A ROUGH RIDE

Be­ing bul­lied is dis­tress­ing for any child, but the added el­e­ment of a con­fined space makes it more ter­ri­fy­ing. Ex­perts shed light on school-bus bul­ly­ing and share with JUSTINA TAN what can be done to tackle it.

Simply Her (Singapore) - - Kids - SH

O ne af­ter­noon, Melissa’s* eight-yearold son Michael* came home from school with a bruised cheek. When she ques­tioned him, he said he fell down, but later ad­mit­ted be­ing punched by another boy on the school bus. On a sep­a­rate oc­ca­sion, Michael said he’d seen a boy point­ing the spiked end of a draw­ing com­pass at another boy’s throat while rid­ing the bus home.

No stud­ies have been done here on the preva­lence of bul­ly­ing on school buses, but a 2008 study by the Sin­ga­pore Chil­dren’s So­ci­ety found that about one in five pri­mary school stu­dents was a vic­tim of bul­ly­ing. The same study re­vealed that slightly more boys than girls were bul­lied in pri­mary school, and the bul­lies were largely male.

Es­ther Ng, founder of the Coali­tion Against Bul­ly­ing for Chil­dren and Youth (CABCY) and psy­chother­a­pist with Mys­pace Psy­chother­apy Ser­vices, says that CABCY does re­ceive re­ports of school-bus bul­ly­ing. “While we can’t say that school-bus bul­ly­ing is more com­mon now, we can cer­tainly say that it has been hap­pen­ing and will con­tinue to hap­pen. The school bus is a ‘ tran­si­tion’ area with lit­tle or no su­per­vi­sion from adults since the driver’s eyes are on the road. Plus, a ride typ­i­cally lasts up to 30 min­utes or longer, it’s within a small space, and there’s a cap­tive au­di­ence.”

Pamela See, ed­u­ca­tional and de­vel­op­men­tal psy­chol­o­gist with Th!nk Psy­cho­log­i­cal Ser­vices, notes that “it is eas­ier to bully on a mov­ing bus as the child can­not get out and walk away from the sit­u­a­tion”.

Forms of Bul­ly­ing

Un­der­stand­ing the dy­nam­ics of bul­ly­ing is a key step in help­ing your child deal with be­ing bul­lied on the school bus. Ac­cord­ing to Daniel Koh, psy­chol­o­gist with In­sights Mind Cen­tre, school-bus bul­ly­ing can man­i­fest in sev­eral forms: phys­i­cal, ver­bal, emo­tional or a com­bi­na­tion of all three. “When the fre­quency, in­ten­sity and emo­tional or phys­i­cal pain in­creases to the point where it causes great dis­tress in the child, the child may feel fear­ful or anx­ious about the sit­u­a­tion and the person,” ex­plains Daniel.

Any ob­vi­ous ag­gres­sive be­hav­iour that is in­ten­tional, per­sis­tent and hurt­ful can be con­sid­ered bul­ly­ing. Bul­lies might force kids to give up their lunch money, de­stroy their be­long­ings, in­sti­gate name-calling, or co­erce them into shift­ing seats.

Within the con­fined space of the school bus, other stu­dents may eas­ily be­come vic­tims them­selves, or suc­cumb to peer pres­sure and par­tic­i­pate in the bul­ly­ing. “It isn’t al­ways easy to spot a bully – the most un­ex­pected kids can be­come bul­lies, in­clud­ing top stu­dents. Girls tend to be more vi­cious with their words, while boys give it to you with a kick or punch,” says Es­ther.

For the vic­tims, the fear of­ten fol­lows into the class­room. If they start the day on the re­ceiv­ing end of ag­gres­sion, it may cause them to dread go­ing to school, lead­ing to ab­sen­teeism, drop­ping grades and poor con­cen­tra­tion in class.

“Re­search has shown that those who were bul­lied dur­ing their school­days had lower self­es­teem, weaker self-con­fi­dence, and were more likely to be de­pressed than those who were not,” says Jessie Ooh, con­sul­tant pae­di­atric psy­chol­o­gist with Cog­ni­tive Health Con­sul­tancy In­ter­na­tional.

