Good that schools are tackling cyber bullying, but don’t overlook bullying offline

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Today Voices: Good that schools are tackling cyber bullying, but don’t overlook bullying offline


Last week, the Ministry of Education announced that a revised Character and Citizenship Education curriculum will be rolled out for primary and secondary school students in 2021. It will place greater focus on mental well-being and cyber wellness, including teaching students to deal with cyber bullying.

While these efforts are laudable, findings from our study in 2014 found an extensive overlap between victims of traditional forms of bullying (through physical aggression, verbal taunts or social exclusions) and cyber bullying, stressing the importance of addressing both forms of bullying.

Conducted by the Singapore Children’s Society and the Institute of Mental Health, the study asked 3,319 youths aged 12 to 17 from 28 secondary schools, junior colleges and polytechnics about their experiences of offline and online bullying in the six months prior to the survey.

Nearly 24 per cent of youths reported that they had experienced offline bullying in the last six months. For cyber bullying, this figure was half, at 12 per cent.

There were two key takeaways from our study.

First, there was a substantial overlap between traditional and cyber victimisation. Among the 909 respondents who had experienced bullying, 56.1 per cent reported being a victim of traditional bullying only, 13.6 per cent reported being a victim of cyber bullying only, while 30.3 per cent experienced both forms of bullying.

This suggests that when a youth experiences cyber bullying, some form of traditional bullying very often accompanies it. Therefore, cyber bullying may be better understood as an extension of traditional bullying to online platforms.

Second, it did not matter whether youth were victims of cyber bullying or traditional bullying – both groups reported similar levels of emotional and behavioural problems.

At the same time, all victims of bullying reported significantly more emotional and behavioural problems compared with adolescents who were not victims.

Unsurprisingly, adolescents who simultaneously experienced both types of bullying reported the greatest number of problems, such as depression and being socially withdrawn.

The extensive overlap between victims of traditional bullying and cyber bullying highlights the need to target our prevention and intervention efforts at bullying behaviours at large.

This means focussing on either its offline or online form is not sufficient. In fact, traditional bullying behaviours, which are relatively more visible, may serve as important indicators for identifying cyber bullying victims.

While we step up efforts to address cyber bullying, continuing work to identify and address traditional bullying behaviours are important for prevention and interventions efforts.

Parents and school personnel play pertinent roles in being positive role models and supportive figures. 

Fostering open communication between parents and teachers, such that either party reaches out to the other when a child is suspected to be bullied, can ensure more timely support to the victim.

Link to this piece can be found here