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Dr. Gene Beresin, executive director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School believes that the rise of social media and increasing rates of cyberbullying contributes to the two-fold increase in the number of children and teens in the United States who visited emergency rooms for suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.

"Cyberbullying can be especially difficult for kids," explained Dr. Neha Chaudhary, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. "Unlike in settings like schools, it can fly under the radar without anyone knowing it's happening and without the same repercussions for the bullies."

In Singapore, one in nine teens is a victim of cyber bullying.

According to a 2015 study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), 15-year-old Singaporeans experience more bullying than their peers in 50 other countries with teens in Latvia and New Zealand having it worse.

Benjamin, aged 16, felt that cyber-bullying “is just horrible, usually a coping mechanism for the bully himself because he or she needs to pick on someone else to validate themselves and feel a surge of power.”

Echoing similar thoughts, Hosanna, aged 21 , said “it’s quite a rampant problem on the internet because the anonymity of the internet makes it easier to say hurtful things without having to deal with the consequences of your words.”

Channel NewsAsia Talking Point found that cyberbullying is a growing problem here and that parents may be none the wiser about their children’s experiences. In a survey of the issue commissioned by Talking Point, almost all cyberbullying victims did not inform their parents.

The main reasons victims gave for not saying anything about their experience:
1. They did not want their parents to know about their personal life online
2. They believed that parents would ask them to ignore the cyberbullying
3. They did not want to get into trouble
4. They were afraid parents would cut access to their devices

In some cases, victims also believe that the bullies may do more harm if they report their experience and therefore prefer not to do so. Parents play an important role in supporting children to address bullying.

For children who are afraid to admit to being bullied, the Coalition Against Bullying for Children and Youth (CABCY) outlined some signs that could indicate your child is being bullied. Parents could look out for physical wounds including unexplained cuts, bruises and scratches, damaged belongings and clothes, as well as psychosomatic symptoms such as non-specific pains, headaches, abdominal pains and mouth sores. Typically, there could also be worrying changes in their behaviour, such as unexpected mood swings.

Benjamin also shared his opinion on how to help friends who are being bullied. “I’d help my friends in different ways, depending on their situation. If the bully verbally abused my friend online, I’d confront the bully privately online, and I’d be firm in my stand. If the case involved more than verbal abuse and was explicitly detrimental to my friend’s image, I’d seek help from parties more qualified to help, such as parents and teachers.”

“One way would be to block the haters or even turn the online comments feature off. Another thing is to encourage friends who are being cyberbullied to not take the mean words to heart, and to give that friend a loving and supportive environment,” advised Hosanna.

Watch Talking Point’s episode on the prevalence of cyberbullying amongst teenagers here in Singapore.

Tags: Teenage Issues /Parent-Child Relationships