New anti-bullying legislation coming to Ontario schools in September is a step in the right direction, but hopes that it will eliminate bullying completely are unrealistic, say education advocates.
"I'm not really sure you can eradicate it," admits Annie Kidder, executive director of the Toronto-based group People for Education.
Nonetheless, she says, the Accepting Schools Act, which passed last month in the Ontario legislature, gives school administrators and teachers an opportunity to address not only victims of bullying, but the bullies themselves.
Kidder says this distinction shows that lawmakers get the big picture — that bullying is a complex problem that doesn't just go away by punishing the perpetrators.
"What we really need to be working on in our schools is kids' mental and social health, because bullying is really a relationship in a way," she says. "We have to deal with the bullied and the bullies."
According to Bullying Canada, one in 10 children has bullied others while as many as a quarter of all students in Grade 4 to Grade 6 have been bullied.
High profile cases in Ontario, Alberta, N.B., B.C.
This issue has been a hot topic lately following a number of recent high-profile cases.
Earlier this year, a 13-year-old boy was acquitted of robbing and assaulting 11-year-old Mitchell Wilson in a high-profile bullying case that garnered widespread attention. Wilson, who suffered from muscular dystrophy, killed himself last September.
In April, a school board in New Brunswick assigned a full-time teacher's aide to escort a Grade 7 boy who claimed he was being teased for being flamboyant and overweight. Critics called the practice too extreme.
Then this past June, police in Fort McMurray, Alta., reported that a 14-year-old boy was barely responsive and had his jaw bone shattered following a fight involving up to 60 high school students.
The altercation was believed to have started with bullying. In response, provinces like Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and British Columbia have recently reviewed how they tackle this issue.
Some of the new policies included establishing a yearly anti-bullying awareness week, hiring special co-ordinators and ensuring that school principals report all incidents to board superintendents.
British Columbia's recent $2-million strategy also involved a smartphone application that allows students to report incidents anonymously and give teachers one professional development day a year to address anti-bullying strategies.
Ontario's Bill 13 encompassed many of these aspects, including a policy that ensures parents of bullies and victims are notified right away.
Controversial with Catholic groups
Yet since its inception, the bill has met with controversy.
A number of outspoken Catholic groups have criticized it as legislation designed to force schools to adopt Gay Straight Alliance clubs to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students.
The act does include such a policy, but more importantly, says Kidder, it outlines the need for schools to define and establish their own anti-bullying strategies and to treat each incident on a case-by-case basis.
Kathy Lindsay says she remains pessimistic about the new act and its potential to protect her 13-year-old daughter.
"We have all these kids out there who aren't being protected, and maybe they (the schools) just don't know how to deal with it," says Lindsay, who lives in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
The mother of two pulled her daughter and 11-year-old son from their public school a few weeks before classes ended last month due to bullying concerns.
Lindsay says her daughter was coming home crying because a group of girls taunting and excluding her. She notified the school and even escorted her daughter to class one day.
Lindsay claims she received no response, so she hired a lawyer to ask the school to address her daughter's bullying.
School board responds with lawyer
The school board responded with a letter from its own lawyer. Lindsay says the letter stated that the matter had been taken care of and that she was banned from entering her daughter's school again without prior consent.
She says the letter made her feel like the one being bullied.
"I want to see them (the schools) protect kids and listen to kids," she says, her voice wavering. "Maybe I was a pain in your ass to call every day but this is my daughter. I don't want her to hurt herself because of this," she says.
A spokeswoman for Algoma District School Board declined to comment.
Rob Frenette, co-founder of Bullying Canada, says education and creating an environment where children and parents can speak out is key.
Bullying takes on many forms nowadays and doesn't necessarily refer to physical violence or open taunting, he says.
"Text messaging classmates about other classmates and making fun of them…is something that happens more and more without being detected," Frenette says in an email. "Another example is using social media to bully a classmate."
