SINGAPORE - A large-scale study will be done next year to find out how teenagers are affected by cyberbullying and Internet addiction.
The Singapore Children's Society is partnering the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) and the National Institute of Education to survey about 3,000 students aged between 13 and 17.
Both problems appear to be growing in Singapore and overseas, Singapore Children's Society research officer Jerrine Khong told The Sunday Times.
Dr Daniel Fung, chairman of the IMH medical board, said: "We want to find out how severe these problems are so that we know what to do about it."
Internet addicts may be hooked on online gaming, social media or other forms of online activity. Cyberbullying happens when a bully uploads embarrassing photos of the victim on social media, sends threatening messages or puts up nasty posts meant to hurt the victim, for example.
Some time in the first three months of next year, teenagers from between 25 and 30 secondary schools, junior colleges, polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education campuses will be polled.
They will be asked to fill up online questionnaires and the findings of the study, expected in 2015, would be representative of Singapore's adolescent population, said Miss Khong.
The study is part of an ongoing international research initiated by the University of Turku in Finland. Similar polls will be done in Hong Kong and Japan.
The Finnish researchers have been examining the relationship between cyberbullying and mental health problems among teens. A 2010 study by University of Turku researchers found that 4.8 per cent of more than 2,000 Finnish teens polled were bullied online, 7.4 per cent were the bullies and another 5.4 per cent were both victims and bullies.
The most troubled were those who were both victims and bullies at the same time, as they had a range of problems, from headaches and difficulty sleeping to issues with their conduct and peers.
Dr Fung said although cyberbullying is not a major issue among troubled teens seen at the IMH, those who are bullied online can be very distressed by the harassment and some even refuse to go to school.
Ms Esther Ng, founder of the non-profit group Coalition Against Bullying for Children and Youth, said a 13-year-old girl had to change school when she discovered "hate blogs" spreading lies that she had been sleeping around with different boys.
The girl was so traumatised by the anonymous posts, which she thought were started by schoolmates, that she plunged into depression, became afraid to leave home and refused to go to school.
Said Ms Ng: "Cyberbullying is more common now as people are wired all the time. And children are growing up in an age where they spend more time online than with other people, and are losing the human touch. People now have less empathy and are less forgiving."
Singapore Children's Society senior counsellor Sylvia Ang said cyberbullying can be more damaging than face-to-face bullying because people are less restrained online and bullies can remain anonymous, leaving victims more helpless and fearful.
Ms Ng said what adds to the victims' agony is that embarrassing pictures or nasty messages posted online can be spread widely and seen by an infinite number of strangers.
In 2006, the anti-bullying group polled about 3,500 students here aged between 13 and 17, and one in four said they had been bullied online.
More girls than boys said they had been bullied.
To tackle the problem, the Children's Society has set up a website, bullyfreecampaign.sg/cyber_ bullying/index_cyber.php, to educate Singaporeans on the steps they can take if they encounter online bullies.
Tinkle Friend Helpline
Coalition Against Bullying for Children and Youth
You can visit their website at www.cabcy.org.sg and fill up the e-consultation form to ask for help.
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