Bullies R Us?

By Pam Dillon

No passing the buck: Bullying is a shared social problem that takes a whole community to tackle

A while ago, a Mom commented on Twitter: “My daughter is having mean girl problems at preschool. She’s only three. Heartbroken for her and not sure how to handle it.”
From the toddler who comes home crying to the senior folks who shrink from a grizzled tyrant in their nursing home population, bullying can exist across a community and a lifespan.
It has certainly reared its ugly head in Ottawa. When a Kanata teen, 15-year-old Jamie Hubley, committed suicide last October, the topic made international headlines. An A.Y. Jackson Secondary School student, Jamie was gay. He was also a victim of bullying.
Following his death, a statement released by his father, City of Ottawa Councilor Allan Hubley, shed light on the devastating consequences. “We were aware of several occasions when he felt he was being bullied. In Grade 7 he was treated very cruelly simply because he liked figure skating over hockey.” It didn’t end there. “Recently, when Jamie tried to start a Rainbow Club (grass roots clubs organized to promote acceptance and equality regardless of gender or orientation in schools and communities) at his high school to promote acceptance of others, the posters were torn down and he was called vicious names in the hallways and online. We had meetings with officials at the school and were working with them to bring an end to it, but Jamie felt it would never stop.”
While bullying wasn’t the only reason this teen decided to end his life, it was certainly a factor, his father noted. 
“Young people are very vulnerable and have enough pressures in life to have to deal with aside from the stress of being bullied. No child should have to deal with depression or feel hated because of their beliefs — that is not the Canadian way of treating others.”
Research suggests otherwise. Canada’s nice-guy reputation is not deserved, according to PREVNet (Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network), a national organization committed to stop bullying. PREVNet points to a survey by the World Health Organization on “Health Behaviours in School-aged Children” in which Canada ranked 26 and 27 out of 35 countries on measures of bullying
and victimization respectively. What’s more, while other countries have been moving to reverse the trend, the situation in this country has remained relatively stable.
Led by scientific co-investigators Dr. Debra Pepler of York University and Dr. Wendy Craig of Queen’s University, PREVNet aims to bring about social-cultural change.
“We understand bullying as a relationship problem in which one individual uses power  and aggression to control and distress another,” Dr. Pepler explains. “Similar to family relationships, peer relationships affect all aspects of youths’ development – intellectual, social, emotional, physical, behavioural and moral.”
If those relationships are dysfunctional – and there’s no intervention, individuals get hurt.
Lasting harm – to both victims and bullies – can include physical, social, behavior, educational and mental health problems, including suicidal thoughts. “When relationships are destructive, as with bullying, it is essential that parents, teachers and other adults involved with youth provide support to both those being victimized as well as to those who are bullying others. Both of these groups of youth are at risk for social and emotional problems if the bullying continues,” says Dr. Pepler. “It is essential to keep the lines of communication open with youth and to step in with support when they are beginning to struggle.”
With local wounds still healing, adults are certainly leading public discourse. Popular Canadian blogger and mother of two Sara McConnell has tackled the issue at mypointsofview.ca. Her  post, “Just because we all do it,” struck a cord with many followers: “What bothers me most is the lack of recognition for what is and isn’t bullying behavior,” Sara notes. “All too often bullying is excused for a multitude of reasons; ‘Kids need to learn how to stand up for themselves’. ‘It’s just part of life’. I think both parents and youth are identifying bullying behavior but it’s being downplayed by others, including perpetrators and their parents, as a non-issue or insignificant.”
A family photographer, Sara is also a former mental health counselor who says we adults need to take a look at ourselves and “recognize that we also engage in bullying behaviour – at work, in our children’s schools, as part of our recreational activities, and in our interactions with friends. I think parents have a difficult time identifying bullying behaviour in their children because they find many of the behaviours acceptable in the different contexts of their own adult life. If verbal threats are commonplace in a child’s home (irrespective of whether or not they are directed at the child or others), then children will model the behaviour they observe and it’s difficult for a parent to recognize that their child is bullying, because it’s something they view as acceptable. I think more awareness about what is or isn’t bullying in an adult context would help parents understand how they are modeling harmful behaviours to their children.”
Awareness taking root
Parents are getting some pointers. Following Jamie Hubley’s death, CHEO, the Royal Ottawa
Health Care Group and the Ottawa Carleton District School Board hosted a public event called “Let’s Talk about Suicide, Depression and Bullying.” The free session featured a panel of experts and focused on warning signs and practical tips.
Awareness of teen depression and mental health has grown in Ottawa recently, particularly after the death of Daron Richardson, the 14-year-old daughter of former NHLer Luke Richardson. That death and a series of teen suicides in the Ottawa Valley have forced communities to adopt new strategies to address the issue. Over the past year, there has been a major push to identify the signs of depression earlier and remove the stigma surrounding mental health issues. 
Last September, Ottawa morning radio show host Stuart Schwartz (Stuntman Stu) took on the cause. “It started in the first week of school when a local high school had an issue involving a Grade 9 student who was bullied,” he says.
“We talked about it that morning on Majic 100 and took tons of calls. I was so frustrated because it brought me back to when I was bullied in school and I tweeted (out of frustration) that ‘if I have to visit every school in Ottawa and preach the message of anti-bullying, I would’. When I woke up from my afternoon nap, a few hundred people had retweeted that message and said it was a good idea. So, without even thinking,
I started the #NoMoreBullies hashtag. The next day I brought the idea into Majic 100. We created the page on Facebook and are asking anyone who wants to support the campaign by visiting www.NoMoreBullies.ca . There, you can write #NoMoreBullies on your palm and upload the photo.”

Now, the Majic Morning show is taking an anti-bullying presentation into high schools. “We need to change attitudes of bullying the same way we did with drinking and driving 25 years ago.”I

Stu Schwartz hopes to help: “We need to open the discussion with our kids and talk, plain and simple. Kids learn from us and as a dad, I want my kids and all kids to know that you can go to your parents about anything. The world is complicated enough, and a child needs to be able to have someone look out for them.”
PREVNet’s core messages:
• Bullying is wrong and hurtful. We all have the right to feel and be safe.
• Bullying is a relationship problem. Far from restricted to fists and taunts in the schoolyard, bullying happens verbally, nonverbally, physically, through exclusion, malicious gossip, sexual and racial harassment, homophobia, and online aggression. It’s not just kids being kids and it’s not somebody else’s concern. It happens in families, on sports teams, in group activities and other circumstances.
• Promoting relationships and eliminating violence are everybody’s responsibility. All organizations share a role in creating and sustaining safe, socially healthy environments. As role models, adults must lead by example and take responsibility for fostering healthy attitudes and relationships, and for ending violence in youngsters’ lives.
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