The Toronto District School Board, the largest in Canada, says it will spend the summer developing board-wide guidelines in time for the act's implementation in the fall. But it says that it will be up to its nearly 600 schools to decide how they specifically adopt and address these strategies.
Anti-bullying has been a very important cause to me because of My own personal experiences and also the death of Tyler Clementi. I have been in a wheelchair since I was two years old and I am fortunate enough to say i was never made fun of for my chair. However I did feel like I was excluded a lot. There would be birthday parties and play dates that I would constantly be excluded from. This made me feel like an outsider and in middle school the only thing I really wanted was to fit in. In the fall of 2011 when I heard about Tyler Clementi's death I was devastated. Tyler is from my hometown and graduated high school with my little sister. When I heard the story of what happened I knew I wanted to do something to make a difference, even if it was in one kid's life. I am now working with an anti-bullying campaign called, 'Be More Heroic' alongside with Dani Shay. We are going to go into schools and work with kids to create Be More heroic teams that will go out and do service projects. We know this will promote teamwork and create heroes in every school. Hopefully creating a culture where doing good for others is the 'cool' thing to do. I believe bullying comes from fear and the only way to stop it is to start understanding and taking care of each other. We are all in this together.
Bullying is far greater than any single act. It is not merely a group of second graders pushing a boy against a wall because of his effeminate traits and awkward appearance, and consequently, breaking his glasses. It is not just racist slurs being graffitied across the outer walls of an Asian American church on Christmas Eve. It is not simply telling someone that they are not good enough-- that they "just don't have what it takes" to pursue their dream of being a performer. Bullying is a culture that has existed as an underlying layer of society and is perpetuated within communities, schools, and even households. Since "The Glee Project" premiered earlier this month, I have received a surge of messages from people whose backgrounds and stories differ greatly from one another. These people share their stories of how they are bullied within their communities for not being "good enough", for being "different", for being "gay" -- these so-called reasons are seemingly endless. However, when teenagers across the nation are taking their own lives at an alarming rate, how such 'reasons' can somehow validate the end of one's life is beyond me. All of the aforementioned instances are direct experiences of bullying I encountered throughout the course of my life. Now, as a 24-year old Asian American entertainer on "The Glee Project," I still find myself grappling with feelings of inadequacy; of feeling ugly; of feeling like a freak regardless of whether those instances of bullying were very specific moments in time or recurred for years. It is a constant battle I face from the moment I wake up till the wee hours of the night writing an article about bullying. But it is a fight that is worth rising up to because here I am, defying the expectations and lies that limited me for so long, and doing what I love-- using the world as a stage to perform and hearing its own stories in return. The bottom line is simply this: that it does get better-- I am a living testament of that statement. However, not only must we battle the ongoing effects of bullying in our personal lives, but we as a society must also create a counter-culture against bullying where strength, rather than weakness is found in the differences that make us unique; where exclusion is foregone for a greater sense of tolerance; and where we foster a growth of security so that people feel safe to make their voices heard. Only then, do I believe, will we realize that while we are different, that it is in those differences that make a "Glee" ensemble choir sound just as it does: a diverse group of voices that bring forth stories and tones all its own, but somehow manages to contribute to a greater and much collective whole. We must change this culture and we must first begin with ourselves.
I had to deal with bullying quite a bit when I was in Junior High School. I was the skinny/small kid and a lot of people felt the need to talk smack about me even if I wasn't very far from them because they knew I was too small to defend myself. Girls that I liked would often not give me the time of day and think I wasn't worth their time. One day in class, a friend of mine was having papers thrown at him by a guy who was huge. My friend chose to stand up for himself and talk smack right back and mock them for thinking throwing papers is funny. The huge guy stood up and hit my friend right in the head and my friend began crying right in front of the entire class and I was sitting right next to him. Just simply sitting by and watching someone get physically and emotionally hurt and not being able to do anything about it eats you up inside. I regretted not helping my friend but in my mind I felt as if I couldn't do a thing given my strength and size in middle school compared to this huge bully. Once high school came around I chose not to feel helpless anymore and made sure to throw a helping hand to any of my friends and peers but there is not one day I don't think about feeling so weak in that class room watching one of my good friends be humiliated.
