­ent-Teacher As­so­ci­a­tion chair and seek for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.”

“To help not just your child but all the kids, get an anti-bully cam­paign go­ing in the school. There are lots of NGOs, like PS The Chil­dren, who will help you for free, so start with get­ting the prin­ci­pal on board. Then work to­gether for an ef­fec­tive change.”

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