Anti-Bullying Week: Help make a difference

Dec 19 2017, 4:52 pm

Bullies walk the halls of schools, hide behind computer screens and ruin lives. We have heard their words as children, as teens and as adults. Defined in the dictionary as “a person who hurts, persecutes, or intimidates weaker people,” a bully has the ability to torment those targeted. A bully does, in fact, hurt, persecute and intimidate, but for the bullied these words are often overlooked, ignored and happen on a daily basis.

If we change the premise, if we take the actions of a teenage bully and turn that teen into an adult co-worker or fellow university student we wouldn’t call it bullying at all. If an adult spoke the words high school bullies deliver daily, it would be considered harassment or verbal assault – it would be unacceptable and it could be considered criminal.

Cyber bullying is a relatively recent development where there is a physical distance between the bully and person being bullied. During my years as a high school student, Facebook was rarely used, Twitter had not yet surfaced, camera phones were nonexistent and Instagram was a thing of the future. As bad as it may have been, it was about to get much worse. Just press “Send” and suddenly, in seconds, your world could fall apart. Without lectures on how to appropriately use a camera phone, teens are sending and receiving pictures on a daily basis. With the ability to hide behind a computer screen, teens are sending and receiving threats and slander via the internet and social media sites. As parents prepare dinner, their children are unknowingly and silently receiving and sending cruel text messages.

Teachers and principals will tell you it isn’t bad at their school; they brush off the fact that it is happening with little consequence because where do they even begin? If students think it’s funny to bully; if children think it will help them fit in; if those bullied are scared to tell authority figures due to a lack of action, well, then ignoring the problem is the easiest option. At a time when action is needed more than ever, we still sit back and say, “kids will be kids, or boys will be boys.”

We can say, “It gets better.” Although usually accurate, that statement is outweighed by the torment these students face day to day. If only we could sit each and every bullied student down and explain that post high school they will be able to breathe, to find themselves and friends in university. The fact of the matter is, most students will live through years of torment and harassment, some will leave scarred,and, sadly some will not survive.

Those who live in hell day after day may feel completely hopeless and, with or without warning, take their own life. This is tragic. It’s tragic that teenagers aren’t able to be themselves.They fear school and they feel telling someone will not result in any consequences for the bully or an end to their harassment. As adults, we sit by as children continue to face bullying and some take their lives because, what can we do? What power do we really have? It’s up to the school system, to the parents of these bullies. Whatever is happening so far doesn’t seem to be working, does it?

To make a difference later, we may need to start early in life. In researching current programs to reduce bullying, I was impressed by one program specifically. Something many of us might not consider relevant with regard to bullying has reduced aggression and has increased emotional and social understanding in children. The “Roots of Empathy” program, founded by Mary Gordon in 2000, places a baby in their first year of life in an elementary school classroom nine times in the course of a year. As the students interact with the mother and child they are able to observe and understand a mother’s relationship with her child and empathize with a baby’s feelings. As a result, this interaction allows the students to better understand their feelings, along with the feeling of others and how these feelings may differ from one’s own. With the goal of influencing children to develop empathy, challenge cruelty and injustice, the “Roots of Empathy” program has decreased aggression and increased social knowledge and understanding in the child participants. This program has had success in several other provinces including Manitoba, Quebec, Alberta and Ontario to name a few. After analyzing the results in British Columbia, bullying appears to have decreased significantly. 

The program is aimed at prevention and deals with the issue prior to the act of bullying. This may just be the closest thing to a solution or a chance at hope. Perhaps if we address the issues at a younger age or teach children to better empathize, there is a better chance of decreasing the incidence of bullying at an older age, such as in middle or high school.

Today is anti-bullying day. We wear pink to show that we support and hope to spread awareness. So today I ask that you take a moment to think of those who have been impacted by the act of bullying. Spread the message and believe that it gets better or it at least can get better because everyone deserves the opportunity to prove that to be true. We are all to blame for the lack of awareness and change – make it a point to do what you can in your day-to-day life to make a difference.

Image: Oliveromg / Shutterstock

DH Vancouver StaffDH Vancouver Staff

+ News