Everyone kept telling me I would miss high school, but I haven't. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed some moments at my alma mater, but the saying "kids can be cruel" was very true to me. I never truly fit in at my school. I never judged anyone for who they were, where they came from, or what they enjoyed to do, but for some reason I was always judged. I never fit in at my high school. I didn't enjoy doing the normal weekend activities: mud riding, revving up huge gas guzzling trucks, deer hunting, fishing, parties etc... Because I never did any of these things people used to think I was stuck up or judgmental. I have never had the personality to fight for friendships so I would just not care to invest my time with anyone at my school. I had two true friendships in high school and I cherish those two ladies with my whole heart. As if naturally not fitting in wasn't enough to be bullied, I came from a small town where everyone assumed to know me. They didn't. My mom became involved in drugs when I was a child and because it happened when I was so young people assumed she was on drugs while pregnant with me, even though she wasn't. My father lived five minutes from me, but chose to have nothing to with me. So, the taunting began at an early age. I remember vividly girls telling other girls not to hang out with me because I was a "crack baby" and something was wrong with me because my father didn't want anything to do with me. The hatred was everywhere and I didn't understand it. I coped with the taunting, by excelling at all things I did. I was involved in everything and set out on a mission to prove to everyone that I was normal by doing my best in everything I did. This made me stick out even more. I couldn't even sing in front of my school without harsh words from others involving my mother or father. I felt like no one ever saw me or gave me a chance. The worst experience of my high school career happened in 10th grade. A group of immature people, who I will refrain from naming (you're welcome) killed a deer and cut its head off then proceeded to put it in my mailbox with a post it note on it saying "you're next"... They thought it was funny because I didn't like killing animals. Little did they know that that one action sent me into a downward spiral of self-hate for 3 years. You never know how your actions can affect someone. Think before you do. There is a happy ending, I swear. I found solace in God. That is why I talk about Him so much on the show. I felt like I couldn't trust anyone, so I trusted Him and felt fulfilled. Things can and will get better if you turn to Him. They did for me and they will for you. Give Him the chance of healing. His love is far more soothing than any love we could ever imagine.
When I hear the word "bullying," the images that come to my mind are: getting slammed into lockers, verbal attacks in school hallways, getting beaten up after class, and getting lunch money stolen. These actions are portrayed in movies and TV time and time again, leaving me with the impression that bullying is always visible and very often, physical. But what about the subtle jabs you hear time and time again from those closest to you? What about the constant underlying message from society that you do not and should not exist? Is that bullying? Does bullying only happen interpersonally, or is it also bullying when everyone wants to silence you, or fix you-- and if they cannot "fix" you, make you disappear? I'm always hesitant to say that I've been bullied. I've never been beaten up, or verbally harassed by a stranger or classmate. I haven't encountered any of those typical bullying moments that are seen in movies. But, I have been constantly erased, made fun of, and preached at by some people who have been my closest friends at some point or another. I've never been "black enough" or "Jewish enough" to be recognized or counted for. Friends make racist jokes around me all the time, but because I'm "not really black (half doesn't count)" or "not really Jewish (only by blood, never had a bar mitzvah)" they all think it's ok. It makes me question myself all the time. Why don't I count? How can I even stand up for myself? I grew up with the white side of my family in an almost all white city-- I don't know how to argue with someone who says I'm "not black enough" or that I don't count. A little over year ago, in a sociology class about gender, my professor asked the class a question, but asked for answers in groups. It went like this: black females-- how did this issue affect you growing up? How was it handled in your family? White females: what about you? White males? Black males? I sat silently the whole time. My heart was pounding and I wanted to cry. As a pre-transition, half black, half white transgender guy, what group was I supposed to answer with? Do I fit anywhere? Does my experience count for anything? Being told all my life that I'm not X enough or Y enough, (and my chromosomes aren't even XY, so how is it possible that I even exist?) is still affecting my navigation of self-identity today. I'm still hesitant to say I've ever been bullied-- because in a lot of ways, I still feel like I don't count.
