Faith, Issue 42, Media, Mental Health, Restoration

Bullied, Bully, or Bystander?

Bullied, Bully, or Bystander?

There’s this girl we heard about. Let’s call her Lucy. Lucy was at the prime of her school life —16, the head of her CCA, and in, by Singaporean standards, a good school. She was popular and confident. Then one day, a bad decision made her fall from the good graces of her peers. She became the victim of bullying — she was ostracised and antagonised in person, and, more damagingly, was hounded and harassed online. Lucy started barricading herself in her room and isolating herself from everyone who loved her. She refused to go to school, even deferring her ‘O’ Level examinations. She started cutting herself, and at the peak of the bullying, even a trip to the nearby supermarket terrified her.

THE INTERNET CHANGES EVERYTHING
Are you perplexed by this story? Why would a so-called “simple” case of bullying lead to such devastating effects?

According to Ms. Joanne Wong, Head of TOUCH Cyber Wellness, there are some key elements that make cyberbullying so much more destructive than physical bullying. For one, cyberbullying is often anonymous, with perpetrators able to hide their identities or create fake profiles. Fear and paranoia can easily set in when you are constantly wondering if your bully might be physically near you.

To make matters worse, cyberbullies tend to be acquainted with their victims. Ms. Wong cites examples of cases where victims are in the same chat groups, schools, classes, or CCA groups as their bullies. The victims’ social media accounts are also visible and accessible to the bullies. “In such cases, the victims had to ‘live with’ the presence of bullies, which can seriously affect their ability to learn, focus, cope and, regulate their emotions.”

Having experienced physical bullying myself (Shi Yun) as a teenager, it’s hard to imagine just how debilitating cyberbullying can be. While I was tormented by my bullies every day in school, I always knew that I would be safe once I was home. But with the Internet, this isn’t so anymore. Cyberbullying can now happen any time and anywhere. Taunts and mockery go on regardless of where you are. Knowing that there is no escape, such bullying can cause perpetual anxiety in victims even when they are in what should be the safety of their own homes. What’s more, the fact that the Internet facilitates more witnesses and malicious comments means that the shame and humiliation experienced by the victim can increase exponentially.

It is no wonder that victims like Lucy feel helpless in the face of cyberbullying and overwhelmed by its effects!

CYBERBULLYING CAN NOW HAPPEN ANY TIME AND ANYWHERE. TAUNTS AND MOCKERY GO ON REGARDLESS OF WHERE YOU ARE.

WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
Lucy’s story isn’t a one-off case. Goh Wei-Shen, a counsellor with a social service agency, assures us that the effects of cyberbullying are very real. She’s counselled a 16-year-old girl who frequently complained of stomach cramps and feelings of nausea. These “excuses” for not going to school were really symptoms of the intense anxiety she was experiencing due to cyberbullying. In a different case, a 13-year-old girl became very withdrawn and would cry herself to sleep. She was self-harming and even attempted to end her life by overdosing on pills.

Hearing these stories just breaks our heart, and we hope it breaks yours too. But that isn’t enough to change things. So, what can you do when you encounter cyberbullying, whether you are the bullied, bully, or bystander?

TO THE BULLIED…
First of all, we grieve and stand with you. No one should be subject to the distress you have been through, and we pray that you know you are not alone. When we are bullied, it is easy to internalise all the lies spoken about us: “You’re ugly.” “You’re not worthy of love.” “You deserve to die.” These awful lies can take root in our hearts, no matter how hard we fight them. I (Shi Yun) was bullied at ten and even though the bullying eventually stopped, its effects stayed with me for years.

What saved me was a supportive family, kind bystanders who became friends, and going back to the foundation of my life — the Bible. I combatted each lie with God’s truth. God knows me personally (Luke 12:7; Ps 139:1–18). He sees my suffering and does not leave me alone (Ps 56:8; 9:9). He loves me to the extent that His Son, Jesus Christ, died for me (John 3:16; Gal 2:20)! It may surprise you that the verse that helped me break free from the pain of bullying was this command of Jesus recorded in Matthew 5:44 — “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

When the pain, anxiety and isolation overwhelmed me, I hid myself in His embrace. The emotions that come from being bullied are so very real, but so is His love. Rest in it.

TO THE BULLY…
Most of us wouldn’t want to think of ourselves as bullies. Yet, we may inadvertently be part of the problem when we choose to weigh in online with a mean remark here or a demeaning comment there, passing on gossip and baseless speculation.

Ask yourself: would you like to be at the receiving end of your unkind, intimidating words or actions? Proverb 18:21 warns us that the tongue has the power of life and death — in some bullying cases, this has turned out to be a terrible truth. Remember this: your words count, both online and offline, and the words you speak online have a real offline effect, even if you are able to remain anonymous. Pray this in earnest: “Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Ps 141:3).

ASK YOURSELF: WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE AT THE RECEIVING END OF YOUR UNKIND, INTIMIDATING WORDS OR ACTIONS?

TO THE BYSTANDER…
Our message is simple: don’t just stand by. STAND UP! Rev. Chris Lee (of “British Priest Reacts” fame) told a story of the time a classmate stood up in class and viciously said to him, “No one likes you, Lee. Does anyone like Lee?” I can picture the scene — a small boy, seated with his head down, not daring to make eye contact with anyone. But another classmate spoke up: “I like him. He’s a good guy.” And just like that, the power of the bully was broken. What a beautiful image of the power you have to stand with victims of bullying! Don’t be afraid to do what is right. Take courage, and act.

BECOMING AN ADVOCATE
We know that cyberbullying is a problem. Some have even gone so far as to call it a “cyber pandemic”. God has always been on the side of victims and against bullies (Prov 3:34). His Word constantly charges us to fight for justice (Isa 1:17; Mic 6:8, Jer 22:3), and speak for the voiceless (Prov 31:8–9). As daughters of God, we pray that you see the value and dignity in each person (Gen 1:26), going beyond the behaviour of a bully or a bystander to become an advocate for those who can’t speak for themselves!

IF YOU ARE A VICTIM OF CYBERBULLYING
Here are Ms. Joanne Wong’s practical tips on what you can do if you are being bullied online:

1. Cut the bullies off. Block them online, disallow “follows” and direct messages from accounts you don’t follow, and remove them from your friends list.

2. Don’t delete the evidence — save it. Take screenshots of the online comments or private messages you receive as proof of the bullying, and monitor the frequency of bullying. See point 4.

3. Get help from a trusted adult. Keep them updated about how these incidences are affecting you personally so that they can give you the support you need.

4. Report it. With your parents, approach school teachers with evidence of the bullying. Schools in Singapore are well-positioned to jump in to protect and support you, as well as mediate between you and the bully.

5. In cases where all measures have been exhausted, you have the right to seek legal protection under the Protection Against Harassment Act. However, it is imperative to note that any legal proceedings can cause heavy mental and emotional burdens, and the family must be prepared to go through that.

Need more help? Call the TOUCHline at 1800 377 2252 (Mon–Fri, 9 am–6 pm). The helpline is manned by counsellors who will be able to assess the situation and provide the assistance and support you may need.

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