The numbers are jarring. Nearly one in five Canadian teens have witnessed online bullying, according to a recent Ipsos Reid study.
These cyberbullying acts range from having an embarrassing photograph posted to having one’s account hacked by someone pretending to be the victim.
Here in Nanaimo, a pair of young teens have been arrested within the last year for making threats. In one case, an online dispute led to an assault.
This, of course, is unacceptable. Social media has become enormously popular, with sites like Facebook and Twitter creating many positive benefits.
Unfortunately, there is also a new realm open to bullies.
Teens who have fallen victim to bullying at school now come home and can be subjected to harassment at home as well.
The Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district has, as it should, taken aim at bullying.
Nanaimo RCMP work closely with the district to identify bullying and other acts of aggression among children, with an aim to head it off before the problem gets out of hand.
A new website launched by police this week is aimed directly at dealing with the problem.
Parents and bullied students may be asking if it’s enough.
That’s because this a phenomenon so pervasive and longstanding that it cannot be eliminated by any school district anytime soon.
Sadly, there are some adults who justify bullying by citing that it went on when they were in school, which amounts to a tacit form of blaming the victim because the next line – often unspoken – is to suck it up, that it’s a part of life.
Well, it’s not. We don’t put up with assaults, intimidation and threats in any other part of our society.
Why would we tolerate it in our schools?
Intervening in bullying has been a challenge for educators because by its nature it goes on outside of their view.
And past efforts to address have been challenging because it has failed to address a culture among students that tolerates bullying.
The psychology is simple: Other kids sanction it through silence fearing they will also be bullied.
Targetting bullies also hasn’t worked. So programs that create an atmosphere of respect and break down the silence that bullies rely on are an effective way to begin to approach the problem. And it only remains a beginning.
The bulk of the remainder of what needs to be done lies with parents, and after that with the rest of the community.
Bullies and the kids whose silence they rely on learn their behaviours from their parents. Teaching kids respect should go without saying, though for some highly dysfunctional families, which may be informed by abusive behaviour, disrespect may be the order of the day.
Parents should also routinely monitor their children’s online activities.
Fortunately, when it comes to dealing with the online problem, there is an actual record of the harassment.
Everything that happens online is traceable, according to police officials, meaning the bullies who may think they have anonymity could be in for a rude awakening.
But as much as we need to address bullying in schools, we need to address the societal problems that create such behaviours within families and elsewhere.
Bullying, it turns out, is really not just something to be dealt with by the education system or the police.
It is everyone’s problem.
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