Cyberbullying on the rise among children

SINGAPORE - A 15-year-old truant turned her life around through weekly counselling sessions and her own will to change.

Early last year, after skipping school and staying away from home for days, teenager Hana (not her real name) was deemed beyond parental control. On a court order, she spent a month at the Girls' Home, a rehabilitation facility for troubled teens.

By early this year, the third of four children of a housewife and a technician was attending school every day. Her grades improved too.

The only problem: Her past continued to haunt her as classmates called her names and continued to bully her online and in school.

A cousin who attends the same school as Hana leaked the fact of her stay at the Girls' Home, and that soon spread on Twitter and Facebook.

Hana told The Sunday Times: "They would call me shameful names and post things like: 'Don't be friends with that hooligan'."

Months of intensive counselling helped her stand up to the bullies, and the online rants subsided.

"I just ignore them," she said.

Her counsellor, Dr Carol Balhetchet from the Singapore Children's Society, said it was online bullying that led to some of Hana's truant behaviour.

Dr Balhetchet said: "She was bullied online for three years before her stint in the Girls' Home. Playing truant was her way of running away from it all."

Volunteer groups that deal with children say incidents of cyber bullying and harassment may be on the rise among young people.

Touch Cyber Wellness, which conducts talks at schools, did an informal straw poll earlier this year at a primary school and a secondary school.

Around 15 per cent of 200 Primary 5 pupils polled said they had faced cyber bullying and close to three in four said they had seen others do it.

Around 30 per cent of the 300 Secondary 1 students said they had experienced cyber bullying and nearly all said they had witnessed it.

Touch Cyber Wellness' assistant manager, Mr Chong Ee Jay, said the numbers have been rising for the past four years.

He said: "Students are more tech-savvy and have greater exposure and access to technology.

"However, being teenagers, they may not be mentally or emotionally mature enough to manage and handle their conduct online."

Both Mr Chong and Dr Balhetchet said stronger laws that protect children could be an effective deterrent.

Dr Balhatchet said: "There have been cases overseas of children committing suicide after being bullied online. We don't want that to happen here as well."

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