Cre­at­ing a Bul­lyproof Bus

Many vic­tims of bul­ly­ing suf­fer in si­lence, with par­ents be­com­ing aware only when much of the dam­age is al­ready done. “The sit­u­a­tion is of­ten down­played by schools and bus com­pa­nies as child­ish whinge­ing, over­sen­si­tiv­ity, quar­relling or horse­play. Vic­tims don’t tell par­ents or other adults they are be­ing bul­lied be­cause they don’t have the con­fi­dence that the prob­lem will be solved,” says Es­ther.

At CABCY, Es­ther has re­ceived nu­mer­ous e-mails and phone calls from des­per­ate par­ents who feel that schools and bus com­pa­nies are not do­ing enough to curb the prob­lem. “Par­ents are calling us be­cause they’ve al­ready in­formed the par­ties in­volved and are clue­less on what to do next,” she adds.

Melissa agrees. “When I re­ported my son’s bully to the school, the per­pe­tra­tor was sus­pended from re­cess for three days – a pun­ish­ment hardly com­men­su­rate with the sever­ity of the sit­u­a­tion. The teach­ers, school coun­sel­lors and school-bus driv­ers seem to be sweep­ing this is­sue un­der the car­pet,” she be­moans. IF YOUR CHILD IS A VIC­TIM OF SCHOOL-BUS BUL­LY­ING, HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN DO:

1 Re­port the in­ci­dent to the school and the bus com­pany. When meet­ing at the school, bring any ev­i­dence of the bul­ly­ing, like a doc­tor’s note stat­ing your child’s in­juries and pho­tos of the in­juries. Take notes dur­ing the meet­ing, and if the school prom­ises to take ac­tion, get ev­ery­thing in writ­ing to en­sure the school makes good on its word.

“School-bus com­pa­nies need to ex­er­cise due dili­gence in en­sur­ing the safety of their young pas­sen­gers, and that in­cludes mak­ing sure they aren’t taunted or beaten up on the bus,” says Es­ther. They should have guide­lines on how to han­dle var­i­ous types of bul­ly­ing, such as ban­ning the per­pe­tra­tor from rid­ing the bus for a set pe­riod. Hav­ing a bus at­ten­dant on board to man­age the kids would also help.

2 Help your child deal with what hap­pened. En­cour­age him to con­fide in you and tell him that no one de­serves to be a tar­get of bul­ly­ing. Teach him how to be more as­sertive – by be­ing more con­fi­dent, de­fus­ing a tense sit­u­a­tion with hu­mour, ig­nor­ing the bully or telling the bully to stop in a firm voice.

“If your child is con­cerned about be­ing bul­lied, he can re­quest to sit as close to the front as pos­si­ble or sit on the right-hand side of the bus, which puts him in di­rect view of the driver,” sug­gests Jessie.

3 Talk to the bully’s par­ents. This could be tricky, as it’s a nat­u­ral re­ac­tion for any par­ent to go on the de­fen­sive when their pre­cious princess or prince is ac­cused of pick­ing on other kids.

But Donna*, whose nine-year-old daugh­ter was part of a group that bul­lied an un­pop­u­lar girl who of­ten made dis­parag­ing re­marks about other stu­dents, says she was quick to apol­o­gise when the other girl’s mother spoke to her. “You have to scold your child in front of the other par­ent first – you can’t start out blam­ing the other kid. The other par­ent will nat­u­rally mir­ror your ac­tions and scold her own child.”

If you don’t trust your­self to be calm and non-con­fronta­tional, it’s best to re­strict your deal­ings to the school, the bus com­pany, and if nec­es­sary, the au­thor­i­ties.

4 Make a po­lice re­port. With the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Pro­tec­tion from Ha­rass­ment Act in March 2014, the long arm of the law now stretches to bul­ly­ing among chil­dren.

“In the past, par­ents only had the op­tion of re­port­ing bul­ly­ing to the school. But now, if the school can’t han­dle it, par­ents can go to the po­lice and file for a per­sonal pro­tec­tion order. Of course, they have to prove that the bul­ly­ing did oc­cur,” says Es­ther. If the bus has a CCTV in­stalled, the video may help to shed ed light on what hap­pened. .

*Names have been changed

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