COVER STORY: Fighting the new breed of bullies
For students in Delta, the bully of 2013 no longer lurks just beyond the vision of the teacher’s watchful eye.
Today’s bully lives online, secure in his or her anonymity, while spreading vicious rumours which can be just as hurtful as physical violence.
That harsh reality came to the forefront last October when 15-year-old Amanda Todd committed suicide in her Port Coquitlam home after being hounded by cyberbullies.
Olivia Reshetylo, a Grade 12 South Delta Secondary student, says the Amanda Todd case inspired an anti-cyberbullying movement that has taken hold in the Lower Mainland, and around the world.
“It’s sad that it took that to make people see the effects of bullying, but I know a lot of people have actively become aware of what they’re saying on the Internet because they don’t want to be that person,” she says.
Although cyberbullying is the latest manifestation of the bully problem, Reshetylo is increasingly reading homophobic remarks on social media sites.
“Things like ‘that’s gay’ and ‘he’s a fag,’” says Reshetylo.
For that reason, several schools in Delta have started up Gay-Straight Alliance clubs to bring homophobia out into the open where it can be dealt with.
The wired world is just the latest battleground in the war against bullying. Canadian tennis player Rebecca Marino made headlines on Wednesday (Feb. 20) with the announcement she took a seven-month break from the sport last year because of ongoing harassment online.
Other prominent athletes and celebrities have come forward to say that cyberstalking and cyberbullying is having a deleterious effect on quality of life.
To combat this emerging problem the Delta School District, in conjunction with Delta Police and the Delta Opposes Violence Everywhere Committee (DOVE), has launched the Wrap the Ribbon campaign. On Pink Shirt Day, Feb. 27, students can download a pink ribbon screen saver to their mobile devices. The words “respect yourself, respect others, and stop bullying” are featured on the screen saver.
“Every time you go to check the time the picture will appear,” says Seva Aujala, a Grade 10 student at Seaquam Secondary in North Delta and a member of the Delta Police Youth Advisory Committee (DYAC).
Aujula says it’s become common for kids to make anonymous accounts on social media sites like Twitter and then make random hurtful remarks about other students. That can be especially damaging at an age when “everybody just wants to fit in.”
Aujala says he was bullied in elementary school, but more recently in his high school for working closely with the school principal and police on anti-bullying.
“I’ve been associated with the name snitch and stuff that I don’t really want to be associated around with,” he says. “Since the Wrap the Ribbon project has come around I just want to get really involved in this to make sure nobody else has to go through it.”
The Delta School District participates in the provincial ERASE Bullying program (Expect Respect And a Safe Education), which features a 10-point strategy to combat the problem. The school district is combining provincial training with its own prevention education.
“Those are all the pieces of creating a sense of well-being for students and diminishing the amount of emotional distress that students get into with certain behaviours,” says Delta School District Board chair Laura Dixon.
Dixon says proactive and preventative methods are far more effective than responding to issues as they arise. When teachers or other students identify certain early warning signs it can save a lot grief down the road.
But Dixon cautions against perceiving every little thing as an indicator of bullying.
“Sometimes [students] mix up bad play or not sharing and things can be mislabeled as bullying and really it’s just a different behaviour.”
Reshetylo became involved in anti-bullying three years ago through a leadership class after she came to the realization that she was engaging in bullying tactics.
“I think I just got with the wrong group of friends, but there was definitely a realization for me that I was doing something wrong and it wasn’t enough to just stop doing it,” she says. “I needed to make an active change against it.”
Reshetylo says it’s not good enough for just a few people to speak out against bullying, since many students take social cues from their peers. There needs to be a concerted effort from everybody.
“There’s always going to be a bully, but it’s the people around them that need to start standing up.”
The DYAC will be launching a cyber bullying awareness campaign in elementary schools in March to prepare children for the challenges that lie ahead.
“It’s all about how you put yourself out there first,” explains Reshetylo. “So you need to present yourself on the Internet the way you’d like to be treated.”
Students also can be taught how to protect themselves from cyber bullying, such as blocking people and using privacy settings.
Dixon describes bullying as a behaviour involving power struggles between students, often with one student possessing a huge insecurity in his or her own life and trying to address it by pulling others down.
“We will never fix it if we don’t address what’s going on with both students,” she says.
It may sound counter-intuitive, but Dixon says one of the worst things a teacher or an adult can do is force a bully to reconcile with the victim without examining the root causes.
“Finding out what is making one student vulnerable in this situation and what is making this other student lash out. And until we fix what that is, then we probably won’t change behaviour.”