What causes a child to act like a beast?

Image: joanakompa.com

There was a recent case of a bully from a local secondary school who was caught on video slapping a classmate’s head, and then later taking what appears to be a textbook and continuing the physical abuse, all the while with the teacher in the classroom doing little to stop it. Apparently the bully did not fear the teacher, nor the school disciplinary system as he continued to taunt the victim. What would cause a child to act like a beast and disrespect everyone in the class? What gives rise to such fearless behaviour, and is this something that Singapore needs to address? In this article, we look at the bigger picture of bullying in Singapore, and propose that parents take a more active role in raising their children when they are young.

Bullying in school

This is not a new phenomenon. School bullying has been happening since there were schools where pubescent boys, whose body is raging with growth hormones, suddenly act out in a totally beastly manner. These hormones spurt the growth in some boys and they suddenly tower over the others, giving them a physical advantage. This puts them in a power advantage, and as you know, power corrupts. In girls, bullying tends to be less physical and more emotional. By taunting and spreading rumours, girls adopt more passive-aggressive methods against their victims, all driven too by hormonal imbalances. While physical bullying is easier to identify, emotional ones are much harder, and can have more dangerous outcomes. As such, schools are always on the lookout for such behaviours. But hormones are not the reason, otherwise everyone would be bullies.

Causes of bullying

So what makes one person act out and become a bully, and others not? Are there any causes that Singaporeans need to look out for? According to Dr Gail Gross, human behaviour, parenting and education expert, there are five main causes of school bullying, four of which start from the home:

1. Like parent, like child

When a child sees a parent bullying and getting away with it, he will also emulate the same behaviours at school. He will also think that such behaviour is acceptable and will continue to dominate over others. If there are tendencies of one parent disrespecting the other, there may be a chance that the child exhibits the same behaviour at school.

2. The Powerless Child

Sometimes, the child is being abused, or sees someone being abused, at home, and is powerless to stop that. That child may come into school needing to assert power over others to gain a semblance of balance.

3. The Forgotten Child

If a child does not receive affirmations from home, especially from his parents, he might seek recognition by force in school. The feeling of being voiceless and unwanted at home may give rise to anger, resentment and assertion at school. Children need love and attention from the day they are born, and parents who starve them of this may risk them acting out in school.

4. The Entitled Child

Teachers in Singapore tell me that this is what they see most often, the entitled child. Quite the opposite from the forgotten child, the entitled child is given too much power at home. Raised without limitations and rules to follow, the child is given someone to lord over, usually the helper, and with the parents abdicating their power to the child. Take the case of Amos Yee. This is what his mother said of Amos, even after he has been found guilty of offensive and disrespectful remarks about Mr Lee Kuan Yew and about Christians, “But as he has not seen enough of the world, he is not tactful enough in dealing with diverse situations.” She finds that she cannot control him, but perhaps Amos was simply an entitled child growing up?

5. The child who lacks empathy

Lastly, there are children who grow up in a normal family environment, but who somehow simply lack empathy. But with empathy being something that can be taught, one wonders who is not doing the teaching?

Are we raising narcissistic children?

Singapore is a unique country where both parents need to work in order to afford the basic necessities of life. As such, early childhood development has been surrogated by grandparents, who want to spoil their grandchildren, or household help, who have been given the strictest instructions to follow. Ultimately, the child grows up feeling utterly entitled, and bring that sense of entitlement into school. Yet parents still enforce this sense of entitlement while the child is in school, refusing to accept any responsibility for their child’s poor behavioiur. They are in denial, simply because they are also in remorse. Remorse over the need to work more and be further apart from the child, which then reinforces the child’s entitlement feelings. So perhaps we need to ask if our economic circumstances are forcing us to raise narcissistic children?

If so, are we on a slippery slope?

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