The BC government has announced a new website that will allow B.C. students to make anonymous reports about bullying by peers or by adults.
Efforts to stop bullying require a culture change in schools and communities, Premier Christy Clark told an anti-bullying conference Tuesday.
“Kids are swimming in a culture of mean all the time and we have to address that,” she said during the Vancouver forum, organized after the suicide last month of Port Coquitlam teenager Amanda Todd. The meeting opened with a government announcement of a new website that will allow B.C. students to make anonymous reports about bullying by peers or by adults.
Their reports will trigger an alert to a safe school coordinator, who will determine the best course of action and contact the police, if necessary, the forum was told. Every school district in the province has a safe-school coordinator, and they will also be responsible for identifying trends and hot spots in schools.
Bullying can no longer be dismissed as simply a part of growing up, Clark said. “Bullying is not a rite of passage; bullying does not build character for children.”
The conference, which brought together educators, students and experts, was organized as part of the province’s Erase Bullying strategy, announced in June. Clark said it was also in response to the suicide of 15-year-old Amanda, who was sexually exploited online and then relentlessly bullied by her peers.
“We lost Amanda and it was a tragedy,” Clark told reporters. “But we should learn from that. She would want that from us.”
Carol Todd, Amanda’s mother, told The Vancouver Sun she had hoped to attend the conference but wasn’t invited. She said she asked if she could attend, but the Education Ministry turned her down, saying her presence might upset young people who would be attending the all-day event and discussing their experiences with bullies.
“I didn’t want to speak, I just wanted to listen,” she said. No one from the ministry was immediately available for an interview Tuesday.
Clark said adults have to change the culture of public schools so that students feel safe to report bullying and to intervene while it’s happening. “The commitment coming out of today’s meeting is to build on our momentum and work together to build a culture of kindness, caring and respect where no child has to wake up in the morning and go to school worrying about what will happen to them that day,” she said in a release.
The Erase Bullying program includes stronger codes of conduct for schools and a five-year training program that will eventually see 15,000 educators learn about creating inclusive schools and how to conduct threat assessments in their buildings.
One of the lead trainers, Theresa Campbell, said the training will dispel the myth that any abusive behaviour should be called bullying.
Slamming a student’s head against the wall of the school? That’s assault, said Campbell. Threatening text messages? There’s a law against that, too. Relentless cyberbullying? Campbell called that “social assassination.”
“There has been a blatant under-reaction to behaviours in our schools because everything has been lumped into bullying,” she told the conference.
“We have to be more mindful and start calling these behaviours what they are.”
Independent schools have been invited to use the ERASE Bullying strategy but are not compelled to do so.
Jay Luty, a recent high school graduate who told the conference about the years he spent ostracized and bullied by his peers, called on teachers and parents to make sure children know they can come forward.
Luty said he spent much of his time in high school feeling alone and unable to connect with his peers. When he wasn’t spending lunch hours hiding from other students in the library, he was forced to endure teasing, amplifying his social anxiety.
He spiralled into suicidal thoughts, he recalled, which didn’t abate until he finally worked up the courage to tell his parents what was happening.
“I told them I was having thoughts of suicide and I detailed everything that was bothering me, every insecurity that was eating me,” he said.
“Once I stated all my problems out loud to someone who was hearing me out, I felt some of the stress become instantly alleviated .... I realized I didn’t have so much to be worried about.”
Luty said adults need to encourage more students to take that step.
“Show empathy and extend your support to your students, children or friends in need, and encourage them to say what they feel,” he said.
The issue of bullying has gained renewed prominence in B.C. and across the country in the month since Amanda Todd’s suicide.
Several weeks before her death, the 15-year-old posted a video to YouTube in which she flipped through dozens of cards that told her story in short, black sentences.
She said she was in Grade 7 when she was lured by an unidentified male to expose her breasts on a webcam, and a year later someone on Facebook threatened to distribute a photo from the video chat. She said the police later told her someone did, indeed, distribute the photo.
The RCMP continue to investigate her death.
In addition to the debate the case has generated in B.C., justice and public safety ministers from across Canada agreed two weeks ago to create a national working group to discuss the issue of cyberbullying, suggesting the issue could even be addressed by changes to the Criminal Code.