Column: Parents have role to play in preventing bullying

Bullying has always been a threatening fabric of society and dealing with it was pretty easy in pre-Internet days.

Wednesday was pink shirt day, or anti-bullying day. The idea that a day should be set aside to make a stand against bullying began in Canada in 2007 because of the compassion and enterprising insight of two high school kids.

On the first day of school at Central Kings Rural High School in Cambridge, Nova Scotia, newly enrolled ninth grade student Charles McNeill was bullied and harassed for wearing a pink shirt. Taking objection, Grade 12 students David Shepherd and Travis Price went to the discount store after school and bought 50 pink shirts and tank tops.

That night, they worked the email network, spreading the word among classmates to come to school in pink. The next day they stood in the foyer handing out shirts to students as they arrived. But hundreds of students were already dialed in and came decked in pink. That colourful tsunami not only buoyed the emotions of McNeill but sent a cascading wave of support across the nation and around the world that bullying stops now.

Nova Scotia made the second Thursday in September “Stand Up Against Bullying Day”. In 2008, former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell made February 27 anti-bullying day then later moved it to February 25. In 2012, the United Nations took a stand in the Anti-Bullying campaign and declared May 4 as Anti-Bullying Day.

Bullying is a world-wide problem. Statistics have shown that 71 per cent of students that are initially bullied continue to suffer making the harassment a seemingly unsolvable problem. According to the Yale School of Medicine, a 2010 study showed the connection between bullying and suicide. Tragic stories like Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parson bore that out. According to the study, suicide rates have grown at more than 50 per cent among children and adolescents in the last 30 years.

Bullying has always been a threatening fabric of society and dealing with it was pretty easy in pre-Internet days. Silencing a bully meant a quick left hook to the nose. Problem solved. But the insidious cowardly and cruel nature of cyberbullying today has taken the menace to new dark levels.

Using electronic devices, some low-life sets out to embarrass, humiliate, torment, threaten and harass a victim as young as age eight or nine although the majority of victims are in their early teens. The torment can be sustained and relentlessly repeated with photos or harmful text messages damaging a young person’s emotions, self-esteem, mental health and reputation at school and in the community. And the very nature of online messaging means victims can be reached anywhere, any time. The more the messages spread, the greater the sideline audience expands from a few dozen to thousands. Unwittingly (or not) they become part of the problem.

An Angus Reid poll released Wednesday showed that 88 per cent of respondents believe bullying is very serious in elementary school and 94 per cent said the same for middle and high school levels. Sixty-five per cent think bullying should be considered a crime, even without physical violence. Significantly, 90 per cent would make it illegal to use electronic means to “coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause other substantial emotional distress.”

What to do? Parents can encourage children to talk about what is happening. Urge them not to share any photos online. Know how to block an unwelcome sender. Don’t respond to any strange text, post, or email. Keep a record of hateful messages. Report online bullying to the social media site it happened on. Children can reach a professional counsellor at 1-800-668-6868. Check out www.kidshelpphone.ca for information.

Eight years ago, two students grabbed some pink shirts and launched a national movement against bullying. Good on them.

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