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Is the anti-bullying message getting through?

09/26/2013 06:23 EDT | Updated 11/26/2013 05:12 EST

This week, the mother of 15-year-old Saskatchewan teen Todd Loik, said her son —​ just like Rehtaeh Parsons, Amanda Todd, Jamie Hubley and Mitchell Wilson — killed himself after years of being tormented by his schoolmates.

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The issue, however, has certainly gotten its fair share of media attention.

Celebrities have taken part in multimedia anti-bullying campaigns, like the It Gets Better pledge that reached out to gay, lesbian, transgender and other bullied teens. And s

Ontario passed the Accepting Schools Act last year, while B.C. announced its 10-point Expect Respect And a Safe Education (ERASE) bullying strategy. And this year,  Nova Scotia implemented its new Cyber-Safety Act,

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Shelley Hymel, a professor in the faculty of education at the University of British Columbia, noted that the issue has become a worldwide concern, and that in some countries progress has been made. Schools that have instituted anti-bullying policies 

However, she added, "I think the reductions we’re talking about, although in the right direction, they’re still pretty darn small. Twenty per cent, that means there’s 80 per cent still going on. And there are a lot of schools who don’t have this as a priority," she told CBC News. "So I think there’s still a lot of work to do."

Hymel added that attitudes are evolving for the better on how to approach the problem. Schools and researchers are now taking a much broader view of the issue, and changing many long-held assumptions that include,  for example, that bullying is only carried on by socially incompetent kids.

"We’re trying to get kids to move from bystanders to 'upstanders.' Getting the kids involved,  you’re trying to change the climate of the school, to where the culture basically says ‘this is not OK.'"

Hymel said they’ve been collecting bullying-related data at B.C schools over the last four years. 

At one school, where the issue became a priority among staff, they initially saw no reductions in bullying.

"But now after four years we’re seeing real significant reductions in kids' reports of bullying and victimization. So it takes a long time to change the culture of a school," she said.

Tracy Vaillancourt, Canada Research Chair in children’s mental health and violence prevention at the University of Ottawa, cautioned that the media is creating a perception of a bullying crisis that really isn’t there, and that research suggests bullying is no worse than it has ever been.

She also said it may still be too soon to measure the effectiveness of some of the recent anti-bullying strategies.

But some of the problems with current programs, she said, is this one-size-fits-all type of mentality. Every school will get the same anti-bullying program without taking into consideration the different demographics and culture of the facility.

"I think what happens is that we have these policy programs that worked in one school and then we try to role them out to other schools and they don’t work."

There's also more to dealing with bullying than just addressing the problem at school, Peplar said.

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It’s not a problem that schools can solve on their own.”

Too often, people are looking for a simple fix or single program that fixes all, Hymel said.

"And the one thing we figured out in 40 years of research in this area is that there's no simple solution and there's no single reason why kids bully.

"There's lots of reason why kids bully and we have to treat each one differently.”

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