Don’t believe the old nursery rhyme: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. We know better. Words cause lasting damage. That’s part of why we mark Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week from November 20 to 26 in Ontario. It’s intended to get us talking about bullying and its impact on student learning and wellness. So let’s talk.
“Bullying is about power and the abuse of power—and abuse is not a normal part of childhood,” according to PrevNet (Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network).
“The effects of bullying are immediate and long-lasting, putting our children at risk for a number of physical, social and mental health problems. As parents, these risks should not be acceptable. Adult intervention stops bullying; it is our responsibility.”
Fortunately here in Ottawa, Stu Schwartz—Stuntman Stu—took on the responsibility and inspired the rest of us parents to pay closer attention. Better yet? The MAJIC 100 morning show host and Ottawa Senators PA announcer got local kids and teachers paying more attention too. Even though he’s keeping a lower profile these days while he recovers from a bone marrow transplant, he still wants kids aged zero to 100 to recognize bullying isn’t okay. Anywhere, anyhow.
It’s a message that’s personal.
In 2011, a local story about bullying got to the morning show host. It brought back bad memories of school: distress, shame, and torment from a bully. “I’m so fed up with this, if I have to go out to every school in Ottawa and preach No More Bullies I will,” he tweeted at the time. Then he typed a hashtag: #nomorebullies. Next he took a picture of it, written on his hand, and shared it on social media.
The response was immediate and significant. That’s how the #NoMoreBullies campaign was launched. MAJIC 100 connected with YouthNet Ottawa, a youth mental health program at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. It also teamed up with the Canadian Red Cross, and a local youth making an impact in bullying prevention. A tour was set up and presented to a University of Ottawa expert; then the show hit the road. Stu Schwartz answers a few questions about the well-known crusade.
Since you launched #nomorebullies, how many schools have you visited?
We’ve spoken to thousands of students from Eastern Ontario, Western Quebec and all the way to Barbados.
Has the campaign evolved?
When the campaign started in the fall of 2011, we didn’t know how long it would go or what to expect. We put together a basic 45-minute presentation that for the most part has stayed true to the original plan. It’s evolved a little with different guest speakers, but the overall message has never changed.
What has the response been?
The response from teachers, school administrators, parents and kids has been overwhelmingly positive. Teachers always come up to us at the end and thank us for being honest with the kids and we always get students that come up and thank us and some even share their own story. We get lots of feedback on our Facebook page, NoMoreBullies.ca.
What have you heard from the kids?
The kids have been great! They’re not shy to come up to us after a presentation and some have been very courageous by sharing their own struggles.
What do you want parents and kids to know?
The bullying that I dealt with is not the same as what today’s kids have to face. Now everything is all online and we need to teach kids that words can hurt. I’m shocked just by reading what adults write on social media and wonder if that person would ever say that to the person’s face.
That is called cyberbullying. And it can be incessant, following kids (or adults) even if they move to a different location or switch social circles. “Unlike other forms of bullying, the harassment, humiliation, intimidation and threatening of others through cyberbullying occurs 24 hours a day,” PREVNet notes. “It is relentless and aggressive, reaching kids at the dinner table while sitting with their parents, or in the privacy of their bedroom. There is no safe zone.”
Since the virtual platform creates a sense of separation, people don’t always appreciate that a nasty comment or a snide meme can go viral and turn vicious almost instantly. Once something is posted, there’s no taking it back.
Cyberbullying takes on many forms, and the internet’s pace can stir a lynch-mob mentality. For victims, especially young ones, the onslaught can be overwhelming. “Kids who are cyberbullied feel an intense sense of isolation, fear, loneliness and despair,” says PREVNet.
However, virtual resources are available too. They can help parents keep teens safe on the web, and teach teens to be ethical and safe online.
MediaSmarts, at mediasmarts.ca, is a Canadian not-for-profit organization dedicated to digital and media literacy. It offers a variety of supports, including tip sheets, workshops and tutorials.
As a network of Canadian research scientists and youth organizations, PREVNet has a mission to stop bullying in Canada and to promote safe, healthy relationships for children and youth.
PREVNet offers a wide range of resources for all ages and needs, including tip sheets, cyber tools, facts and solutions. See www.prevnet.ca.