Did you know more than half the time when a bystander stands up to bullying, it stops within seconds?
By Pam Dillon
Let’s talk about bullying. Let’s keep talking about it.
Last night was the Ottawa premier of BULLY, an acclaimed documentary that puts a spotlight on the social epidemic – and devastating consequences – of bullying. The film by Lee Hirsh tells the wrenching stories of five kids and their families. Two of the tales are of parents grieving the loss of children who committed suicide after years of abuse from peers and indifference from people in a position to deal with it. It’s a story that hits painfully close to home.
The suicide of local teen Jamie Hubley last fall rocked Ottawa and was felt across the country and beyond. Jamie was 15, he was gay and he was bullied. His death prompted an outpouring of grief and public action, ranging from an It Gets Better video, dedicated to Jamie and featuring federal cabinet ministers, to a passionate, televised rant by Canadian comedian Rick Mercer. Jamie’s story also spurred Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty to unveil an anti-bullying strategy designed to make the school setting better and safer. While his legacy is profound, the loss of Jamie reverberates and the need to talk about – and tackle – bullying is ongoing.
Dianne Mursell will tell you. Her son, Patrick, was bullied for years. “Bullying affects the whole family, not just the child being bullied. It leaves parents with a sense of helplessness and frustration,” she explains.
While her son is okay now, she says, “I will never, ever forget the night (when) Patrick was laying on his floor, whole body sobbing, saying he was glad it was summer holidays so he would have two months free from the bullying. It still brings me to tears.”
She and her husband visited his teachers and principals, as well as the head of the school division, to no avail. Finally, in Grade 8, they pulled him from the local school and drove him to another one further away. It helped, but the suicide of his friend in Grade 10 brought the trauma to a head. Patrick planned to kill himself. Fortunately, one of his peers reported it to the school nurse. Following hospitalization and counselling, he has recovered. Still, his mother says, “What a terribly long painful road he had to travel to get to this point.”
For this parent, there were signs her child was struggling. He was withdrawing, spending more and more time in his room. He was not sleeping, his head was down, shoulders slouched. He had no confidence or sparkle in his eye. It’s “absolutely heartbreaking to watch your child ‘disappear’ before your eyes,” she says.
Dianne has some suggestions for people concerned about their own kids:
“I would tell other parents not to quit or give up and if it means removing your child physically from the situation (as in our case changing schools) then do it!”
As for other adults dealing with kids and bullying, she says, “First, listen; take it seriously, listen to the child, listen to the parents. Don’t be condescending, don’t be afraid to acknowledge that it is going on in your school, your community. Deal with it head on.”
How can we help kids not be bullies or victims? “I think one of the most important things is to teach other children to not stand by and let this happen. Reach out to the child being bullied and be there for them. Teach our children to be strong and to keep talking about this and letting people know when it is happening.”
BULLY the movie is a loud call to action, a plea for all of us to speak up, step up and do something to stop bullying. What can peers do?
- If you witness bullying, intervene if it’s safe to do so. Tell the bullies to stop.
- Tell an adult.
- Let the person being bullied know you care. Make the effort to include that person in your circle or activities.