Bully-Proof Your Kids
Are you worried that your teens will be caught up in the bullying cycle?
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.
UNDERSTANDING TEEN SOCIAL GROUPS
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.
TELLTALE SIGNS OF PROBLEMS INCLUDE:
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
TO KNOW YOUR CHILD, YOU MUST CONNECT
“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.”
HOW TO SHUT DOWN ONGOING BULLYING
“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.”