Growing up, I was the youngest member of our neighborhood gang. There were about 10 of us on the block, and all of our families were friends. I'd come home from school and meet everyone outside for a game of cops and robbers, or maybe we'd go play basketball or ride our bikes. Being the youngest, I got accustomed to being ditched and disregarded. There were times when the older kids would take advantage of my naivety or inability to retaliate, like when they threw a stick through the spokes of my moving bike or locked me out of the tree house, taunting me with Airheads and Sour Patch Kids. I looked up to them so I kept coming back. Sometimes the bullying was a lot to handle and I would feel lonely and frustrated that I was so young. Nonetheless, I have a lot of cherished memories from those times. It's definitely hard to talk about being bullied, but I think it's way harder to talk about when you were the bully. In lower and middle school, I was the fourth in my close-knit group of friends. We bonded over our collective weirdness and had each other to go to when the popular jocks shunned us. We were tight for a few years, but I eventually tried befriending some of the more popular kids and excluded my friends in the process. Perhaps it stemmed from a desire to be accepted, maybe it was instinct, but I was rude to the people who had had my back and disregarded their friendship. Thankfully I've rekindled those friendships in high school, but I am still embarrassed and ashamed of my actions. I'm really proud of the work that we did during vulnerability week, especially the video. I know we all made personal connections to the song and put a lot of heart into the shoot. I hope that our efforts create some positive change. Ideally our video inspires people to take action when they see bullying-- to not be a bystander. Bullying is an epidemic in America right now, and I'm glad to do my part to reverse the trend.
Being bullied has always been a part of my life. I was pretty overweight in grade school, had bushy eyebrows, big eyes and a nose that was too big for my face. I never thought anything was wrong with me until people started asking if I was pregnant. It hurt so much! I was a child and I let what others said bother me. I would go home and cry. None of the boys ever liked me because of the fact that I looked so different than everybody else. I always had crushes on the boys in my 21 person class and not once did anyone have a crush on me... In high school, I was part of a group that was definitely not considered popular. I went to a Catholic high school. The education was great, but the kids were snobby. I got picked on a lot by kids that thought they were better than me. I got called terrorist and again, I thought I was so ugly. My confidence level was low in high school. No boys ever paid any attention to me and i didn't even know who I was. Because of this, I built this tough exterior. I was tough, I stopped letting people pick on me and walked down the hallways with an intimidating look on my face. I think that i still keep those walls up now. It takes me a while to warm up to people, but, when i do, I will do anything to protect them. By senior year, I stopped listening to the bullies all together! I became more confident in myself. I found my beauty. I found myself. I was and am proud of the person I am. Even today, I have many amazing fans that support me! But, along with fans, i have a lot of people that dislike me. It is constant. Especially after the dance-ability episode, i have been getting called a slut and a whore and people genuinely hate me. It was difficult to get used to the amount of hate I was getting, but again, I am proud of who I am. I know that I am not a slut or a whore. I have values and I have respect for myself. People don't think that i see the comments, but I do. I'm glad that I am old enough to understand that I am not going to make everybody love me. I am going to get a lot of mixed feelings and I am ok with that. But, It is sad when people judge others without ever actually knowing them. Everybody gets bullied or is a bully at some point and it needs to stop. For all of the people that have been bullied or are being bullied: I promise you, it gets better!! Love who you are no matter what people say!!!!
