It happens within the blink of an eye. One moment, you’re holding your freshly swaddled baby, hearing their coos for the first time, and the next, you’re wondering if they’ll be okay as you wave goodbye to them on their first day of kindergarten class.
With the arrival of school, parents face a new set of challenges: the loss of control over their child’s circle of influence. While one does what one can to prepare their children for school, bullying is sadly a part of life. Thankfully, bullying is something that can be prevented and stopped.
This is what happened when, in 2007, Grade 12 students David Shepherd and Travis Price of Nova Scotia took matters into their own hands after a fellow Grade 9 student, Chuck McNeill, was bullied for wearing a pink polo shirt on the first day of school. Students began directing homophobic remarks at McNeill, which didn’t sit well with Shepherd or Price.
In an interview with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Price explained that he and Shepherd came up with the idea for their schoolmates to wear pink shirts as a way of standing up for the bullied student. He and Shepherd then went out and purchased 75 women’s tank tops and pink pre-wrap rolls to make headbands and wristbands.
Next, they contacted their school’s administration with their idea. The school warned the boys about possible fights that could break out and let them know that it was on them if expulsion occurred. Undeterred, Price thought, “This will be the best fight I’m ever going to fight.” He and Shepherd posted on MSN Messenger, an online instant messenger, asking students to join them in wearing pink shirts.
As the Shakespearean saying goes, “Though she be but little she is fierce.” More than 750 students went to school the next day wearing pink shirts. In a school of 1,000 students, their power was shown in numbers.
Price, who had also been bullied, saw McNeill as a kid just like himself. As the older student, he was inspired to be a good leader and take a stand for younger students and others who experienced bullying. Little did Price and Shepherd know just how astronomical this event would become.
In 2007, before going viral was a thing, this is just what happened. The following week, students not only in Nova Scotia but all across Canada began wearing pink shirts. Eventually, Pink Shirt Day was formed as an anti-bullying initiative. It takes place each year on the last Wednesday of February.
None of us have been untouched by bullying, whether we’ve been the bystander, the victim, or the bully. With previous research suggesting one in five children have been bullied, Safe Canada estimates that around one in three children are bullied, with 47 per cent of parents in Canada having one of their children bullied.
This number is low, too. Over half of the victims do not report the bullying incident to a teacher, according to the Canadian Red Cross.
Bullying is repeated hurtful actions towards a child, whether to their face or behind their back, that cause physical or psychological harm, making it increasingly difficult for the bullied child to cope.
This includes things like name-calling, teasing, spreading rumours, gossiping, excluding others, and making threats, as well as physically aggressive behaviour, such as shoving, hitting, kicking, and punching.
Bullying happens where there is a power imbalance, where one child dominates over another, or so it may seem for the victimized child.
Aside from physical injuries, there are other signs children may display when bullied: low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, losing interest in activities they once enjoyed, isolating themselves, being hungry after school, and dealing with stomach aches or headaches, to name a few.
Signs a child might be the perpetrator of bullying events include anger against others, witnessing aggression from other adults or older siblings, or children who have difficulties standing up for, or empathizing, with others.
This domination doesn’t only happen in the physical world. Not only are children dealing with the effects of bullying at school but also in places where they should be safe, such as at home. With phones in so many of our children’s hands and pockets, cyberbullying occurs anywhere and everywhere.
Cyberbullying has the same psychological effects, where individuals use technology – such as social media, texting, and emailing – to harass, threaten, exclude, or humiliate someone. Cyberbullies can often remain anonymous while rapidly spreading hurtful pictures or messages to a large number of people.
Parents should be hyper-vigilant in ensuring their child’s online safety by monitoring their phone and online usage and teaching them how to be safe online. The following is a list of some of the cyberbullying behaviours that can occur.
Catfishing: Creating a fake identity and then trying to get the victim to engage in a relationship with them;
Cyberstalking: When a cyberbully monitors the victim’s computer activity and “follows” them online;
Denigration/Dissing: Spreading damaging information, rumours, or gossip about an individual;
Doxxing: Sharing someone’s personal information (such as their home address, where they go to school, or their Social Insurance Number) online in order to harass them or enable others to;
Exclusion: Leaving a child out of a group, such as a group text thread;
Flaming: Posting hateful content online about a victim in hopes of getting them to fight back;
Fraping: Accessing someone else’s social media account and posting harmful content in order to ruin their reputation;
Impersonation: Impersonating a victim by posting inappropriate things about them online;
Trickery: Tricking a victim into confiding their secrets, then publicly sharing the information;
Trolling: Posting rude or hateful comments online about an individual.
Ways to prevent bullying
According to the Pink Shirt Day website, most bullying incidents stop within 10 seconds if a bystander intervenes. PREVnet, a Canadian national research network, explains the importance of rehearsing words or phrases with children so they know effective ways to intervene, such as being confident in saying the word “stop.”
Kids are encouraged to walk away and report the bullying to an adult right away. Aggression should not be used, as it can further aggravate a bullying incident.
Adults should be active listeners when a child comes to them about being bullied, as this is something that may take extraordinary courage for a child to admit. According to PREVnet, adults should give their full attention to a child who reports bullying and ask them questions such as how often it happens, how long it’s been happening, where it occurred, and how it has affected the child.
Adults should also encourage children with low self-esteem (a sign of bullying) by enrolling them in activities they can thrive in, therefore enabling them to feel good about themselves. For children who bully, adults should take advantage of the child’s leadership skills by having them teach a new skill to someone else.
Being a healthy role model and demonstrating appropriate behaviour is also essential, and speaks volumes to kids.
Praise children when inclusivity and kindness are shown, and set boundaries when bullying occurs.
Teaching kids about empathy and making amends with others are important skills for children to learn and understand.
As for cyberbullying, there are simple steps you can take to ensure your children’s safety online:
• Use nicknames (not real names) online
• Never share personal information (such as where you live, go to school, or work)
• Children should never send or receive nude pictures of themselves or anyone else
• Make sure your child knows to immediately tell an adult if someone they met online wants to meet in person
• Children should log off if a situation causes any form of harm or fear, and inform an adult
Children should never engage with a cyberbully, and should let a trusted adult know when they’ve experienced or witnessed cyberbullying. Adults should keep a record of cyberbullying incidents in case it needs to be shown to parents, teachers, or the authorities.
Many other resources are available for children, youth, and adults, some of which can be found on the Pink Shirt Day website at www.pinkshirtday.ca.
A simple step in bullying prevention is reminding children that they are important and loved.
This year’s event is on Wednesday, Feb. 22. Wear a pink shirt and engage with your children about the stand you can take against bullying.
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