Bullying has always existed, but the question that has been raised in recent years is whether it is worse for kids today or if we are simply paying more attention to it.
A March 11 screening of a short film titled Cyber Bullying at the Yorkton Public Library followed by a panel discussion suggests it may be a bit of both.
The 23-minute, 2012 documentary was produced by Alberta’s BearPaw Media Productions. It features interviews with Canadian bullying expert Dr. Shaheen Shariff of McGill University and follows the experiences of four youths to explore “how technology and changes in communication have affected how kids relate to each other in a world where hurtful information can become public in an instant.”
The film underscores the critical aspect that for today’s youth online identity can be as, if not more, important as their personal reputation.
Shariff points out in the documentary that social media exacerbates the problem. Online bullies have a degree of anonymity that bolsters bravado and an attack can quickly expand to hundreds or thousands of others piling on. Because of the buffer of the Internet, victims are easily dehumanized. It becomes more about the bully building himself up than tearing down the victim, but to the person on the receiving end, the attack can be just as real and violent as a schoolyard brawl.
Lana Stanek-Sebastian, one of the panelists, who teaches digital citizenship at Yorkton Regional High School, noted that in the past victims of bullying could more easily escape their tormentors. Just going home after school, summer vacations and graduating from one level of school to another offered respite. And as we moved through the various periods of our lives, humiliating experiences, real or perceived, did not necessarily follow us.
Today, with ubiquitous handheld wireless devices and relentless connectivity, kids can feel like they are never off the hook. And that “digital history” can endure and plague them virtually forever.
The panel, moderated by Dennis Nesseth, YRHS department head of student services, discussed various strategies for dealing with incidents of online bullying including not replying to an attack, blocking the attacker, talking to someone about it and saving the evidence.
Panelist Logan Ernest, a Grade 11 student and one of 42 who have been trained by the Red Cross Beyond the Hurt Program to be anti-bullying mentors, thinks breaking the silence is the most important thing.
“Saying something is always the first step,” he said. “I dealt with a lot of bullying when I was a kid and I really wish I would have said something when I was a kid.”
He said it has to go beyond just looking out for yourself, however, everybody needs to look out for everybody else.”
“If you have a friend, or anybody at all who’s going through something and you know it, say something and change someone not just at that time, but they can become a long-term friend.”
Logan knows of what he speaks from personal experience.
“I have a friend named Taylor and she stuck up for me four years ago and she was the only one who was there for me. She’s been here for years and she’s never left my side and she’s the most important person in my life.”
Once something has been said, Good Spirit School Division has resources available for mediation.
“A lot of kids don’t realize what they’re doing,” said Shelly Westberg, a school counselor with Good Spirit.
She said sometimes just getting bullies and victims face-to-face is enough to generate the empathy needed to stave off future incidents.
Most incidences of cyber-bullying take on the same kind of profile as traditional schoolyard stuff, name-calling, gossip, shunning, but in some cases it can escalate into the realm of the Criminal Code. Recent suicides by teens Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons have shone a national spotlight on just how high the stakes can be.
For more serious incidents, the school division works with an RCMP liaison.
Cpl. Darren Letson said the Mounties try to take a proactive approach focusing on prevention and education, but will investigate and press criminal charges if necessary.
The federal government is also currently running television and Internet advertisements warning parents to make sure their children understand some of the things they do online could be illegal as well as wrong.
Letson explained there are currently laws on the books, such as criminal harassment, defamation, uttering threats and distributing child pornography that cover online activities, but said he is looking forward to new legislation this spring that will give police more power to investigate and prosecute specific online crimes.
That bill is already generating controversy because in addition to making it illegal to electronically distribute intimate images of a person without their consent, it gives authorities sweeping powers, critics say, to intercept and monitor Canadians’ electronic communications. Justice Minister Peter McKay has defended the bill as striking the “proper balance.”
The March 11 screening was the last in the Yorkton Film Festival’s Open Cinema series for this year and was co-sponsored by the Canadian Federation of University Women.