I think it is safe to say that the anti-bullying campaigns and the pink shirt days are not working. Once again we have a tormented teen who could only see one way out of her struggle and that was taking her own life. It is time to rethink how we are handling this whole "bullying" thing.
As a parent of two school-age children, I have a feeling that the definition of "bully" has been lost in translation. The kids and the education they receive about bullying still seems focused on specific types of interactions that they can easily define. This generally seems to cover the school yard tormentors and the push and shove matches between one bigger kid against a smaller kid. They get the physical aspect of bullying but not the mental part and especially not the cyber part.
My children are young and don't yet have phones so we are not dealing with texting issues yet. Nor do they have much of an online life apart from the Xbox Live system. This system we have carefully monitored to ensure their on-line safety when connecting with other players. I made a Facebook account for Adam, but so far I have been the one managing it. Therefore they have not witnessed or been subject to life altering bullying. Yet.
It does boggle me a bit, but I get the feeling that the institutions we entrust with our children from the ages of five to 17 do not understand and are not being trained to understand how developing children function together and how they now function with the added technology of cellphones and social media.
This idea came to me when my daughter was facing a bit of a dram at school last year. Her Best Friend Forever was moved to a different class when they were splitting them all up (never figured out all that logic). Both were devastated but figured they had recess and lunch and play dates, so they would survive.
A classmate of the BFF had other plans however, and worked very hard at pulling my daughter's BFF away from her. The school was witness to countless altercations between all three, to the point that a counsellor was brought in to "mediate" between them all.
The counsellor contacted me also and I was told that they were working on them all trying to be friends together. All girls thought this was a load of hooey and personally, so did I. If kids don't get along, they don't get along.
We teach our kids that they can't be friends with everyone, and to just be polite and avoid the ones that you don't consider your friends. I think the counsellors "let's all be friends" philosophy is what lays underneath many adults in authorities' views on dealing with bullying. It is outdated and quaint and avoids dealing with the true horror that progressive bullying and tormenting really is.
Their grasp of how devastating bullying can be when it reaches online is even more out of date and antiquated. My children have computer classes. They seem to play games and make printouts of pretty images. I am not sure where the "education" lies in all this. It would be nice if they were taught things like how to properly use Google, how to source online research, and perhaps as they get older, how to deal with online privacy.
In fact, after speaking to other parents, what seems to be needed is a "How To" for dealing with your tweens' and teens' online lives. We need to teach parents not only how to communicate with their children about the importance of online privacy but to also educate themselves in the technology and the tools that they can employ to ensure their children's cyber safety. From legalities to practicalities, parents need to know how to protect their children.
There is a gaping void of understanding between teens and adults, and lives are being lost because of it. I strongly doubt that any of Amanda Todd's tormentors would ever consider themselves a bully as it has been defined to them. I wonder how much actual guilt there is from those that stood by and let this happen. Why did Amanda feel so alone and what are we going to do about it?
Follow Kerry Sauriol on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CrunchyCarpets