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Was Amanda Todd's Death a Tipping Point?

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High up on a mountain the snow pack builds. Day by day the crushing weight grows until one tiny catalyst -- a sound, a breath of wind -- tips the scales and the entire mountainside is transformed. It's a good metaphor for what we've just witnessed.

In B.C. a teen girl is haunted and taunted online. The pressure builds until one day she makes an impassioned video sharing her story on hand-drawn sheets of paper, a silent cry for help. The pressure of harassment builds until she can no longer bear it and takes her own life.

Across Canada, young people experience fear and humiliation in their schoolyards and chatrooms. In the wake of the teenager's death, thousands of young people rise up and cry, "Enough!"

You may think we're being melodramatic, but we're not. The avalanche against bullying is roaring down the mountain.

Every year, through We Day events, we connect with over 100,000 young Canadians. Obviously we don't speak personally with each and every one, but we meet with hundreds, and many more send us messages by email and social media. It's an unparalleled opportunity to hear what's on the minds of our youth.

This year we see one issue weighing on young people more than any other: bullying.

Without exaggeration, it has been a 24/7, non-stop barrage of emails, tweets, and Facebook posts.

"Are you going to talk about bullying at We Day?" "What are you doing about cyber-bullying?"

We heard the rumbles this past summer while working with RBC and TELUS to conduct a national survey of young people and their parents. Among other questions, we asked what local issue they were most passionate about. For youth the top issue -- for fully a quarter of respondents -- was bullying.

Molly Burke was bullied. At 14, she lost her eyesight to a degenerative condition. From that point on she was subjected to brutal abuse at the hands of bullies, including some she had once called friends. The We Day audience in Vancouver was rapt as she shared her story.

After the event, we shared a moment with the mother of the B.C. teen who had taken her life to offer our condolences. The grieving mother told us she hoped her daughter's tragedy would prove a tipping point.

From the concern we saw in the faces of those 20,000 young people as they listened to Burke, we believe it has.

The thing about avalanches is they're destructive. So the question is: what can we do to make this a tipping point to positive action?

We're not an anti-bullying organization -- we are an educational partner and international development organization -- so we spoke with Bill Belsey, long-time teacher and founder of the web site bullying.org.

There is a strong push to enact anti-bullying legislation. Belsey pointed out that bullying is a learned behaviour and a reaction to the changes happening in kids' lives. Will passing a law really affect that?
"Do you think that a 15-year-old girl who was jilted by her boyfriend and she's really mad at some other girl is going to go, 'Oh, wait a minute, maybe I better not send a threatening text because there's bill C-247 in Ottawa?'" he said to us.

Belsey argued bullying must be fought by changing the culture in homes and school, teaching our children compassion in their interaction with others.

For parents, it starts with looking at your own actions. Do your children see you being a bully in your interactions with other adults?

Educators, Belsey said, must be taught to identify both bullies and the bullied, and how to positively supportboth.

"What we want to do is work with the aggressors . . . to make sure the bullies understand and develop empathy," Belsey said.

"We also know that bullying will stop within ten seconds after friends intervene -- not to fight the bully -- but to befriend those who are being victimised."

Cyber-bullying is more difficult because is it happens in a private world closed to most adults. But with the support of parents and teachers and mentors, young people can combat bullying.

That's why we're signing on to support a Facebook initiative to take back social media and empower youth. It's called Be Bold, Stop Bullying, and part of it is The Pledge which begins: "Here is my pledge: I will speak up -- I will take a stand when I see kids humiliating or hurting each other."

Last year Facebook promoted The Pledge in the U.S. More than one million people hit the "Like" button.
This Wednesday, during National Bullying Awareness Week, Facebook invites Canadians to take The Pledge. There is a version for adults too, pledging to support and be a good role model for children.
We encourage you to go online and make The Pledge, because as it says: "Stopping bullying begins with me."

Starting Wednesday you can take The Pledge at: http://www.facebook.com/beboldstopbullyingca.

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Craig and Marc Kielburger are founders of international charity and educational partner, Free The Children. Its youth empowerment event, We Day, is in eight cities across Canada this year, inspiring more than 100,000 attendees. For more information, visit www.weday.com or follow Craig on Twitter at @craigkielburger

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