Lily Mae Harrington
I have experienced bullying from both sides. Because of my size I have experienced some negative experiences, mostly having to do with cyber-bullying and things behind my back. I was always one to confront it if I heard about it. For example, one time I poured juice on this boy's head because he made a grotesque comment about my size. On the other hand I have been a bully. All through middle school I hung out with a group of girls who treated each other terribly. I remember one conversation about who we thought was the ugliest in our group of friends or who we liked the least. I also remember writing notes with this group of girls and sticking them in people's lockers telling them horrible things. When it comes down to it, middle school was a horrible time. By the time I got to high school I realized the awful things that I had done and realized that I was the "Regina George" (the girl from "Mean Girls") of my school. I started hanging out with an older more mature group of people when I got to high school and that opened my eyes to the immature things that were taking place. Ever since then, I am always the person to defend the victim. I don't sit by and watch these things happen anymore and I hope that is what "The Glee Project" and "Glee" will make people realize.
I have experienced, time and time again, what it feels like to be put down. To be called stupid, ugly, a bitch. To be mocked for what I wear and how I looked. To be physically pushed down during what was supposed to be a harmless game of flag football, and turned out to be a game divided by race and filled with violence subtle enough to be written off as accident. I have seen friends be taunted for the color of their skin, the shape of their body, and for their sexuality. All things that we as youth are already questioning ourselves. And to what end? For some, the experiences in junior high and high school are ones to look back on and laugh about. But to more still, the bullying they experience is enough to forever scar their confidence and self-image. I myself have realized that it does, indeed, get better. All fronts of it. The feeling of being an outcast at school diminished by senior year, when I finally found myself a small group of loyal friends. The feeling that I was misunderstood in my home life faded. My self-image is indeed still scarred by the bullying that I experienced, but it is slowly healing itself. You will find friends to nurture you, people will accept you for exactly who you are, and you will be loved. It truly, truly does get better.
Mario Arnauz Bonds
THE BLACK, BLIND, BIG BUTT BOY WITH THE FUNNY VOICE I'm standing strong and happy after being bullied, and you can too. As it relates to my being blind, articulate, very dark-skinned and having what kids thought to be an abnormally large butt for a boy, growing up, bullying claimed much of my self-esteem. Before going blind at age nine, I had usable vision, enough to walk without a cane, ride bikes and read things written in large letters. However, breaking the glasses I had to wear became routine when other kids nicknamed me four-eyed, Steve Nurkel and blacky the nerd. Kids would take advantage of my fading vision by pressuring me with the all-too-famous question "how many fingers am I holding up," removing chairs, taking my food or pushing and sneakily punching me. My sisters, Marcelita and Marcheta (I'M A TRIPLET), fought fights aplenty protecting me from kids that hit or pushed me. When I did go totally blind, bullies thought it hilarious to snatch my cane. After I went blind, I lost the memory of what I looked like. When kids called me blacky, choco or Mr. Burnt because of my being a chocolate-skinned boy, it made me hate myself. Conversely, having girls and boys tease me about having a big butt made me uncomfortable with my body for years. In middle school and high school, girls would hit or grab my butt and exclaim: "Mario, you got a big butt! I wish I had your butt. If I had your butt, every man would want me then! "Daaaaaamn, brother got back!" Boys would tease "Hahaha, too much booty in the pants! Hahah, dude got too much booty in the pants!" I developed a complex, worrying that I was shaped like a female. I became so conscious of my butt that it made me afraid to wear certain clothing or walk in front of people. I was a very articulate boy, but to other kids, I was a black boy trying to sound white. My word choice and voice made kids say: "Mario think he white. Mario, I know you can't see yourself anymore but, you are black, not white!" When I reached age 17, the point at which I had grown into my looks, and I had developed a compensating abundance of self-esteem and personality, I was privately insecure. For a while, my brain processed compliments as disguised insults at times when the speaker was genuinely praising me. I spent years depressed, frustrated with God and seeking advice from older adults. Now that I'm a little older, I have found that all of the things I was teased about are the very same qualities that people find attractive about me. From the dark chocolate brown skin, the so-called white voice, the HUGE butt, to the way I handle being blind, I am relieved to find are all positives that make me who i am. The only way to triumph over bullying is to do just that, accept what makes "you" who you are as positives, and the negative from others may sometimes shake you, but they won't break you. Together, we'll be beautiful, just the way we are.